Terror in Chch
God is with people who are patient, Parliament told
Parliament opened with a different prayer yesterday. Sung first in Arabic by Imam Nizam ul haq Thanvi, and then translated into English, it asked God for help with “patience and prayers”, noting “God is with people who are patient”.
It was the first time Parliament had opened with a Muslim prayer, to the best knowledge of the Speaker's Office. It’s been a long time since the first Muslim settlers arrived in New Zealand in the 1850s and Parliament has opened with many Christian prayers since then, to say nothing of the hostile words spoken about the Islamic faith. It could be a point of some acrimony.
But God is with people who are patient.
Parliament was different this week. Instead of the usual Tuesday session, where Parliament sits from 2 until 10pm, the House convened only to hear statements from party leaders on the Christchurch terrorist attacks. There will be no normal business in the House this week – it will hear more statements tomorrow, before rising until April 2.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern changed things up too, opening her speech with the Arabic words “Al salam Alaikum — peace be upon you”.
She spent much of of her speech addressing families, and paying tribute to the lives lost.
To the families she said:
“We cannot know your grief, but we can walk with you at every stage. We can. And we will, surround you with aroha, manaakitanga and all that makes us, us. Our hearts are heavy but our spirit is strong”.
She singled out two victims of the attack for special mention, one Naeem Rashid, who died after rushing the terrorist; the other, Abdul Aziz, who survived, after charging the attacker with nothing more than an eftpos machine.
There was one thing missing from her speech, which was any great mention of the attacker — a deliberate choice. Ardern had already said she would refuse to name him. In her speech, she elaborated on why.
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety. And that is why you will never hear me mention his name,” Ardern said.
"He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” she said.
She then appealed to the public:
“I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them,” she said.
National Party Leader Simon Bridges stressed unity and diversity. He said his time visiting Islamic communities in Christchurch had taught him that New Zealand had a choice between fear, hate and anger, or compassion love and forgiveness.
He quoted Martin Luther King Jnr.:
“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
ACT leader David Seymour took a similar tone — using the metaphor of light to note how the tragedy had brought people together.
“Cold comfort it may be but one of our darkest days has shed light on our true character,” he said.
As religious leaders filed out of the House, politicians came together to mingle and chat, as they rarely do. The House rarely rises all as one, as on Tuesday.
Judith Collins, Golriz Ghahraman and Jacinda Ardern formed an unlikely trio, speaking together briefly as the House rose.
Nikki Kaye sat down beside Chris Hipkins. The pair engaged in a long and serious-looking chat. Possibly the only business done in the House today.
Mark Mitchell and several other National MPs went over to the Green Party benches to chat to James Shaw. From the gallery it appeared they were quite impressed by his black eye — an injury from an assault last Thursday, which already feels a world away.
But for all the measured "togetherness" espoused by party leaders, some rightly called the House — and the whole country into question.
Whilst party leaders paid tribute to New Zealand’s Islamic communities, Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson pointed out that for all the talk about Islam in the House on Tuesday, there were no Muslim voices on the benches.
“I acknowledge that today there is not one Muslim voice in this house, it is time to understand whose voices need to be put first,” she said.
Davidson recalled the racism faced by Muslims in New Zealand, particularly women wearing headscarves. She called on New Zealand to do better.
“We have a big shift ahead of us, we have lessons to learn, we have conversations to have, it’s just that this was too big a price to pay to get to this point,” she said.
Good intentions are little use in hindsight. As for the future; God is with people who are patient.