Crowds gather at the Wellington Vigil held at the Basin Reserve on Sunday (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Visions of hope: Wellington rallies together

Wellingtonians gathered at the Basin Reserve last night to mourn the loss of 50 lives, grieve together, and stand against terrorism, Islamophobia and white supremacy, reports Emily Writes.

Many wore white. Many cried. There were many tamariki there, in the sunshine, sitting quietly on the laps of their parents. A young girl stood at one of the entrances to the field with a sign that read, You are Loved.

Police stood with their weapons and children gaped at them. We thought we were so lucky to live in a country where many of our children have never seen a gun like that, or a gun at all.

A waiata began. E tangi ana koe, hine e hine, e ngenge ana koe, hine e hine. You are weeping little girl, you are weary … There is love for you, be sad no longer. Noho i te aroha. A much-need, stunning karanga from our mana whenua: that call of welcome that brings us all together, reminding us who we thought we were, and who we want to be as a nation. The heartache felt by all of us, a karakia echoed through the park, a prayer for all, a hope or wish.

The voice of the kaumātua fell gently onto heads bowed, heads resting on shoulders, heads looking to the sky for answers that won’t come.

Mayor Justin Lester began the proceedings. Like many of our best leaders he spoke with empathy and love, the sadness and exhaustion in his voice clear. He greeted the city as whānau.

“We are here to share our love, our support, our grief, and our tears. We are here to remember all of those New Zealanders who were victims of a terrorist act we are here today to show our Muslim community that if one person, one terrorist, can harbour so much hate, then 4.5 million New Zealanders can overwhelm them with love. This country belongs to all of us.

“This is a country the Muslim community is proud to call its home and we are even prouder to have them here.

“The Muslim community has responded with dignity, grace and a level of compassion in stark contrast to the pain they have had to endure.

He called for action in the face of this terrible pain.

“We as a city, and as a society, must show today that we reject and condemn all forms of racism. We must stand up and never stand aside. We won’t tolerate jokes or casual references or any form of discrimination. All extreme violence starts with hate and discrimination.

“I say to all of you tonight hate will not divide us we will embrace our diversity and we will show love.”

Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy began by saying, “We feel the same sorrow.”

She spoke for us all when she said: “We will grieve forever. But love exists to drive out hate and the outpouring of support and solidarity for the victims and for our Muslim communities has demonstrated the very best of human nature.”

She talked of world leaders sharing our sadness. She thanked the first responders for their immense courage and professionalism.

“At a time like this, words are inadequate. Nothing we say or do now will change what happened, but what we can do is go forward with a determination that hatred will not be allowed to flourish. We shouldn’t allow the acts of one person to define our nation. We must resolve to confront extremism wherever we see it. This is our moment to show that tolerance, mutual respect and love can and will prevail.”

Sultan Eusoff speaks during the Wellington Vigil held at the Basin Reserve on March 17, 2019, Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

In a heartrending speech, Muslim leader Sultan Eusoff, his voice breaking, said that 15th March 2019 will forever be our darkest day. “How could this happen in this peaceful, beautiful country of ours?”

He said: “On behalf of the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations Mustafa Farouk and the whole Muslim community across the country, I wish to express my gratitude to the government and the people of New Zealand for showing your support and solidarity.

“It indeed touched my heart when Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited the federation’s offices and said, ‘you are us’.”

He shared with the crowd “a small prayer for peace”.

“Send us peace, oh Lord. That we may think, act and speak harmoniously. Send thy peace, oh Lord.”

Rachel Qi, President of the Multicultural Council of Wellington said she was reminded of a whakatauki:

He aha te mea nui o te ao. He tāngata, he tāngata, he tāngata

What is the most important thing in the world? It is people, it is people, it is people.

“I’m not a New Zealand-born Kiwi but I’m a proud New Zealander,” she said to huge applause. “I’m a very happy Wellingtonian. My daughter was born here and I appreciate the opportunity to meet you all in my life in New Zealand.

“We are a family.”

One of the most powerful speeches was by migrant and refugee rights campaigner Gayaal Iddamalgoda who said he had struggled to find the words in the face of such tragedy. “I came here I resolved to try to tell you the truth as I see but it but there’s so much emotion that words are failing me today,” he said. “I am so confused and angry and I am trying really hard not to feel this way… I have so many hard questions that I think need to be answered by all of us.”

