Like many people around the world, I am deeply moved by the display of humanity by New Zealanders in reaction to the terrorist attack that happened recently in Christchurch.
That city had already been hit hard in February 2011 when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck. 185 people were killed, 6000 injured and around 170,000 buildings were damaged. Till today the country’s earthquake commission is dealing with thousands of claims from that earthquake.
Almost two weeks ago on 15 March, Christchurch suffered another tragedy when a 28-year-old Australian terrorist and white supremacist, wearing military-style clothing and bearing semi-automatic weapons and shotguns, attacked worshippers during Friday Prayers at Al Noor Mosque. He then drove away to Linwood Islamic Centre located five kilometres away to carry out another attack. 50 people died and another 50 injured. Police stopped and arrested the gunman before he could move on to a third location to continue his killing spree.
The rest of the world is just as shocked as New Zealanders themselves that this has happened in their country, long considered a very safe one. Prior to this, the worst public shooting was in 1990 in the seaside township of Aramoana where a verbal dispute between neighbours ended up with one of them fatally shooting 13 people. However, experts say that right-wing extremism has been growing in New Zealand in recent years.
I keep reading in the news about the action from the New Zealanders in response to this horrific tragedy. I feel it’s truly exemplary how they have come together, how even in their shock and grief they still express so much compassion and unity, and that the rest of the world can learn so much from this.
We have to remember always that when terrorists attack us, (them and the war-mongering powers-that-be that sponsor and support them including politicians, and journalists, social media activists, and others who benefit from chaos) whether they call themselves Muslims or Christians or whatever, that the purpose of their cowardly attacks is to divide us. To ultimately bring fear and suspicion and hatred so that we turn against each other. They are such a tiny minority and they need many more supporters if they are to further their agendas, and so they continue to kill the innocent to continue trying to sow hatred to try get more people to their side.
Unfortunately there will always be people, a few we might even know, and who are supposed to be educated but who are still stupid enough to fall for the con of the terrorists. These people claim to hate terrorists but are actually serving the objectives of the terrorists by making disdainful remarks about an entire religion or community. Of course, there are also people who already hate certain religions and communities and are using terrorist attacks as excuses to further the spread of their hate. It’s encouraging therefore that they are in the minority. It’s encouraging that with every terrorist attack there are more expressions of support to both victims and the community being put in a bad light because the terrorist is said to belong to it. Nobody with a shred of common sense and decency is going to let these terrorists win by succumbing to the hate they are trying to create.
New Zealand however has taken the response to deny terrorists their objective to a whole new level, and with action as well, not just thoughts and prayers. The world is watching their leaders especially their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with admiration for her exemplary and firm leadership, as well as regular Kiwi folks who have displayed so much strength and solidarity.
Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been heavily criticised for showing at his political rallies parts of a video the terrorist took during his attack, made an effort to single out Ms Ardern for praise. (At least 3 Turkish citizens were among the wounded in the attacks. On top of that, in the hate-filled manifesto the terrorist had written, he had called for the assassination of Mr Erdogan along with others such as Sadiq Khan the mayor of London, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.)
In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Mr Erdogan wrote that:
“…all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries.”
I think the Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who was in New Zealand and visited Christchurch (two Jordanians were among those killed) expressed it best in an interview with Radio New Zealand when he said:
“It is simply impossible not to take heed of the goodness, of the kotahitanga, of New Zealanders.”
“And I think that a world at war with itself can only find serenity in the example of the compassion and the love that New Zealanders have shown.”
A quick online check of what kotahitanga means turned up unity and solidarity in Māori, the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, also called Māori.
There are so many instances of how the New Zealanders, leaders and the public alike, acted so admirably in response to the tragedy. I can’t possibly list them all but here are some of the ones that have particularly stayed with me:
ORDINARY FOLKS EXPRESSING SUPPORT
Linked above, CNN World reported how various communities were helping others, including the Te Atatū Baptist Church in Auckland which announced on Facebook that it was opening its doors to Muslims because mosques had been closed.
As a Muslim I am heartened and thankful the article also mentioned that Muslims have shown heart to others as well, for example raising funds for their Jewish brothers and sisters after the terrorist attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the U.S. last October.
I read on Mothership website of the two New Zealanders, remarkably beautiful souls, who separately visited two different mosques to express their support and sympathy on Saturday 16 March, just a day after the attack. Both the mosques have posted about the visits on their Facebook pages.
On Al-Huda Mosque’s page, its chairman Azman Kassim posted that a New Zealander lady named Mrs Kim Forrester, visited the mosque and apologised on behalf of her countrymen for what happened and prayed for the Muslim community. Mr Azman said she need not have apologised and expressed his gratitude for her gesture.
