Victim impact statements for the Christchurch terrorist sentencing

At the time of writing the sentencing of the Christchurch terrorist is taking place in the High Court. Our thoughts and prayers are enjoined with all New Zealanders and communities across the world as we uphold with love in our hearts the families whose lives were changed for ever. The Religious Diversity Centre has contributed to the series of victim impact statements called for by the Ministry of Justice.

To ……….
c/- Christchurch High Court
Monday 3 August 2020

Dear ………..

The effects of your actions: Your actions have not only shocked and horrified the peoples of Aotearoa New Zealand, they have caused particular offence to Maori the indigenous peoples of this land. Maori are the traditional kaitiaki or caretakers of this land just as Aboriginal peoples are to your homeland. Maori are entrusted the responsibility of ensuring all who come upon our land are accorded hospitality and freedom to flourish. Your actions were an indescribable abuse of the hospitality you were accorded.

You will have seen however that Maori were prominent in responding with unequivocal love and compassion toward those you deliberately harmed. Indeed the immediate effect of your unconstrained hatred was that virtually all New Zealanders reached out across the humanly created divisions of race, religion, gender and class to provide comfort, kindness and solace by way of showing the world that our shared humanity is far more precious than the differences which you are clearly so unable to reconcile. Your actions have exponentially increased respect and desire for diversity especially racial and religious diversity to continue to grow and to flourish in this country.

Your stated desire for health, prosperity, autonomy, responsibility, protection of heritage and culture, rights for workers and a discriminationfree civil society are very much the objectives shared by the world’s recognised faith communities. It may not have occurred to you that these are many of the hopes of most if not all human beings. The faith of the people you attacked is no exception. Their faith provided workers’ rights, abstention from addictions, protection of culture, and an elaborate framework for health and prosperity many hundreds of years ago. For many of those hundreds of years, these principles have benefitted Christian and other communities. Some of the most prosperous years of history were those in which Christians and Muslims (and Jews and others) lived alongside each other in Muslim Spain.

Today, Christians and Muslims are involved in interfaith and interreligious cooperation, fighting against many things you say you hate, such as abuse of workers, addiction, ethnic oppression. When you said ‘Why won’t somebody do something?’, you simply were not aware of how much is being done already, and how much more we have to do together in cooperation and collaboration as humanity.

Christianity and Islam are inseparably bound by their theological commonalities.. The Quran and Bible share remarkably similar stories, lessons and injunctions throughout their pages, using the same personalities, from Adam to Mary, and the miraculous birth of Jesus.

Your actions, being so far from your stated goals, only put you in a well-known class of people distinguished by their exploitation of history and irrational misunderstanding of the world and its people, and of how human beings were made by God to live, coexist, and thrive.

Your inability to recognise the human race’s efforts to cooperate, collaborate and coexist across ethnic and religious lines is fortunately a relatively rare illness. For the most part, there continues to be cooperation within the community from the grass roots right up to global levels, in the fight against various threats to humanity. There was no clearer example of this than the recent and ongoing fight against the COVID-19 virus in which Muslim doctors were amongst the first to die in England.

We who speak for the Religious Diversity Centre of Aotearoa New Zealand send you these words and ask you to give them your serious consideration,

Yours sincerely,
Jocelyn Armstrong
Dr Jenny te Paa Daniel

The Religious Diversity Centre Trust
University of Otago House
385 Queen Street
P.O. Box 5543 Auckland 1141
Phone 09 521 4367 or 027 521 4367

The Ministry of Justice – a Victim Impact Statement

In my role as co-ordinating Chaplain, across one University and two Institutes of Technology in Auckland, I have oversight of the on-campus Muslim Prayer Rooms. After news of the terrorist attack in Christchurch on March 15th 2019 became public, these three Tertiary Education providers closed and locked the Muslim Prayer Rooms on campus at the request of NZ Police.

The immediate impact of this meant that Muslim students and staff studying / employed were unable to gather in their usual and familiar spaces. It also meant that the provision of pastoral support (usually offered by the Chaplaincy Teams) was compromised – as this was usually through connections made in these Prayer Spaces.

After one week had elapsed one of the Institutes of Technology agreed to employ security guards to watch and oversee the Muslim Prayers Spaces (2 separate venues) 18 hours each day. This was done with the agreement of the NZ Police so that the Muslim Prayer rooms could re-open – this employment of security personnel lasted for 6 weeks and was a considerable cost to the Institute.

The other Institute of Technology allowed students to use the Prayer Room without any additional security after being closed for two weeks.

The University – in a part of Auckland where there is no community facility in which Muslims gather, except for the on-campus Prayer Room – decided to keep the Muslim Prayer Room closed for 6 weeks (until the NZ Police were able to guarantee an oncampus presence). The University struggled to provide adequate pastoral care to the affected students and staff – and the Chaplains struggled to find ways of connecting with these students. Because enrolment in an Institute of Technology or University in Aotearoa New Zealand does not ask for the student to disclose their religion, it was difficult to know who may be in need of such pastoral support.

Subsequent contact shows a significant number of Muslim students disengaged with study over this 6 week period – some never completed their courses. Further, a number of these students struggled to engage with the support offered on campus as they had disconnected from their community and had the perception that there was no-one with whom they could talk. For some of these this 6 week period became a battle with both mental health and faith.

The targeted attack on a religious community at prayer in Christchurch on March 15th 2019 sent shockwaves throughout the Aotearoa New Zealand religious communities (not just Muslim). People’s perception of freedom to practise their religions and being safe so doing (as the NZ Bill of Rights declares) was challenged in ways many still struggle to comprehend. There remain many who were victimised by this act of terror who, even today, do not feel safe ‘living out their religion in public’ as a part of their daily life.
Ricky Waters
Co-ordinating Tertiary Campus Chaplain, and Trustee of the Religious Diversity Centre