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New Zealand Christchurch Vigil for Muslim victims

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Response to backlash on Fox Carolina News’ Facebook coverage

On Mar. 18, Wofford College student organization Amnesty International paired with the Muslim Students Association to host a candlelight vigil and open mic event to honor the Muslim victims of the New Zealand Christchurch mosque shooting and bring awareness to gun violence.  

Amnesty International has held several vigils for acts of mass gun violence in the United States over the past few years, including seven or eight in the 2018-2019 academic year. Although they primarily hold vigils for incidents within the United States, they chose to hold the first vigil for an international act of mass gun violence after the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand.

“We chose to hold our first international vigil because of the magnitude of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand as well as the fact that it was a religious hate crime. The reason we host vigils is to honor the victims, but also to continuously bring awareness to the fact that gun violence still exists, especially on massive scales,” said Vera Oberg ’18, President of Amnesty International. 

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“I wanted to include the Muslim community in Spartanburg in this vigil as well, so they would know that Wofford is a beautiful place that is for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Hosting this vigil allowed the community and prospective students to see that you can be Muslim and be welcomed here at Wofford,” said Mahnoor Haq ’19, President of Muslim Students Association.

At every vigil held on Wofford’s campus, there is typically some kind of news coverage. However, the vigil for Christchurch victims was the first held at Wofford College to be live streamed on Fox Carolina News’ Facebook page. This allowed for comments and feedback from the South Carolina Upstate and Spartanburg community:

“We shouldn’t have to see this crap as we are not Muslims and hold them responsible for the World Trade Center killings. Take it down now! Cross over crescent!” “Parents -> Really think twice before allowing your children to attend Wofford.” “These were the good Muslims.”

“I was shocked to see the comments on the live stream on Facebook. When you see students of other faiths put down candles and speak, you don’t expect backlash. At a time of atrocity and destruction, we expected people to grieve with us, so it was unexpected to see those kinds of responses from the community during a time of sorrow,” said Mahnoor Haq. 

“The backlash on Facebook sends a message that Muslims do not belong in the community, which is factually, legally and morally incorrect. The people who commented were angry not because Christians were being excluded—the event was not commenting in any way on Christianity. They were angry that Muslims were being included. At Wofford, we consider Muslims to be part of our community and this event was a direct reflection of that,” said Dr. Phil Dorroll. 

“These comments are the reason why we need to continue to have these events on campus, to educate and to show that those are not the voices that will win out. Wofford is an educational institution and we will continue to hold events centered around different faiths. We want to create a better society where we get along and treat each other with respect, starting with our Wofford community,” said Reverend Ron Robinson.

“The only way to fight against Islamophobic comments is to continue having events at Wofford to accustom people to diversity. Wofford is and will become more diverse and this will only make Wofford better. It will be a reflection of America and the world. Currently, Wofford is not perfect. For us to say Islamophobia doesn’t exist at Wofford would be a lie, since it occurs in micro-aggressions like tearing down posters. But for a better, more accommodating campus, we need to continue celebrating all communities and partake in different events hosted by religions, organizations, etc. that you are not part of in order to educate yourself,” said Mahnoor Haq.

Photo Caption: Amnesty International and the Muslim Students Association host a candlelight vigil along with an open mic to honor the victims of the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand. 

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