opinion

"In my homeland's darkest days, I've never been prouder to be a New Zealander."

Mamamia has chosen not to show the face of the man in custody for the Christchurch terror attack, or to include or link to any distressing material about his acts. Instead, we are dedicated to remembering the names, faces and stories of the victims.

It was about midday on Friday when my phone lit up with a news notification.

I can’t remember exactly what it said, but I do remember that reading it felt like someone had punched me hard in the gut.

A shooting in Christchurch.

Mamamia’s daily news podcast The Quicky shares the tales of bravery and hope after the Christchurch attacks. Post continues below audio.

That was all we knew at first, but as the minutes, hours and then days went by, the full extent of this attack became clear.

Fifty people were dead and 50 more were injured. To put this into perspective, that is the per capita equivalent of more than 3300 American deaths.

On Saturday morning I woke up to see New Zealand on the front cover of the New York Times. A terrorist attack in my home, my home that I love so much, was the biggest story in the world.

The bubble I had naively thought New Zealand existed in – the safe, progressive bubble, positioned physically and metaphorically far, far away from the rest of the world’s shit – violently burst.

And god, it hurt. It still does – I don’t think that hurt will ever go away.

Over the last few days I have read many international headlines praising New Zealand’s response to the attacks.

jacindaardern
Image: Getty
ADVERTISEMENT

And while the attack itself was a huge, earth-shattering shock to me, the events that have followed are not.

Throughout the Mamamia office, my colleagues have praised Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's strength and compassion. And while I wholeheartedly agree with them, at first it felt jarring. To me, Ardern is just doing what New Zealand expects of her. She was swift to call the attack out for the act of terror. She showed empathy as she spoke with and listened to the experiences of Christchurch's Muslim community. Oh, and she very much believes that now is the time to talk about gun laws.

The New Zealand population would never accept just thoughts and prayers. There was no political point scoring from politicians either in government or opposition. No mudslinging. Just kindness, understanding and action.

I truly believe that any of NZ's recent Prime Ministers - who have come from opposite 'sides' of the political spectrum - would have done the same. It was only upon reflection that I realised this was probably unique and that was why my Australian colleagues could not relate.

Christchurch shooting video

There is a Māori word - Whānau - which is often directly translated as family. Its true definition is actually much more complex than that, representing anything from immediate family to a broader collective. New Zealanders - all of us - are whānau.

I've read stories on community Facebook groups of people sleeping outside mosques after the police presence left so that when Muslim Kiwis came to pray in the morning, there would be a smiling face ready to greet them and tell them they were safe and loved.

More than NZ$6 million has been raised for victims in just one donation fund. The government has committed to paying for the funerals of the dead and its accidental injury scheme will compensate their families, as many victims were primary breadwinners.

ADVERTISEMENT

I cried when I watched a video of a man perform a spontaneous haka outside the Al Noor mosque and again when I saw images of 12,000 people from every walk of life come together for a vigil in my home city of Wellington.

I guess this is all extraordinary, given how we usually see mass shootings and terrorist attacks play out in other parts of the world, but this is the Kiwi way. To speak in platitudes or to shrug this off as just another terrible world event would be unacceptable.

The actions of one man have undeniably changed New Zealand forever. The country mourns, not for our Muslim brothers and sisters, but WITH them. Because we are them and they are us. Family, whānau.

We are a family united in grief and anger, yes, but more so, we are a family united in love. He thought he would weaken us but he has only made us stronger.

As Ardern rightly said in her address on Friday, New Zealand was not chosen as the location of this attack because it breeds hatred and condones racism. The exact opposite is true.

In the wake of tragedy, New Zealanders responded with courage, tolerance and respect.

This will not surprise anyone who has spent time in our country, because these qualities are weaved throughout our DNA.

There is another Māori term that you may have seen since Friday's events: Kia Kaha. This means stay strong, and that is exactly what we'll do.

00:00 / ???