“I’m 66 and I never thought in my life I would live to see something like this. Not in New Zealand,” said eyewitness and first responder Jill Keats, via an interview by the BBC.
On March 14, one year after the American March For Our Lives to regulate guns, a terrorist opened fire on the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. According to Christchurch police commissioner Mike Bush, 49 people were killed in the shootings.
“This is and will be one of New Zealand’s darkest days,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated in a press conference. “It is clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack.”
Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel responded by saying “The only way that communities can respond to the voice of hate is to come together with love, compassion, and kindness.”
The shooter, whose name we will not reveal out of respect for those killed, appeared in court for the first time a day later flashing a white power symbol. Additionally, he kept an online manifesto of his personal beliefs, which he posted just before the terror attack, and shot footage of his murderous rampage on Facebook Live.
Ramzan Ali was interviewed by the New Zealand Herald. He is believed to be the last person to make it out of the mosque alive. According to his account, the gunman shot everyone in sight, stopping seven times to reload his gun. Another man was at the door of the mosque, trying to help Ali escape. However, the shooter was watching and shot the man in the chest. Another eyewitness interviewed by the NZ Herald, stated “One girl [shot] looked about five years old, and her father had also been shot.”
Keats and another first responder helped a man exiting the mosque. The man had been shot in the chest, and Keats put him in the passenger’s seat of her car to try and shield him. “The worst part was that we could hear the ambulances,” Keats said, “but they couldn’t get close.” Eyewitnesses report many first responders such as Keats driving victims to the hospital themselves rather than waiting for the ambulances.
Most responses to the shooting have been an outpouring of support for those killed. Celebrities from Mohamed Salah to Mark Hamill to Kourtney Kardashian to Nick Jonas have shared messages of support for the victims and condemnations of hatred and bigotry.
Some of the responses to the shooting, however, have been horrifying.
The worst response by far came from Australian senator Fraser Anning. Anning, a conservative representing Queensland, started off his statement on the shooting by condemning the actions of the shooter. From there, however, his statement devolved into a victim-blaming Islamophobic tirade.
Anning’s statement continued “However… what [the shooting] highlights is the growing fear within our community of the increasing Muslim presence.” After attacking “left-wing media,” Anning’s next paragraph read “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration problem which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”
Many other prominent Australians quickly responded by condemning Anning’s despicable victim-blaming. Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated in a tweet that “Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian parliament.” There is now a petition circling around to remove Fraser Anning from the Australian parliament.
Additionally, a boy known by many as “Egg Boy” became famous after hitting Anning with an egg during one of his first public appearances following the statement. The boy, a 17-year-old named Will Connolly, was attacked by Anning’s supporters and arrested, but an online fundraiser to help Connolly with his legal fees ended up raising tens of thousands of dollars. Connolly said in an interview with Australian network Network Ten that he was donating the money raised to help the victims and their families.
American president Donald Trump responded by condemning the violence as well. However, his statement was viewed as hypocritical by many. Nihad Awad, leader of the Council of American-Islamic Foundation, stated “Your words matter. Your policies matter.” saying that Trump “had been able to normalize Islamophobia” and his rhetoric had inspired many white supremacist shooters. Following the shooting, Trump stated that he “didn’t really” think white nationalism is a rising global issue, according to CNN. When asked if she agreed with him, Jacinda Ardern simply stated “No.”
It’s also worth noting that in his manifesto, the shooter wrote that he supported Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.”
The reality of the shooting has brought Islamophobia into the limelight again. While this may be news to some of us, it’s a reality that many in the Muslim community have to live with every day. Waleed Aly is a journalist currently working for Network Ten. Aly stated on live TV “I’m gutted and I’m scared… [but] the most dishonest thing would be to say that I’m shocked.” He went on to state many other religion-based terrorist attacks in recent history, such as the shooting at a mosque in Quebec City two years ago and last year’s shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Aly stated, however, that the scariest thing was when he started reading the shooter’s manifesto “not because it was deranged, but because it was so familiar.”
On March 14, 2019, at least forty-nine men, women, and children were killed in cold blood. The attack can only be described as a hate crime of the worst degree and a horrifying terrorist attack.
Within the attack, we saw the best and the worst of humanity. We saw the heroism of Daoud Nabi, a 71-year-old grandfather and Afghani immigrant, who jumped in front of a bullet to save someone else’s life, according to his son Omar. We saw the heroism of Naeem Rashid, a teacher who launched himself at the shooter in an attempt to save others. We saw the heroism of another unidentified man, who eyewitness Syed Mazharuddin claimed wrestled with the shooter in an attempt to pry the gun from the shooter’s hands.
Upon being called a hero by her interviewer, Jill Keats responded “No. You just do what you do at the time. I wish I could have done more.”
However, we also saw a hateful mass terrorist attack against a minority group- something that has sadly become all too common in recent years.
This story was written very recently after I saw Fraser Anning’s comments and honestly was sickened enough to stay up the whole night looking into this. It is in the April 2019 edition of The Lion’s Roar.