THE day that two mosques in Christchurch were attacked, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that “these are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand and in fact have no place in the world”.
Many New Zealanders were already familiar with the white supremacist skinhead squads in Christchurch. Many had turned to social media to say that ‘you knew, the mayor of Christchurch knew, and yet you ignored the threat of white power gangs’.
But Ms Ardern correctly added that what “we place the currency on right now is our compassion and support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy”. New Zealand is, indeed, full of compassion and care for its Muslim community. There is a tremendous outpouring of love and support, while sharing a common pain.
Neighbours are dropping off flowers at the homes of Muslim families. Mosques and Islamic centres are full of grieving young and old New Zealanders bringing flowers and giving hugs. People are offering to accompany young Muslims feeling vulnerable and unsafe in public spaces. Large interfaith vigils and prayers are being held across all cities and towns.
PM Ardern has shone bright during New Zealand’s darkest days.
As a leader, Jacinda Ardern has shone bright on what she herself described as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”. At every point, she has shown herself as a leader confronting the challenge. First, she addressed a press conference, with moist eyes, as the crisis was developing. She spoke again in the evening, with more news, about what she termed as a “terrorist attack.” She offered “the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people who did this”. “You may have chosen us. We utterly reject and condemn you,” she said.
She flew to Christchurch next morning — together with her deputy prime minister who is known for his anti-immigrant views, and the leader of the opposition, Simon Bridges. She visited the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resources Centre, covering her head with a black shawl, and condoled with the Muslim community.
On Sunday, Ms Ardern visited the Kilbirnie mosque in Wellington, wearing a headscarf and a black dress, laying floral wreaths, hugging Muslim men and women. On the first Monday after Friday’s attack, she announced an inquiry into the Christchurch terrorist attack, and said that her cabinet has agreed in principle on several decisions pertaining to the gun laws in New Zealand. Details have been promised soon.
For Muslim New Zealanders, especially the younger ones, the Christchurch massacre has changed the country forever. There is disbelief that this has happened in a country looked upon as among the safest places on earth.
But the realisation is also dawning that this brutality has become a part of their history. That it was perpetrated on Muslims in prayer, in a country — for many a chosen homeland — that celebrates and embraces diversity and cultural and religious freedom is inexplicable. As they sift through the pain and a sense of loss and anguish, they also feel fear — an emotion that a vast majority of Muslims, especially the young, many of whom were born and brought up in New Zealand, had hardly ever experienced before.
Young Muslims are now confronted with questions the answers to which will lead them towards an identity crisis that is being so abruptly and painfully thrust upon them. Like so many others, they are now made to feel as victims. This is their proverbial loss of innocence as they battle grief, leading to concerns that the anger they feel might lead to unfortunate life choices for themselves, their community and the country.
So, as state and society in New Zealand deal with the aftermath of the heartbreaking brutality, they will also need to focus on a well-thought-through programme of counselling, support and guidance.
While the crisis is still too raw and the focus is still on the body count, each life lost and the families left behind to grapple with emotional, social and economic issues will raise questions of their own. As Australian anchor Waleed Aly put it, there are renewed and legitimate concerns regarding cycles of violence — as well as reactions to violence.
While New Zealand, as the latest casualty, needs to introspect on what happened and what led to this brutality; in fact, objective soul-searching has to be an ongoing exercise across the globe. Muslims, too, have a lot to process.
Ambivalence towards certain types of terrorist acts, extremism and hate cannot go on. If the global community has to make a single pledge while mourning for Christchurch, it is to never condone hatred and always stand up to all politics of hatred, in the community, in each country, in each region, and around the world.
The writer, a joint director at the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency, is currently in New Zealand.
Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2019