‘Not in New Zealand’: Mourning for Christchurch Terrorism
On Friday afternoon, I was re-entering the office when one of my coworkers looked at me, with regret in his eyes as he said, “I’m sorry.” I asked what for? That’s when he told me the tragedy that had just transpired in Christchurch.
The emotions were slow to sink in, a sharp tug in my chest. As I read the article, as I realize the horrifying facts and figures, the inhumanity of how the deed was done and broadcasted, and the images and voices of the victims, the sharp tug grew and spread into a dull and painful feeling of shock and disbelief.
‘Not in New Zealand’
That was the thought that sounded over and over again in my head. It is an unfortunate fact that these terrible events happen throughout the world, but I had never once suspected that in this beautiful country, filled with amazing nature and awe-inspiring beauty, of wonderfully friendly people and welcoming communities, and in our small remote corner of the earth where it would often be excluded from world maps, would such a thing happen.
I am an immigrant who has had the pleasure of living in New Zealand for six years with my family. My eldest son was two months old when we set foot in Wellington Airport, and my daughter was born here. In all of those time, I’ve never felt that people thought of me less because of my culture and beliefs and had always felt secure and confident in being able to practice Islam. In those six years, I’ve felt the safest that I’ve ever felt, even when compared to my time in the country I was born in.
On that Friday afternoon, I felt threatened for the first time. Walking from my office to the train station, I found myself constantly looking to the sides and behind me, eyeing corners and entrances for any sign of danger. When I finally reached my train and sat down, I found my hands trembling.
In my house, where previously we only lock our doors at night, now they are always locked. I’ve started wondering if we shouldn’t stand around near windows, and became sensitive to any sound or movement near our house. When I had to leave for some chores, my heart couldn’t stay still, feeling anxious about my family back in the house. Worst of all, even if just for a split second, I started suspecting my neighbours: “Do they know we are Muslims? If they do, would they wish us harm? Is this Kiwis truly feel about Muslims?” This thought, the fact that I would actually distrust my neighbours and fellow Kiwis, more than anything else, gave me the most grief.
However, this fear will pass. Even now, it is fading. In its place are an ever-increasing collection of beautiful words, thoughts, and actions from New Zealanders across the country, reaching out to us, putting flowers and notes of support and love, and letting us know that what had happened is not New Zealand and that they stand together with us as whanau (family). Tonight, the sight of more than 10,000 Kiwis in the Basin Reserve filled my eyes with tears and gratefulness. Yes, this is what New Zealand stands for.
The terrorist meant for his action to break us apart, to create strife and mistrust. How little did they understand New Zealand, for their action had instead brought us together in unity. Already, non-Muslims had started asking more questions about Islam, asking for copies of the Qur’an. Now, where two people may have previously never exchanged any words with each other, perhaps a conversation will be struck. Where someone may have lived not knowing the names of their neighbours, maybe a visit will be had. From these conversations and connection, new knowledge and understanding will blossom between those that previously may have thought them so different from the other, and from this understanding, love.
Nothing could ever justify the tragedy of what had happened, the unimaginable pain and grief that the victims and those around them have to go through. Yet, I could think nothing else more beautiful, nothing else that could honour those that passed more, than if from all this, we come out a more loving and unified New Zealand, where people from all cultures, beliefs, and backgrounds, bond together as one whanau.