Scott Morrison said, “Mindless tribalism ends in the worst of places. Last week it ended the lives of 50 fellow human beings, including children praying in Christchurch.”
Rabat – In the wake of a terrorist attack against the Muslim community of Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead and 50 more injured on Friday, March 15, public figures and communities in Australia are expressing their solidarity for their neighbors.
‘You must be active’
Tuesday evening, March 19, saw gatherings across the nation in support of New Zealand. Hundreds gathered in Canberra, the capital, for an anti-racism rally. One local Muslim advocate, Diana Abdel Rahman, delivered a speech calling for action: “You can no longer stand on the bylines. You must be active. If you see hate, call it out.”
A local teacher, Imad Alsmadi, also took to the microphone to say he was proud to be a Muslim Australian and that he was there “just to send a message to Australian people, to all people … we are against Islamophobia.”
Tuesday evening, Canberrans laid down 50 prayer mats, each with a candle on top, in remembrance of the Christchurch victims. The city’s “peace bell,” also rang 50 times. Attendees prayed in both Maori and English before people stepped up to remember the dead.
Sydney and Melbourne also saw similar vigils with hundreds in attendance.
One man, Shamim Homayun, gave an emotional speech saying he had desperately tried to call his friend in Christchurch multiple times before learning he had died in the terrorist attack. He told the audience, “I try to soothe my pain by telling myself that he would have wanted to die in a mosque.”
‘Muslims reacted with love’
The capital’s legislative assembly also saw an emotional debate on Tuesday, with the nation’s leaders giving speeches expressing solidarity with the Muslim community. Canberra’s Chief Minister Andrew Barr told the assembly, “We stand with our Muslim community members, we stand with all New Zealanders, no two countries in the world are closer than Australia and New Zealand; they are us.”
The opposition leader, Alistair Coe, praised the Muslim community for the way they responded to the attack with dignity, saying it would have been easy to react with hate, but instead they reacted with love. He said the response was true to the faith’s teachings, as the Qur’an teaches generosity, mercy, forgiveness, love, and truth, which is what the community has shown since the attack.
He said just “thinking of the attack and the immense trauma of those affected” gave him chills down his spine.
However, one far-right politician was not on the same wavelength. A Queensland senator, Fraser Anning, caused global outrage after he released a statement on Friday seemingly blaming New Zealand’s Muslim community and migration for the attack. An online petition to expel the senator from Parliament has amassed 1.2 million signatures and condemnation from the general public and fellow politicians.
Prime Minister Morrison responded by vehemently condemning the senator’s statements. “The remarks by Senator Fraser Anning blaming the murderous attacks by a violent, right-wing, extremist terrorist in New Zealand on immigration are disgusting. Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament.”
On Saturday night, the Sydney Opera House projected the silver fern, a symbol of New Zealand, onto the iconic landmark, lighting up its distinctive sails as a symbol of solidarity with New Zealand. New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the projection aimed to express “solidarity, support and respect” and show the state’s unity and compassion towards everyone affected by the attacks.
Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed that New Zealand charged a New South Wales native, 28-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, with murder following the terror attack. However, the historically close relationship between New Zealand and Australia remains as solid as ever.
‘Find strength in compassion’
Australia’s religious leaders also came together to promote unity. The Muslim Grand Mufti Ibrahim Abu Mohammed and Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher held an interfaith church service on Sunday, March 17, at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, with several MPs, including Scott Morrison, in attendance.
Fisher began the service by saying, “We stand together in our horror at the real evil we have witnessed, at the violence perpetrated and the hate that inspired it.” He also emphasized the importance of compassion, not hatred, during trying times. “To all young people like him we say today: if it is real strength you want, you will find it in compassion and mercy, not hate and violence.”
He finished his speech by saying “peace be upon you” in Arabic, then handed over to Mohammed, after kissing him on the cheek three times and shaking his hand.
Mohammed’s speech followed similar themes, emphasizing that the actions of the Australian attacker “should not divide us.” He continued, “Whether you are Muslim or Christian or Jewish or any other faith group, as long as you live in Australia, as long as you are part of this family, nothing will divide us.”
Scott Morrison echoed the sentiments in a speech he delivered on Monday to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce in Victoria, saying he wanted to “remove the demarcation lines between Australians.” He called on Australians to reject a culture of racism and “tribalism.”
“If we allow a culture of ‘us and them’, of tribalism, to take hold; if we surrender an individual to be defined not by their own unique worth and contribution but by the tribe they are assigned to; if we yield to the compulsion to pick sides rather than happy coexistence, we will lose what makes diversity work in Australia.”
He added that division, contempt, and mindless tribalism “ends in the worst of places. Last week it ended the lives of 50 fellow human beings, including children praying in Christchurch.”
He also praised New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern for her powerful words just a few hours after the Christchurch attack on Friday, when she said of New Zealand’s Muslim and refugee community, “They are us.”
“This is a powerful idea. No them but us … As prime minister, I want to continue to bring Australians together, not set them against one another.”