Entering the arched doorway of the Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch felt surreal yet brutally real all at the same time. It is almost unbelievable that this quiet suburban mosque where I went to pay my respects last week saw the violent massacre of 42 souls while they prayed peacefully in March this year.
From the outside, the mosque is a nondescript building. The only visible changes ‘post-Christchurch’ are bunches of flowers laid out the front and the permanent presence of a police van. Inside are a couple of carpeted prayer rooms where people gather to do their afternoon namaz, just as they have each day since the mosque opened.
Among this external calm the internal turmoil surfaced as a survivor described seeing the gunman enter the building to me. The killer shot people across the room before running past him and out the other door.
I prayed in the women’s section of the mosque and met other survivors and family members of those who are now gone forever. A mother whose son is no more. A young woman whose husband was murdered that ill-fated day, her life shattered and changed forever as she faces raising her two toddlers alone. It was the first time she’d come to the mosque since the shootings. She handed me a letter explaining her ongoing distress and trauma.
The pain and horror of the day is still palpable. People are still hurting. They are in shock and disbelief. They still need an abundance of emotional and economic support. While overcome with grief and sadness, I could not help but be struck by the strength of the victim’s families and their determination to rebuild their lives in Christchurch. It has been only three months since the shooting, and the alleged killer’s appearance in court has now reignited the survivor’s pain.
The overwhelming preoccupation of the community in Christchurch now is simply to survive. They face real world problems of how to pay the bills and who to turn to for the day to day support and advice they used to receive from loved ones taken so cruelly by the terrorist’s violence.
We owe these families more. We owe it to them to do everything we can to show solidarity and make sure something like this never happens again.
This sentiment cannot be reduced to a wistful platitude. To make it a reality, we have to be completely honest about the circumstances that lead to such an attack.
We have to be completely honest about the spread of racism, xenophobia and hate speech in society. We have to confront the rise and tolerance of far-right extremism, white nationalist and neo-Nazi movements. And we have to listen to those who face the impact of this abuse.
While in New Zealand, I had the opportunity to join a forum that did exactly that. The ‘Let’s Deal with it’ conference in Auckland run by Shakti New Zealand, a women-led community organisation which has been supporting many families devastated by the Christchurch attack.
What happened in Christchurch was no natural disaster, like the earthquake in 2011. This was a planned attack, intended to strike terror into an entire country – and beyond. Speakers at the conference, including indigenous, migrant and refugee women, unapologetically highlighted the deep underbelly of white supremacy that infests both Australia and New Zealand. I was proud to be one of them.
We acknowledged the history of colonialism, invasion and dispossession that created the structures of discrimination which persist to this day. We also accepted the reality of abuse and hate hurled our way for simply stating these facts of history and relating our lived experiences. If we aren’t going to talk about it now, then when?
This strong group of mainly women of colour are determined to not let the deaths of innocent people be in vain. We are determined to not allow our societies to return to complacency and indifference to racism. We will forge a new path against racism that brings everyone along.
Will you join us?