On March 15th, an armed gunman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing about 50 individuals and injuring 50 more. The shooting took place on a Friday, the religious day of worship for individuals who practice Islam. According to CNN, suspect 28-year old Brenton Tarrant, was arrested within 21 minutes of emergency calls to the police. Vox reported that prior to the attack, Tarrant published an online 74-page manifesto where he exercised white supremacist rhetoric and denounced immigration, referring to it as “white genocide.” The Washington Post reported that Tarrant used the social media platform Facebook to live stream the majority of his attack. In extremely graphic footage, Tarrant can be seen reloading his firearms and shooting worshippers while they beg for their life. The shooting has been labeled a terrorist attack by New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
According to The Washington Post, Muslims account for one percent of New Zealand’s total population. Al Noor, one of the two mosques targeted by Tarrant, serves a population of about 3,000 local Muslims, making it Christchurch’s most distinguished mosque. Throughout the years, New Zealand has willingly welcomed refugees from Bangladesh, Syria, Pakistan, and Jordan. BBC reported that, several Christchurch massacre victims viewed New Zealand as their safe space after they fled persecution or war. Khaled and Hamza Mustafa were a father-and-son duo who sought asylum in New Zealand after escaping war in Syria. Hussain al-Umari’s parents immigrated from the United Arab Emirates in the 1990s; survivors recognized al-Umari as a hero for challenging the gunman. Daoud Nabi and his family fled the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan during the 1980s; many credit Nabi with throwing himself in front of others during the attack. Mazharuddin Syed Ahmed, a survivor of the attack told BBC that he used to emphasize how safe and welcoming New Zealand was to his friends in India and Saudi Arabia. “Now I see [that] one of the biggest evil [acts] can come to the most remotest, peaceful corner of earth” Ahmed said.
Since the shooting, which claimed the lives of victims ranging from age three to 71, New Zealand has held memorial services, as well as an Islamic call to prayer and a two-minute moment of silence. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has implored social media platforms such as Facebook to improve their initiatives for removing hateful posts. According to ABC News, Ardern released an emotional ministerial statement in which she stated, “Speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.” On April 10th, New Zealand’s Parliament voted 119-1 in favor of banning many semiautomatic weapons and assault rifles. According to The Guardian, around 40 New Zealanders have willingly handed in their firearms to the police. “We’ll cope without semi-automatic weapons” one individual argued, “We won’t cope without the people who were taken from us from these events.” This is New Zealand’s deadliest mass shooting, with the death count from this attack exceeding the amount of deaths that the country usually endures in one year.
Minna Alkayat, a senior at Ramapo, expressed her feelings towards the attack, “…I guess I felt a little stronger for this one [shooting] because it could have been me or my family at the mosque. I don’t feel like my reaction was that different [from] other people who don’t practice Islam because most of the people that helped out after that shooting were not Muslims. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter what religion you are [a part of] to be able to support others.”
Marcos Thomas, a Ramapo junior, responded to the attack by making a post on Schoology that received over 70 likes. “It’s obviously difficult being a person of color and practicing a different religion than almost everyone in your school, so I felt that to make everyone feel like they were a part of our community, I had to at least show them that I stood with them” Thomas said. “Another thing that motivated me to make the post was, unfortunately, the lack of support the Ramapo community initially showed… I saw no support coming from our community, a stark contrast to what we gave Parkland. It sort of made me think ‘Why didn’t we give the same support to them as we did Parkland?’, so I felt as though I had to do something, because if I didn’t, no one else would.”
From Wales to Fiji, people have attended vigils to celebrate the lives and mourn the loss of the Christchurch worshippers. CNN reported that Farid Ahmed, a survivor of the attack who lost his wife, promoted forgiveness at the New Zealand vigil. “People ask me, ‘Why did you forgive someone who has killed your beloved wife?’” Ahmed said. “I don’t want a heart that is boiling like a volcano, a volcano has anger, fury, rage, it does not have peace. I want a heart that will be full of love and care and full of mercy.” Brenton Tarrant has been ordered a mental health evaluation; he will reappear in court on June 14th.
Featured Photo: Victims of the Christchurch Massacre (Photo courtesy of BBC)
By: Tara Lamorgese, Staff Writer