'A Year Since 15/3' by Mohamud Mohamed
On this day, 1 year ago, our nation witnessed an act of terror, marking one of the darkest hours in our country’s nascent history. On a Friday, Islam’s holiest day of the week, an armed gunmen stormed Christchurch’s Al-Noor and Linwood mosque’s with an assault rifle. His intent was clear, to kill and maim as many Muslim’s as possible. He didn’t care about whether they were young or old, male or female or care about their ethnic origin. He was determined to kill as many Muslim’s as possible and he was proud of it, proud enough to livestream it on social media. His other intent was also to sow division and suspicion amongst fellow New Zealanders. He wanted us to be wary, cautious and distrustful of each other.
However, immediately after the terrorist attack, his intent of division had the opposite effect. It created a wave of unity amongst Kiwi’s not seen before. People of all faiths and no faith, patched up gang members and members of the rainbow community paid tribute and respect at their local mosques. Kiwis of all ages and backgrounds stood shoulder to shoulder in solidarity and grief with the Muslim community. The reaction was one of aroha and love and captivated the world’s attention. Kiwi Muslim’s reciprocated the aroha and instead of closing Mosques to prevent further attacks, mosques chose to remain open and host thousands of visitors wanting to learn more about their faith. In a display of the Islamic values of forgiveness and salaam – peace, some victims chose to forgive the attacker. Following the attack, there has been an increase in the level of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and events. And when other terrorist attacks occurred in Sri Lanka during Easter and in the USA when a synagogue was attacked, Kiwis Muslim stood in solidarity with them to condemn all forms of hatred and violence and promote goodwill and harmony.
Nevertheless, it is important to note that for so many years’ members of New Zealand’s Muslim community have raised the alarm on the rise of Islamophobia fuelled by the far-right and neo- Nazi’s. Following 9/11, veiled and casual racism has left many Muslims to feel unwelcome and fearful. Community members have long argued that government machinery and the apparatus of intelligence services has been skewed towards viewing Muslims with suspicion. The media’s portrayal and reporting of Muslims have been tilted in a fashion that depicted them as violent terrorist. Muslim women who chose to wear the hijab were depicted as being oppressed. Community leaders have argued that the attention of the war on terror disproportionally focused on Muslims, whilst monitoring the rise of neo-Nazis and far-right extremists groups was not given the same level of importance. Hate speech and prejudice were often overlooked in the name of freedom of speech. A combination of these factors and many others are some of the reasons that are attributed to why the gunman’s intention and planning was not detected earlier.
In the aftermath of the attack, New Zealand captured the world’s attention with its unparalleled display of compassion, generosity and love. Moving forward, with the 1st anniversary, we have an opportunity to capitalize on our unity. We are lucky to live a country where human rights are not only valued, but also cherished. Although there is still some work to be done, New Zealand is a country where diversity is not only welcomed but it is embraced. New Zealand is a place in which a multi-cultural society is not only accepted but it also respected by the vast majority of New Zealanders, a place in which people from different cultures, races and religions can live amongst one another in peace and harmony. These are some of the many values that make New Zealand great.
If we want to prevent further attacks happening here or elsewhere we must be encouraging and interacting with each other more and be accepting of our differences. Because, as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks said: “It is in this face to face interactions that we realize that people who are not like us are just people like us”. We should also remember the words of Nelson Mandela that “no one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite".
Author: Mohamud Mohamed is a policy-maker & finalist of the 2018 Kiwibank Local Hero Awards.