The second New Zealander is an unnamed gentleman. He is pictured below in the Facebook post by Masjid Al-Falah, with flowers he had brought and a note in the bouquet. The mosque said in the post that the gentleman offered his condolences and thoughts, and that he was deeply affected by the tragedy and wanted to express his support for the victims.
The story on Mothership featured the note in the bouquet. It was in both Māori and English and read:
“Kia Raha, Ria toa, Ri a manawanui
Be strong, be brave, be steadfast
E Ihowa Atua, Te aroha noa,
O Lord God, care for us”
Buzzfeed News wrote how just three days after the attack, on the first day school reopened since the attack, thousands of students from various schools in Christchurch gathered at Hagley Park, near one of the two mosques where the shootings took place. They went there after school, bearing candles and flowers for a vigil to pay their respects to the dead and to share how the event had impacted them.
One of the students at the vigil named Heneli remarked:
“I’ve never seen so much support from outside of communities. I just love it, to see that everyone’s here, showing their respect.”
And another named Vitorina said that:
“Even though we’re different ethnicities, different cultures, different religions, we care. As one, we all came here, we showed that we cared for Muslims.”
Later that week on 22 March, thousands of the public gathered at Hagley Park to show solidarity with the Muslims. Radio New Zealand’s website wrote that:
“Men in suits, women wearing headscarves – some for the first time – patched gang members, toddlers in pushchairs, and hundreds in the traditional dress of a culture less familiar.”
At that same gathering that took place on a Friday one week since the terror attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said to the attendees:
“According to Muslim faith, the Prophet Muhammad, sallahu alaihi wasallam (peace be upon him) said, ‘The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain.”
“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”
VOLUNTARY GIVING UP OF GUNS
Even before the ban on semi-automatic weapons announcement that came on 21 March, the terrorist attack in Christchurch had moved some Kiwi gun owners to give up their weapons of their own accord such as the following two:
Both persons above have had to put up with pro-gun critics and trolls on their Twitter accounts regarding their decision, but there are also many people supporting and thanking them.
Impressively, it took Ms Ardern just six days since the attack to announce a ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, announcing as well that a buyback programme will be launched to take existing weapons out of circulation. This ban was also supported by the country’s opposition party whose leader, Simon Bridges, said that it is in the national interest to keep New Zealanders safe.
This action was stunningly decisive and firm enough to draw praise from two American politicians who lamented that this is the kind of leadership the U.S. needs to protect its people, including schoolchildren. Bernie Sanders, a Senator and presidential candidate tweeted:
This is what real action to stop gun violence looks like. We must follow New Zealand’s lead, take on the NRA and ban the sale and distribution of assault weapons in the United States. https://t.co/lSAisDG9Ur
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) March 21, 2019
While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Congresswoman for New York, made reference to the horrific December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 children and 6 adult staff were fatally shot:
Sandy Hook happened 6 years ago and we can’t even get the Senate to hold a vote on universal background checks w/ #HR8.
Christchurch happened, and within days New Zealand acted to get weapons of war out of the consumer market.
This is what leadership looks like ⬇️ https://t.co/TcdR63anBt
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) March 21, 2019
New Zealand is said to have an estimated 1.2 million guns registered to civilians. With a population of about 4.8 million people, the ownership works out to about 1 gun for every 4 people, or about 26.3 firearms per 100 people. In comparison, this is far better than the U.S. which is said to have more guns than people with about 120 firearms per 100 people. However, Australia fares better than New Zealand with almost half the number of firearms per capita with about 14.5 firearms per 100 people.
(On a side note, my mind is ALWAYS blown all over again EVERY. SINGLE. TIME I think of how much smaller the population of countries like New Zealand is compared to Singapore. We have 5.6 million people on our tiny island, so tiny we nicknamed it our ‘little red dot’, while New Zealand, the whole of New Zealand!, has only 4.8 million. These numbers make me feel even more confined and claustrophobic, not to mentioned annoyed, when I’m out amidst human congestion!)
(However, in the spirit of always having gratitude for the things to be grateful for, and this is a MAJOR one, we don’t have guns in the hands of the public. Phew!)
THE NEXT STEP: WORKING TO PREVENT SIMILAR TRAGEDIES
And now Jacinda Ardern has also ordered a royal commission, the highest level of independent inquiry available under the country’s law to investigate how the tragedy could have happened, and whether the police and intelligence services could have done more to prevent it from happening. The formal inquiry is also to look into the issues of the accessibility of semi-automatic weapons and the role of social media in the attacks.
Linked above is the full list of the 50 killed in the attack.