After the terrorist attacks on Christchurch mosques on March 15th 2019, AUT Muslim doctoral candidate Najmah Usman wrote two posts for Thesislink giving her reflections. Here, writing with her husband Kusnan Sayuti, Najmah reflects on the tragedy one year later.
Last month I returned from Indonesia to Auckland to attend my doctoral oral exam. This puts me back in New Zealand for the one year anniversary of the country’s darkest day: the 15 March 2019 shooting of Muslim communities during Friday Prayers at Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch. Fifty-one Muslims were killed (including one toddler), and dozens were wounded in the shooting, which was broadcast live online by the shooter.
What I learned from New Zealand is how they dealt with the terrorist action. Now that one year has passed since the tragedy, I reflect three phases in the response to the darkest day in New Zealand: 1) Healing; 2) Recovery; and 3) Maintenance.
When the peace was shattered in this peaceful country, a healing phase was urgently needed. I observed how the government prevented the spread of Islamophobia from the first week after the tragedy. Jacinda Ardern bravely said that the tragedy of Christchurch was a terrorist attack. She became the first leader who announced this action as terrorism. There was also a movement to wear Hijab (scarf) to support Muslim women not to be afraid of their identity. It was a new light for Muslims who may have been worried that Muslims would be blamed for this tragedy. When the tragedy occurred, New Zealand calmed Muslim communities with reminders that “they are us”, “this is your home and you should have been safe here”. More Maori language appeared everywhere, such as Kia Kaha – stay strong.
I learned about kindness; kindness is not just lip service, but the New Zealand government proved it in action. One of my Muslim friends from Indonesia told me that when she wanted to apply for an indefinite visa for her residency in New Zealand, there were some questions regarding the tragedy in the immigration form – such as ‘are you part of the family of the Christchurch tragedy?’ New Islamic centers and madrasah (schools) were opened in some parts of New Zealand, including in Auckland, and the Prime Minister and local politicians visited Islamic colleges.
I am writing this article at AUT South on Friday 13 March 2020, almost one year after the terrorist attacks. I heard the prayer calls (Athan) surrounding the university as the sign of Friday (Jumah) prayer. Being a minority group in this country, and being far away from Indonesia, my tears dropped. Even in Indonesia, with Muslims as a majority group, some people still debate sounding the Athan with a loudspeaker. I observed more Muslims with Hijab working in public spheres. There was a reflection time with the theme ‘Lights and Love’.
This third phase is the longest one. It will be never-ending as New Zealand actively promotes the vision of this country as ‘One Ocean One People’. I believe that the actions of New Zealand to protect Muslims will keep continuing.
I am finally able to finish my Ph.D. in Public Health and have a valuable chance to reflect on cultural life and social protection in this beautiful country. As a recipient of New Zealand Scholarship from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AUT does not only provide me with the best education, but also invaluable experiences about real action to overcome racism issues in this country.
My journey in New Zealand is officially ending, but another is just beginning. I will tell the world that in the Southern Hemisphere, there is a small beautiful country that treats my religion (Islam) with dignity and respect. Thank you.