Illustration: Sophie Tse
Illustration: Sophie Tse

OPINIONSocietyMarch 15, 2022

A lot has changed since March 15, 2019 – but not enough

Illustration: Sophie Tse
Illustration: Sophie Tse

Three years on from the March 15 terror attacks, Anjum Rahman reflects on what has, and hasn’t, changed.

Looking back to the days after the March 15 attacks, it seems our country was changed forever.  There was self-reflection, an inner resolve.  It seemed, for a too-brief moment in time, that we would come together to push back on the hate we had witnessed. People wondered how this could happen here, and what we might do to make sure that it never happened again.

We came out in numbers to share our collective grief, seeking support from each other and offering sympathy and solidarity to the Muslim community. I know the impacted families continue to deal with very real issues of grief, trauma and rebuilding their lives. Many people took action and put their efforts towards creating connections and understanding.

For those in the Muslim community, there was the work of supporting those in Christchurch, as well as engaging with the Royal Commission of Inquiry in the hope of seeing accountability and meaningful systemic change. All of this work was traumatic, and it was needed. There seemed the possibility of change.

A year later we thought the same during that first Covid lockdown, when the world seemed to stop and many of us had to be still.  We heard the birds, the pollution lessened, we connected with our neighbours. Those in essential work kept us going, putting their health on the line in often low-paid jobs. Again, we thought things would be different after this, after we were shown the possibility of ordering our lives in a better way.

Members of the public in front of the Christchurch High Court during the last day of the sentencing of the March 15 shooter (Photo: Sanka Vidanagama/Getty Images)

We cared that people were homeless and we housed them. We made sure people had food, we checked regularly on those who were vulnerable or alone. There was a sense that we were all part of a collective that looked out for each other.

Three years on from the terrorism in Christchurch, that promise of change hasn’t yet come to fruition. Even though there are many people working hard for it. I want to acknowledge their fierceness, their strength and courage. And also, their exhaustion and frustration, the times when it’s all too much.

We have also seen the inequities in our health and social support systems brought to light through Covid infections and deaths. We have seen the increase in online hate and widespread disinformation. With that the corresponding rise in real world harms. Our social fabric seems so fragile and easily torn.

In a world that feels chaotic, with war, rising prices, anger and hate expressed in protests across the world, our hearts seek a certainty that isn’t there. We want to go back to a world that was less than perfect for too many, but seems better than where we are now. I believe we still have at least a few years before we get back to many things, and in the meantime there are plenty of people exploiting the fear and distress to incite anger and hate.

This is why the recommendations of the Royal Commission are more critical now than ever, and absolutely urgent. The government has committed to implementing all of them, and there is certainly work underway on several fronts. Whether it’s work on recording hate crime by the police, legislative changes, work on a social cohesion framework, the Christchurch Call, and more. Public servants are busy.

Members of Auckland’s Muslim community come together in prayer before a remembrance service at Eden Park on March 29, 2019 (Photo: Phil Walter/Getty Images)

But we need more urgency, and in many areas. I’m still disappointed with the Counter-Terrorism legislation passed last year, granting greater powers without evidence of any benefit. Hate speech legislation has been delayed, and we await a full review and overhaul of the national security system.

While the Covid response has taken priority, delivery on the Royal Commission recommendations may well have gone some way to deal with the issues we have been seeing recently with increased hostility, bullying and harassment. This is being felt in the Muslim community along with many others.

With an election coming up next year, we need to see firm commitment from all political parties to the Royal Commission recommendations. I’m sure all parties want to see our communities living without fear and in safety, able to disagree on core issues without verbal or physical violence. This requires work that is long-term and it requires the resourcing of communities who are best placed to implement solutions suiting their unique needs.

We don’t need any more empty platitudes of sorrow on this anniversary. We need firm action and strong resolve. Across the board.

Keep going!