Three Years Later: The Lessons We Learned From the Christchurch Mosque Shootings

March 15 is the anniversary of a hate crime that shook the world. It was on this day, three years ago, that a lone gunman, consumed by hatred, killed 51 and wounded 40 men, women and children at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Al Noor mosque
Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand (Photo by James Dann/Creative Commons)

It is all too easy to focus on the hatred, the evil, the malice. But to do so would miss the more revealing story. This was the act of one man. The outpouring of sympathy and support for the victims and the Christchurch Muslim community was both cross-cultural, and worldwide. A few of the notable examples:

  • Street gangs including the Mongrel Mob, Black Power, and the King Cobras sent members to mosques around New Zealand to help protect them during prayer time.
  • One week after the attacks, a nationally broadcast prayer service was held in a park adjacent to one of the mosques. It was attended by 20,000 people, including New Zealand’s prime minister, who said “New Zealand mourns with you.”
Support for the victims poured in from around the world.
  • Within two days of the killings, over 85,000 people donated 7.7 million New Zealand dollars to the victims. Donations through social media eventually exceeded $11 million from almost 98,000 people.
  • The government of New Zealand pledged financial aid to the victims.
  • The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh donated almost $1 million to the victims, through its New Zealand Islamophobia Attack Fund. This philanthropy was inspired by local Muslim support for the Pittsburgh Jewish community following the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting of late October 2018.
  • Likewise, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh worked with the Christchurch Muslim community to increase security at mosques, including advising on equipment and sharing training protocols. 
Flowers
Community members visit to pay their respects and leave flowers for the victims of the shootings (Photo by NigelSpiers/Shutterstock.com)
  • Support for the victims poured in from around the world, with condolences offered by the governments of Australia, England, Canada, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Vatican City, India, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Philippines, Hungary, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Kosovo, Malaysia, Pakistan, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam. The United States offered the FBI’s assistance in the investigation.
  • Worldwide, mosques became the focal point for vigils, messages and floral memorials.
  • Numerous local sporting events, concerts and celebrations were cancelled, out of respect and support for the victims.
  • In New Zealand, students nationwide performed traditional Māori songs and music in honor of the victims.
It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes an act of such cruelty to bring out the best of mankind. But it is also fortunate that the best is there, ready to manifest in time of need.

Shortly after the shootings, on May 15, 2019, New Zealand’s prime minister and the president of France cohosted a worldwide conference urging major technology companies to step up their efforts to combat violent extremism. The initiative resulting from this conference bore the signatures of 53 governments and eight major technology companies.

In June 2021, the New Zealand government held a conference attended by representatives from the local community, media, academia, government leaders and the local Muslim community, along with representatives from social media giants Facebook and Twitter, Amnesty International, and the New Zealand Jewish Council. The conference’s aims were “to prevent and counter violent extremism, understand diversity and promote social cohesion.”

Police officer
New Zealand police officer David McCarthy collects flowers left by public to be placed outside Al Noor mosque (Photo by Sheryl Watson/Shutterstock.com)

Some even found it in their hearts to forgive. Husnas Story: My Wife, the Christchurch Massacre & My Journey to Forgiveness was written by Farid Ahmed in memory of his wife Husna Ahmed who was killed in the attack. He describes the book as a “message of forgiveness” and has said that he will donate all proceeds from the sale of the book to charity.

It is unfortunate that it sometimes takes an act of such cruelty to bring out the best of mankind. But it is also fortunate that the best is there, ready to manifest in time of need.

The imam of the harder-hit of the two mosques thanked the world for its support: “We are broken-hearted but we are not broken.”

And you are not alone.

AUTHOR
Leland Thoburn
Leland has been a Scientologist for 45 years. His writings have been published in numerous magazines and literary journals, including Foliate Oak Review, Writersí Journal, Feathertale Review, Calliope, Vocabula Review and others. Formerly an executive at EarthLink Inc., he works as a business consultant.