Jacinda Ardern unveiling the Memorial Plaque in Christchurch (RNZ Photo by Nate McKinnon)
As Prime Minister Jacinda Arden unveiled a Memorial Plaque this afternoon in Christchurch, it marked the end of a tragic chapter of terrorism and a stark reminder of how extreme forms of hatred can be unsettling and disturbing to a Nation.
Hundreds of people, including members of the families of victims of the Christchurch massacre in which 51 men, women and children were shot to death by a mindless terrorist, were present along with community leaders and others observing silence and sorrow.
A grim reminder
The Plaque is in the grounds of Masjid Al Noor, where 44 people were killed on March 15, 2019. A few minutes later, seven others were killed at the Linwood Islamic Centre by the same gunman.
Soon after the killings, Ms Ardern had called it ‘one of the blackest days in New Zealand’s history’ and that ‘there is no place for extreme violence in New Zealand.’
“They were yours. And now they are part of us. Our love goes out to their family and friends, and to all of you, their Muslim brothers and sisters who have been left with painful memories to this day. While I will never know your pain, I carry with me many memories from that day, and the days that followed. I still recall visiting the hall where the day after the attack hundreds of members of the Muslim community gathered,” she said, speaking at the Lautoka Mosque in Fiji on February 27, 2020 during her visit to that country.
Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda speaking at the event (RNZ Photo by Nate McKinnon)
Ms Ardern is in Christchurch as a part of her election campaign.
The opening of the Memorial Plaque was postponed twice in the past- the first was scheduled for March 15, 2020, the first anniversary of the tragedy but cancelled because of Covid-19 Lockdown Level 4 and the second on August 15, 2020, again postponed because of Lockdown following re-emergence of the pandemic.
Tanveer Jahangir Mohammed, whose brother Ahmed Iqbal Jahangir, who was among the injured in the shooting, said that it was a solemn moment.
“I came back from Australia to relaunch my restaurant career in New Zealand, which has really been my home for more than 15 years. I wanted to be a part of our people and also care for my injured brother. Our community has gone through a lot of grief since the massacre. The opening of the Memorial Plaque is an important event for us,” he said.
The Plaque was also the desire of Gamal Fouda, Imam of the Al Noor Mosque.
Speaking at the event, he described March 19, 2019 as ‘one of the toughest times of our lives.’
“No one could have ever imagined that this will happen in New Zealand because we all thought that this is a safe country. While March 15, 2019 is one of the darkest days of New Zealand, it also made the country ‘the Mother of Peace in the world.’
“We created a legacy through our response to this tragedy that we grow on at this time. We need a new law to differentiate between freedom of speech and hate speech. Is burning the Holy Quran or the Bible freedom of speech? If you are going to actually create problems and then say there is freedom of speech, then, sorry freedom of speech is not hate speech,” he said.
Murderer labelled terrorist
Australian Brenton Tarrant (29), who admitted to 51 charges of murder, 40 charges of attempted murder and one charge of terrorism was sentenced to life without parole by the Christchurch High Court on August 27, 2020.
On September 1, 2020, the New Zealand government designated him as a terrorist.
Such a designation under New Zealand legislation freezes the assets of terrorist entities and makes it a criminal offence to participate in or support the activities of the designated terrorist entity.