Written by Tayyaba Khan, Relationship Manager – Investment, Tertiary Education Commission
“There has been a shooting in the Christchurch mosque.” Six months on, these words from a fellow participant of this year’s Class of The NZ Leadership Programme continue to echo in my mind. March 15 2019 will forever remain imprinted as a sunny day in Kaikohe that was replaced by dark grey clouds across Aotearoa New Zealand. As I rushed to my phone hoping to catch up on the news, in hindsight, guilt has found its home in me, knowing I felt immense solace in that moment - that my family and close friends were not in Christchurch that day.
Since 9/11, my professional and voluntary civic contributions have led me to constantly challenge externally imposed characterisations of what it means to be Muslim. As I scrolled through messages on my phone, took phone calls and poorly attempted to be present at the second retreat for the Programme, my mind raced through a million thoughts a minute. I am ashamed to admit that one of those racing thoughts was “let it not be a Muslim”. That shame often turns into anger at myself for having been conditioned to the very notion of the ‘self-loathing Muslim’ I advocate against in the post 9/11, media driven populist narrative that defines a Muslim.
Leadership happens in the face of fear, but for me Christchurch brought fear to the fore unlike any other, certainly unlike that I felt on September 11. This fear is not being consumed through a screen whilst allowing me to feel some sense of safety. This fear is here in my backyard and it often feels crippling. Seeing such hatred for the faith you espouse and to vicariously experience that hatred through citizenship is one I am learning to manage as I dare to lead through these turbulent times.
As the pace from the immediate response slows down, allowing room for reflection, it’s distressing to know and have it reaffirmed by many that the atrocity in Christchurch was not surprising. It was simply a matter of time, begging the question: how did we end up here as a nation? When did New Zealand become the country where a faction of our society has felt unsafe, waiting for such a calamity? We could not have been more unprepared.
I wish I could share I was feeling a sense of hope as time had passed, especially after such a compassionate and considerate response from New Zealanders at large in the immediate aftermath. However, my reality is now living and working with a community in disarray. Trust is low, and so collaboration is harder. The voices of women already struggling to get noticed are further marred with additional complexities they need to navigate. You are confronted with daily experiences of how many of our institutions have been sidestepping cultural competency, irrespective of our evergrowing diversity.
So the hope lies in knowing the reality we live in and the love and compassion with which we must now persist to address the challenges that lay ahead. As leaders we are well versed with building trust in the workplace, our challenge now is to lead by building trust in our communities. For this trust across communities will be the enabler for us to leverage our diversity.
I learnt in my formative years that diversity is uncomfortable. It offers an explanation for why we find comfort in the familiar. I am thankful that my years of experience have meant today I lead in the uncomfortable, and that is my norm. The question I encourage everyone else to ask themselves is whether comfort has served us well as a nation that wants to be known for its inclusivity and diversity.
As a woman of color from a developing country with a hyper-visible faith and the first in my family to have attended university, there is much to be said about the gender inequalities with which we continue to persevere. However, as that person in a post-terrorism context in the country I call home, it couldn’t be more obvious that we need more women of diverse backgrounds to be at the table.
Hope is now knowing there are solutions, and they are made known. Hope is daring to lead with aroha - especially through the turbulent times.
Did Tayyaba’s story resonate with you? This is one of four DARING LEADERSHIP stories from LEADERS - our annual publication showcasing thought leadership perspectives and journeys of our Alumni. We also include snapshots of the current year’s Participants from The NZ Leadership Programme and The Mana Moana Experience.