To huge applause he asked: “Why was our secret service busy surveilling our Muslim neighbours and not the extremists who sought to victimise them? Why have the police in this city spent more than $100,000 of taxpayer money to attack peace activists protesting weapons conferences and arms dealers while letting racist terrorists acquire semi-automatic weapons?

“When will politicians left and right own up to the fact that they have for years scapegoated and blamed migrants and refugees for social and economic problems that they are not responsible for?

“When will they admit that while they’ve been doing this they’ve allowed unspeakable hatred to brew up under their noses?

“I want answers and I want accountability and I want something to change. While I wait for these answers I want to do something to cancel out the hateful paranoid vision of these extremists and offer instead a vision of hope.

“I want you to join me in calling for two things: Firstly, I call upon the government to immediately remove the restriction, the effective ban, on Middle Eastern and African refugees based on bogus security concerns. I also call upon the New Zealand government to triple the refugee quota. I call for these things because my hope is that with these actions we can say with a single voice today refugees are not blamed they are not feared and they are truly welcome here.”

He spoke directly to the killer and those who helped him, aided him and associated with him.

Raising his hand in a fist to the sky he said: “Never never never again”.

Wellington Vigil held at the Basin Reserve on March 17, 2019, Wellington, New Zealand. (Photo by Elias Rodriguez/Getty Images)

Chair of Changemakers Refugee Forum Ibrahim Omer introduced himself as a unionist, a former refugee, and proud Muslim.

“But most of all I’m a proud Kiwi,” he said.

“Ten years ago I chose to come to New Zealand because it was safe. I was welcomed with open arms and I’m so pleased to have made my life here. That day I was so pleased to make my life here and that’s no different today.”

He thanked PM Jacinda Ardern: “You are a leading light in this dark time. You made us feel safer and more assured.”

He spoke to the loved ones of the victims and survivors: “Your loss is unbearable but you’re not alone, we mourn and grieve with you”.

He said his flatmates and friends had offered their apologies to him and that they felt guilty. He had a message for them and those feeling the same.

“No terrorist represents a country, no terrorist represents a religion. This guy is not one of you, he’s not one of you. Please don’t feel guilty but we must talk – we have a discussion to have going forward. Violence will always come in many forms. I have faced violence, I have faced hate crimes online, most Muslims and minority groups know what I’m talking about. But now it’s time for all of us to come together as a community and act.”

Nadia Abu-Shanab introduced herself as a Palestinian New Zealander, a mother, and an early childhood teacher. She stood in tears, surrounded by friends.

She talked of the victims. “Each person contained a whole world of possibilities and dreams but no more so than the children we lost. We will sit with this grief now – we will live with this unchangeable and traumatic reality forever. We must also sit with an uncomfortable feeling that it could not have been this way.”

She shared the difficulty in talking to our tamariki about the attack and encouraged adults to tell children that “we live in a world that is not always fair for all people but they hold the power to change things.”

“In order to change things we must face them as they are now: Islamophobia anti migrant sentiment white supremacy and racism are all real. They kill and they live with us in this country and they need to be challenged.”

She cried and was joined by many as she detailed the breathtakingly unfair truth that the congregation at the mosque in Linwood had been surveilled for the last 20 years. “They have been treated like criminals and terrorists all while their communities have felt the building violence of Islamophobia. It was reported and it was minimised. Because the War on Terror peddled Islamophobia.”

She encouraged New Zealanders to be “relentless in our love”.

“This is not a question of who we think we are or who we are not, but a question of who we want to be. The whole world is watching us and I believe we can do this. In a complicated and polarised world if any place can show us we can live in peace it is this place.”

Together, we sang ‘Te Aroha’ and an impromptu haka broke out in waves across the sea of sadness and hope.

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The words of Ibrahim Omer felt truer than ever.

“This terrorist didn’t want to just kill our people, he wanted us to turn us against each other. People are reacting, but not in the way that he wanted – this is how our people are reacting,” he said.

He held his hand out to the crowd.

“This is our answer to him.”


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