Speech at Ko Tātou, Tātou – We are One: National Remembrance Service for the March 15 mosque attack
As-salamu Alaykum Tēnā koutou katoa.
Ko Tātou, Tātou.
On Monday, it will be two years since 51 New Zealanders’ lives were taken in the most tragic and horrific way.
As I sat and tried to write the words to accompany our presence in this place, I was at a loss.
Much has been said, but words, despite their healing power, will never change what happened that day.
Words will not bring back those men, women, and children who had gathered at their place of worship, quietly and peacefully, when they were taken in an act of terror.
Words will not remove the fear that descended over the Muslim community here in Aotearoa in the days, weeks and months that followed.
Words will not take away the trauma that families, first responders, passers-by who became rescuers and so many others experienced that day.
But while words cannot perform miracles, they do have the power to heal.
That means we must use them wisely.
To our Muslim community, that means using our voices and words to acknowledge the loss that was yours. The fathers, the brothers, the husbands and sons. The mothers and wives, the children who were lost and all those so gravely injured. Our duty is to not only remember what has been taken, but who your loved ones were, and what they gave to you, your community, and this place they called home.
It means knowing that grief takes time, that the scars that have been left are many, and that we have a duty to listen, hear, and respond with words and deeds that support you while they heal.
But perhaps most important of all, it means understanding that words, will be one of the most powerful ways we can show that March 15 has, or hasn’t, changed us.
Sadly, if we assume that before that day in our history, our Muslim community hadn’t experienced hatred and racism, we would be wrong.
In the aftermath of the terror attack, I heard the stories of women who were frequently harassed because they are easily identifiable as Muslim. Of children whose earliest experiences of racism were in their school grounds. Of horrible and dehumanising experiences that were so common, that perhaps most devastating of all, some gave up on doing anything about it.
Many of us will remember, or indeed have seen children being taught from a very young age to be stoic. That if they face the harsh words of others they should adopt a stiff upper lift. Perhaps it has been our way of teaching children resilience in the face of those who might intend to cause harm.
Of course we want our children to be resilient, but surely no more than we want our children to be kind?
And so we have to ask ourselves, what does it take to create a generation that is empathetic but strong. That is kind, but fair. That is knowledgeable but curious. That knows the power of words, and uses them to challenge, defend, and empower.
In the aftermath of March 15, we have learned so much. We have been willing to ask ourselves some incredibly hard questions. We have confronted, and continue to confront our laws, our systems, our bureaucracy.
And things are changing and will continue to change.
But there are some things that lie outside the power of just politicians and governments.
We all own and hold the power of words. We use them, we hear them, we respond to them. How we choose to use this most powerful of tools is our choice.
There will be an unquestionable legacy from March 15. Much of it will be heart breaking. But it’s never too early or too late for the legacy to be a more inclusive nation, one that stands proud of our diversity, embraces it, and if called to, defends it stanchly.
And for those moments, may I never, and may we never - be at a loss for words.
Atamanaa lakum alsadaad