Speech at Lautoka Mosque
E ngā mana, e ngā reo, e ngā iwi, e ngā rau rangatira ma
Tēnā koutou katoa
Ni sa bula vinaka
It is a privilege to be here today. Thank you for welcoming us to your house of prayer.
Thank you for your warmth. Thank you for greeting us as you would your own family.
As we approach the first anniversary of the terror attack in Christchurch against New Zealand’s Muslim community, we are filled with deep emotion. I want to remember Fiji’s own sons killed in this tragedy:
Imam Hafiz Musa Patel
Ashraf Ali Razat
They were yours. And now they are part of us.
Our love goes out to their family and friends, and to all of you, their Muslim brothers and sisters who have been left with painful memories to this day.
While I will never know your pain, I carry with me many memories from that day, and the days that followed. I still recall visiting the hall where the day after the attack hundreds of members of the Muslim community gathered.
Amongst them was Mrs Patel. I still remember talking with you that day as you desperately looked for your husband, your Imam. I remember talking with you as you retraced your steps and feeling pained as I handed you over to a member of the Red Cross to continue to support you and to assist you. In your darkest of hours I can tell you that I will never forget that grief I saw that day.
I would also like to acknowledge having just met Ashraf’s family and his grandson, and I acknowledge that you have lost a mentor and friend. But please know that New Zealand now carries him in their hearts and that you have a home in New Zealand now too.
I want to acknowledge Hafiz Khan and the Fiji Muslim League. Thank you for bringing us together in memory of those who lost their lives.
Today is very important to us as New Zealanders.
We wanted to be here today to thank you all in person, to thank you for being friends to New Zealand, to thank you for your understanding and support, and to acknowledge the important ties between Fiji’s Muslim community and the Muslim community in New Zealand. They existed before, they exist even more strongly now.
I want to place on record our deep appreciation for the many messages of support and sympathy we received from Fiji following the March 15 attacks. It gave us strength to know that you stood in solidarity with us. And you sent those messages so swiftly. You were amongst the first.
But it was especially moving to receive those messages knowing that you faced your own grief.
When I attended a memorial service soon after the attacks, I felt lost for words – I had been so moved by the generosity of the Islamic faith. In this time of great pain mosques were opened by the community and we were met with a simple greeting: as-salaam alaikum. Peace be upon you.
In the face of hate and violence, the Muslim community in New Zealand – and around the world – had every right to express pain and to express anger. Instead they chose love. Instead they chose to open their hearts for all of us to grieve with them and with you. Instead you chose to open your arms and embrace us. Instead you chose to comfort us as we sought to comfort you, and that was captured by the simple words: as-salaam alaikum. Peace be upon you.
Those words humbled – and united – us as a country, at a time when an attack struck against our core values.
An attack that was malicious, and racially and ideologically motivated.
Today I want to talk about our commitment to working to ensure these attacks never happen again. Our commitment to eradicate the underlying drivers and ideology of such cowardly attacks. Our commitment to promoting the values that Fiji and New Zealand share – those of kindness and compassion.
Championing those values must sit at core of our efforts to counter violent extremism.
Combatting violent extremism
But we also know we that have a duty to take on the very tangible threats that existed and enabled this attack to occur in our home.
The terrorist attack in Christchurch it did expose weaknesses for instance in our gun legislation. A week after the attack, we announced a ban on all military style semi-automatic weapons – like the one used in the attack – removing them from our communities. Within a month, both sides of New Zealand’s Parliament had united to effect this ban.
The attack was also designed to weaponise the internet, to capitalise on an underbelly of online racism and hate. I have said before: we cannot confront these sorts of issues alone, none of us can. And so we united.
Immediately after the attack, we reached out. We worked with France to develop the Christchurch Call. A call to action to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online – through collaboration between countries, tech companies and civil society.
Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right. It is one that New Zealand protects, fiercely. But no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online. This call to action is now supported by 48 countries, three international organisations and eight online service providers.
The Call is also a sign of our sense of responsibility – to honour the victims of the attacks and those like it, and to try to prevent this from ever happening again.
But we don’t have to be politicians, or in positions of power, to honour those we lost in our thoughts and in our actions.
Immediately after the attacks, Prime Minister Bainimarama called on all Fijians across all backgrounds and faiths to join him in making a pledge: where ever you are and wherever you encounter someone who says something racist or hateful, whether it is online or in person, say something. He said, "Be the voice of love. Be the voice of change."
And so too do we carry that responsibly – to look to work as a nation to address the root causes of intolerance to build resilient, inclusive communities able to resist those hateful ideologies. Our approach ultimately revolves around a simple concept that is not bound by borders, that isn’t based on ethnicity, political or legal power, or even forms of governance. It lies in our common humanity.
In New Zealand, we value and celebrate diversity. We are a nation of 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. Many of you, perhaps all of you, have family or connection in New Zealand. We celebrate diversity and inclusiveness. We pride ourselves on being open and peaceful.
But we reflected deeply on the fact that March 15, that terror attack, happened in our country. Despite that celebration of diversity, we still have work to do to strengthen New Zealand society. We are not perfect.
That means thinking about how we can build an inclusive society, one in which diversity doesn’t just exist but is valued. A place in which we break down the walls of “otherness” and instil in everyone a pride in being a New Zealander and what that means.
It means building societies that are inclusive of all religions, races, gender, and where all cultures have a place, human rights are upheld, and so are New Zealand’s values of kindness, fairness and compassion.
I remain ever confident, ever optimistic, ever hopeful that countering violent extremism – with inclusion and basic humanity at its core – is the most effective way to prevent the tragedy of the Christchurch terror attack ever happening again.
As we strive to create a society in this vein, we will take lessons from the Muslim community in New Zealand who, in the face of such brutal violence, helped New Zealand respond with compassion.
We will remember your powerful greeting: as-salaam alaikum. Peace be upon you.
And so too will we remember the words spoken by the first Māori King more than 150 years ago:
“Kotahi te kohao o te ngira e kuhuna ai te miro ma, te miro pango, te miro whero.”
“There is but one eye of the needle through which the white, red and black threads must pass.”
It speaks about a piece of Māori artwork called the tukutuku and the process of weaving different coloured threads together. Individual threads can be weak but woven together, they make a strong and beautiful piece. That is the beauty of diversity and the beauty of unity. May we never forget that.
And may we never forget those we have lost.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.