IT IS a week since the horrific attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand that left 50 people dead and an equal number injured on March 15, 2019. The deadliest mass murder in New Zealand’s history was committed by a white extremist gunman who documented his crime on social media.
As a resident of New Zealand since 2005, I, like many Kiwis, am shocked that this occurred in one of the safest and most peaceful countries in the world that prides itself as having an open and tolerant society. Not since the Christchurch earthquake on Feb. 2, 2011 that claimed 185 lives has this small nation seen so many lives lost.
Our young prime minister, 38-year-old Jacinda Ardern, fronted for the grief-stricken country. In her first press conference, she said, “This is one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” She condemned the terrorist attack and vowed that this will never happen again. Acknowledging that the victims were migrants or refugees who had chosen New Zealand to be their home, she emphatically declared, “It is their home. They are us.”
Knowing that all the victims were Muslims, New Zealand embraced them. Outside mosques, flowers were offered. In Christian churches, moments of silence were observed during mass. People gathered in parks and public places lighting candles, expressing empathy through cards and streamers and by hugging one another. Politicians who are often at odds with each other for once demonstrated unity in Parliament. New Zealand flags have been flown half-mast. Civil society has raised money to help the families of victims.
For my part, as I struggled emotionally through the weekend that followed, I ended up writing a song, “Darkest Day, 15 March 2019.” The lyrics read: Brothers, sisters, young and old/Took refuge in a house of prayer/Unknowingly a man of evil mold/Broke the peace with vicious terror//Washed with blood the pristine floor/As innocents fell one by one/Screams could be heard beyond the sacred door/What beastly act of Satan’s son//We stand united/We are one people/This is our home/We are not shaken/We stand steadfast/Against the evil that men do//We cry for you, for you are us/You all will love, for you live in us/The darkest day will forever be/Etched in Aotearoa’s history//Rest in peace, dear brothers/Rest in peace, dear sisters/We, your family, grieve for you/We, your family, pray for you/We, your family, honour you. (You may listen by clicking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua6oPiHj0Do&t=3s.)
Beyond the speeches and the tributes, concrete actions have been taken by the nation’s leaders. A change in law will see the ban of military style semi-automatics and assault rifles. Already gun owners have voluntarily surrendered their firearms. There is also the call for better regulation of social media. “Going forward, what I hope it changes the most is producing a heightened response to extremism, racism, hatred,” Arden hopes.