The quaint town of Christchurch, New Zealand, was forever changed on March 15 after a devastating attack against the Muslim community. A self-proclaimed white supremacist opened fire on two separate Christchurch mosques, leaving 50 people dead and 50 injured. Officials have determined that the attack was the worst massacre in New Zealand history. It took police 36 minutes to restrain the suspect, who had alleged intentions of continuing the massacre across additional mosques. The man in custody, Brenton Tarrant, live streamed the horrific scene on Facebook. Police have not released the video of his manifesto, but have confirmed that it lists other white nationalist men who he claims inspired the act of terror.
Christchurch has been receiving immense support from across the nation as it tries to recover from this tragedy. Thousands of New Zealanders of varying religions showed their solidarity this Friday by praying alongside mosque-goers. Crowds overflowed from mosques in Tauranga and Auckland, praying in the streets. Many female attendees wore head scarves provided by Muslim women. In the capital of Wellington, hundreds surrounded the city mosque during prayer, arms linked to symbolize their commitment to protecting freedom of religion. At the international level, leaders including as Queen Elizabeth II, Angela Merkel, and Pope Francis have publicly offered their condolences, and people from all over the world have flocked to the internet to send support to Christchurch. These displays of kindness are a welcome reminder that most people will continue to stand for tolerance.
The weapons used in the attack were legally obtained under New Zealand gun laws. Official responses have alluded to policy reform geared toward stricter gun control in the near future. Prime minister Jacinda Ardern has stated, “Our actions, on behalf of all New Zealanders, are directed at making sure this never happens again.” New Zealand’s neighboring country Australia serves as an example of the potency of gun control laws. One mass shooting in 1996 spurred rapid government intervention, and within a week of the event, the Australian government had banned automatic weapons and bought back over 640,000 guns from its citizens. Since 1996, Australia has had no mass shootings and a reduction in homicide rates, proving that gun control laws DO save lives. It is an unfortunate truth that it takes a devastating event to motivate activism and progressive change, and hopefully the shootings of March 15 will spark an international conversation about the need for stricter gun control policies.
Like all mass shootings, these deaths could have been prevented. This atrocious hate crime will not be forgotten and serves as yet another reminder that more needs to be done to combat religious and racial intolerance. The widespread support Christchurch has been receiving shows that this is an attainable goal, and while we may be a far way off from total social cohesion, the resilient nature of humanity can dissolve stigmas and supremacist attitudes. The Her Campus team at Brown is sending prayers and love to family and friends of the victims as well as all Muslims who may feel unsafe in their communities.
Prime minister Ardern wears headscarf in solidarity with Muslim community.
New Zealanders linking arms around mosque in Wellington.