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Wednesday 3 April, 2019
Only a few short weeks ago, New Zealand as we knew it changed forever when 50 people were senselessly taken from us in an act of terror in Christchurch. In the days and weeks that have passed, we have been trying to come to terms with what has happened and how we move forward through our grief, hurt and shock.
The nation’s response in the hours that followed the attacks on 15 March was immediate and swift. An out-pouring of love and support for those affected was expressed from every corner of the country, and indeed, around the world.
The Government did not delay in rejecting the hate and division that the attacker had sought to promote when he took the lives of members of our Muslim community in their time of worship.
Within days, it was announced that New Zealand’s gun laws would change and a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the country’s security agencies would take place.
On a community level, tributes and condolences flowed. People gathered to remember and stand in solidarity. They left flowers and made donations for the families who were affected.
Here too in the Ashburton District, we came together to support our Muslim community and grieve for those we knew who had been lost, leaving tributes outside the Tinwald Masjid and gathering for a public vigil in the Ashburton Domain and in Methven.
In times of terrible sadness and shock, it can be difficult to see a path forward, but I was very humbled and inspired by the voices we heard at the vigil.
Leaders from within religious, political and community groups joined me in sharing our grief and solidarity. They spoke of standing together and of unity.
I believe this sentiment really is such an important message to take on as we attempt to move forward.
We need to embrace our diverse community and celebrate the strength and opportunities it gives us.
We must continue to foster understanding and acceptance, through reaching out to our neighbours - both new and existing, introducing ourselves, asking questions and getting to know the people who live here.
The Tinwald Masjid has announced it is planning to hold an open day, which would be a wonderful opportunity to do just that and make new connections in our community.
Unity also means not standing idly by when words of bigotry and hate are cast around, whether meant as a ‘joke’ or to bully and harass. I encourage you to please call out this behaviour, and reach out to support the people those words target and offend.
I was at the National Remembrance in Christchurch last Friday, as thousands of people came together to honour and remember. It has left me with a feeling of hope that we can pull through this tragedy, and while we will never forget those who lost their lives, we can work together to make a more peaceful future for our people.