IN the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks, New Zealand’s Cardinal John Dew joined thousands of Christians attending prayers in mosques and churches of different denominations – a quiet act of solidarity for inter-religious relations and ecumenism in the face of terror.
“Deep gratitude to the thousands of people who surrounded mosques all over the country and who stopped whatever they were doing… to remember the 50 who were killed and to pray for the Muslim community,” Cardinal Dew posted on social media after attending prayers at a mosque in Wellington, and then a vigil Mass for Peace in the city’s St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral.
Cardinal Dew’s sentiments were echoed by the Federation of Catholic Bishops Conferences of Oceania, meeting in Townsville this week.
“To all our Muslim brothers and sisters in New Zealand, Australia and around the world, we stand in solidarity with you in your horror, grief and distress,” a statement from the FCBCO read.
Two weeks after the attack at Christchurch’s Masjid al Noor and Linwood Masjid, New Zealand was preparing for a national memorial service to honour the dead and injured.
“Since the unprecedented terror attack there has been an outpouring of grief and love in our country,” New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said.
Foreign dignitaries have already attended to pay their respects, including delegations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan’s Crown Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who prayed at al Noor on March 23.
Amid the mourning, a petition calling for stricter gun control collected more than 90,000 signatures in 48 hours, gun owners started handing in their semi-automatics voluntarily to the police for destruction, and Prime Minister Ardern led efforts to make sweeping changes to gun control laws.
On top of this momentum for change Ms Ardern announced a Royal Commission into the mosque shootings.
“It is important that no stone is left unturned to get to the bottom of how this act of terrorism occurred and what, if any, opportunities we had to stop it,” she said.
“While New Zealanders and Muslim communities around the world are both grieving and showing compassion for one another, they are also quite rightly asking questions on how this terror attack was able to happen here.
“This includes questions around the accessibility of semi-automatic weapons, the role social media has played generally and the focus of the intelligence and security services.
“One question we need to answer is whether or not we could or should have known more.”
Radio New Zealand reported there would also be a high-level investigation into whether security agencies ignored warning signs, or put too much focus on the threat of Islamic extremism.
One measure proposed to track extremist behaviours is a hate crimes register – a database that counter terrorism experts have long been calling for.
“The problem in New Zealand as well as Australia is that there’s no way to collect these reports, catalogue them in a standard way, share them with all agencies, spot patterns and act on them,” Deakin University terrorism and countering violent extremism expert Greg Barton said.
Under tougher new laws proposed for New Zealand, military style semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, related parts as well as all high-capacity magazines would be banned.
A parliamentary select committee will be set up to fast track the legislation.
There are around 240,000 licensed firearm owners in New Zealand, a nation of 4.8 million people.
The alleged gunman, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, has been transferred from Christchurch and is now believed to be held in a maximum-security prison in Auckland.
He is charged with one count of murder, but is expected to face more charges after returning to court on April 5.
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel said the mosque attacks wouldn’t define the city, but the aftermath would.
“We will not be divided by hatred, we will be united by love,” she said.