Will Sweetman

One week ago, an armed man entered the Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch. There he shot and killed over forty people, before driving to another nearby mosque where he killed a further seven people before an unarmed man, Abdul Aziz, confronted him and managed to prevent him continuing his attacks.

Last night in Dunedin, where the attacker had lived while planning the attacks, over 18,000 people gathered to remember those who died and to express solidarity with the Muslim community in New Zealand. Ten thousand staff and students—over half the university—marched in silence from the University of Otago to the vigil. Dr Mohammed Rizwan, chair of the Otago Muslim Association, addressed the crowd. The perpetrator, he said, had hoped to terrorise the community and the world “but he failed. He failed because he chose us. He failed because despite his attempts we gather here tonight, united as one whanau.” The vigil was one of many, many expressions of New Zealanders’ revulsion at the attacks and their determination to prevent them happening again.

Also yesterday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced that the government would legislate quickly to change our gun laws. An order in council, already signed by the Governor General, reclassified the type of weapons used in the attack to make it effectively impossible to buy one now. A complete ban will follow in a matter of weeks, and an amnesty and buy-back scheme will remove guns already purchased from circulation. This will not prevent the growth of hate in New Zealand—that will be harder and take longer—but it will immediately make it much more difficult to carry out attacks of this kind. 

Today, the call for prayer will be broadcast nationally on radio and television. Across the country, non-Muslims will form human chains around mosques to show their support for their Muslim neighbours. New Zealanders will never forget these attacks, or those who died. But the responses to them—thousands of acts of solidarity, of aroha and of manaakitanga—show that the attacks did not succeed in their larger purpose of dividing Muslims from others in New Zealand.