Two years on from mosque attacks in Ōtautahi

By Rukuwai Tipene-Allen

Harrowing, painful, and for some unimaginable. It is two years on from the day 51 New Zealanders' lives were lost in one of the most horrific attacks in living memory.

The attack on two Christchurch mosques, Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton and Linwood Mosque, is remembered as a dark day in the country's history.

Witnesses and survivors recounted the moments of anguish and pain at a national memorial service held at the weekend. One witness says he watched as a father held his son and heard a paramedic tell him that he had died and that there was nothing that could be done to help. He said "Suddenly my own pain felt insignificant. my heart wept for them."

For many others, unimaginable is not the word to describe what happened on March 15, 2019.

Harassed

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said to those who congregated in remembrance, "Sadly, if we assume that before that day in our history our Muslim community hadn't experienced hatred and racism, we would be wrong.

"In the aftermath of the terror attack, I heard the stories of women who were frequently harassed because they are easily identifiable as Muslim. Of children whose earliest experiences of racism were in their school grounds. Of horrible and dehumanising experiences that were so common, that perhaps most devastating of all, some gave up on doing anything about it."

A royal commission report into the attack said it "was driven by an extreme right-wing Islamophobic ideology. Its purpose was to promote chaos and disharmony in New Zealand." And that New Zealand's security agencies were "almost exclusively" focused on Islamic terroist threats.

Well-defined laws

Kiran Munir lost her husband in the attack, and her children lost their father. The widower described her late husband as a good man. She spoke on behalf of the families of those who lost their lives two years ago and said there is more work to do in law to prevent such events from happening again.

"Gaps and holes in our society are laid bare in the royal commission report. There's an urgent need for well-defined laws for hate crime and hate speech. There's still a long way to go to make sure nothing like this ever happens again."

Although the government has apologised for failings in its security response, the local iwi remains staunch to their message of unity two years on.

A message local MP Rino Tirikatene is hopeful will resonate with the Islamic community. "Ko tātou tātou. We all are one."