10 Mar 2020

Stage 2: Anger

From The Guest House, 7:00 am on 10 March 2020

Guled Mire is a firecracker by nature, driven by an unyielding sense of justice. It often gets him into trouble.

After the March 15 Christchurch attacks, he suddenly found himself a voice for his broken community, sifting through his own emotions and figuring out what he could say out loud, and what he couldn't.

Guled Mire, Wellington, March 2020

Guled Mire, Wellington, March 2020 Photo: Supplied

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Like many other young Muslims he felt angry at what had happened. Angry at the immeasurable loss of life. Angry that warnings from the community about rising levels of hate and Islamophobia had being ignored for years. 

When he started to express this anger though, he quickly found himself facing intense public backlash. 

“Most negative feedback I've received is when I’ve been the most angry, speaking my mind and saying how it is,” says Mire, a community advocate.

“I think when people see me on TV or on the radio they don't really understand the balancing act that goes into it. I have to talk to myself again and again, in the shower or in the bathroom, going over my key messages. Making sure I don't fit into that angry black man stereotype.”

After March 15, Mire wanted to speak about the racism he saw directed towards Muslims in New Zealand, and ask questions about whether the government had failed to protect his community. Initially he felt he was allowed to speak his mind freely in interviews and on social media, but within a few days he felt the tide shifting against him.

Suddenly, the comments sections, letters to editors and personal emails were calling him an “outsider”, an “ungrateful refugee” who should be thankful for New Zealand having “given him a new home”.

“It was like I wasn’t even allowed to have a say as a Kiwi. I was being critical of my own country, but that wasn’t afforded to me.”

Then things began to spiral out of control.

When The Crusaders announced they were considering a name change because of the historical connotations of their brand, journalists began asking Mire what he thought. He gave his opinion, supporting a change, and thinking nothing of it.

The Crusaders celebrate their win after taking out the 2019 Super Rugby title.

The Crusaders celebrate their win after taking out the 2019 Super Rugby title. Photo: PhotoSport

But overnight, he found himself become a lighting rod for angry comments, hateful personal messages and eventually, death threats.

“There have been instances where I’ve had to report things to keep my own safety in check, people talking about ‘this is just the beginning’.” he says.

"You can't take your safety for granted especially after Christchurch."

Eventually it all became too much, and Mire started backing away from media requests, staying at home, and trying to wait for the storm to calm.

“I remember I stopped picking up calls. If there was any number I didn’t recognise I wouldn’t pick up. There were times where I thought about just shutting up.”

He also realised he hadn’t been taking care of his own mental health, and had barely had time to process what had happened on March 15. His small Somali community was particularly hit hard, with three of its members being killed, including three year-old Mucad Ibrahim.

“I basically had calls from the Muslim community asking me: What was going on? Why aren’t you speaking? It was wearing me out.”

Eventually he would gather his strength and start speaking again. There were too many issues left unaddressed, and he realised people needed to be talking, despite the consequences.

When the story of the country’s secret refugee quotas broke, barring nearly all African and Middle Eastern applicants, he was out in front, holding the immigration ministry to task.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - flanked by deputy PM Winston Peters and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway - announces the increase in NZ's refugee quota.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern - flanked by deputy PM Winston Peters and Immigration Minister Iain Lees-Galloway - announces the increase in NZ's refugee quota. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

It became a national scandal, and after six months, the laws were scrapped. 

“While anger can be a deterrent and can distort things, anger gets things done. So I was able to channel all my anger into advocacy, calling out things, identifying things that needed to change” he said.

“I used my anger as a catalyst to mobilise other people.”

Over five episodes, and five intimate conversations, The Guest House will unpack the complex and often conflicting stages of grief we passed through as a community, to make sense of what was a senseless act, and to say the things we never had a chance to say.

The Guest House is made with the support of Middle East Eye.

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