Christchurch mosque attacks: One year on, mosques want to move forward

9:21 pm on 15 March 2020

A spokesman for the Al Noor mosque, which was targeted today last year in the Christchurch shootings, says members of the mosque want to move forward and grow understanding and positive things out of the turmoil.

Tony Green, member of Muslim community

Tony Green, member of Muslim community . Photo: RNZ/ Eden Fusitu’a

Listen to interviews from RNZ's news special, on the impact of the 15 March attack, one year on.

Tony Green, spokesperson for Al Noor talked to RNZ as part of a news special on the first anniversary of the 15 March shootings.

"We're trying to move forward, we're saying how can we move forward, that's why we've come out with our Christchurch invitation.

"We're saying what can you learn from terrible things. How can you go forward with that and speak to that - the crucial thing for us is healing, and a community can never fully heal if they are seen as an 'other'."

He said grieving for those killed at the Al Noor mosque in Riccarton and the Linwood Islamic Centre last year and healing will be a long journey.

"We look at the life beyond this, and we say that everything that is of value in this life is to go on the life beyond - our timeframe is very long, it's eternal."

The Linwood and Al Noor mosques are open to Muslims today for prayers, and midday prayers were expected to be well attended. And people have been laying flowers on the mosques steps.

Green said the last-minute cancellation of a memorial service that was to be held in the Horncastle Arena, and an open day at the Al Noor mosque, due to Covid-19 precautions, was taken in their stride by the Muslim community.

"We are well practiced in Christchurch, probably more so in Christchurch than the rest of New Zealand we realise that you don't have control.

"We had the earthquakes here, and we know that people realise here that things happen, and they can completely unset your plans. We had people on March 15 last year who had come from overseas to visit family, and they were killed in the mosque.

"We respond as best we can because we are driven by a faith, and the faith makes us understand a whole lot of other perspectives."

Green said the healing process must be wider than just the Muslim community.

"In our Christchurch Invitation we're inviting people to look back at what happened in a bad time, what are the things that got you through. This is like paying it forward ... if there's someone you had an argument with some time ago and you haven't been in touch, ring them up.

"Because our community is split. It's split on a whole load of issues - it's the neoliberal global economy which exists to have people as other."

Green said members of the community are still experiencing discrimination, and quotes former New Zealand prime minister Norman Kirk.

"He says something like 'people don't want much', he said 'they want a place to live, someone to love, somewhere to work and something to hope for' - and that's us.

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The Linwood Islamic Centre Photo: RNZ / Eden Fusitu'a

"What we would love is the point where you coach yourself to... see somebody who you've not spoken to, and you see them as normal, and recognise their aspirations, their hopes, that everything they want in life is just like you."

Tyrone Smith from the Linwood Islamic Centre said many people from the surrounding community had visited the mosque, and it had been a "beautiful day".

But a year on, some members of the community have not wanted to return to the mosque.

"We've had a lot of families affected, and a lot have moved away. I see a lot of stress for those families.

"We have a beautiful strong faith, but sometimes when trauma does hit, it's so deep. Coming back to the mosque was too much [for some]."

The faith-based religion provides good tools to heal, he said.

"We're trying to bring normality, by giving the [youth] fist pumps and salams, and checking in on them - 'how's your day going?, how's school going?'

"I truly believe that the young community, and especially the young Muslim ones are all dealing with trauma in some way, because of that video that was shared, and a lot of them saw that video."

The impact wasn't always obvious from the outside, but Smith tells of a story from a teacher who said the sound of a loud bang in class, from a box dropping, had caused his pupils to drop to the ground.

"They were freaked out, and that shows and reflects that for these young ones, what they're going through."

Many organisations had been making efforts to provide support, and had met with representatives from the Muslim community, Smith said.

"They're doing their best. I do see a lot of connections."

Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the mosque shootings have changed the way the city's residents see the world.

A year on Dalziel said she has spent today reflecting on the events of last year, and the extraordinary response which followed.

She said the Christchurch invitation is an opportunity for continued goodwill and communication among all residents. And the attack has allowed the city to see difference in a new light, not as something to be feared but instead valued.

Wellington mayor Andy Foster said the day was a reminder New Zealand needs to work together to stamp out intolerance.

He noted there have been ongoing acts of intolerance around Wellington against many groups, such as homophobic attacks at a Pride Parade or the defacing of Jewish sites with Nazi symbols.

He said such attacks do not have a place in Wellington.

Foster said he has asked council staff to work with community groups to find out what more can be done. And he will raise the issue when he meets the Wellington Police Commander soon.

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