What is a martyr? It is someone who has been killed for their beliefs.

Being a martyr is not chosen by the deceased, it is conferred on the dead by the living.

Undoubtedly for Muslims around the world, the 50 people murdered at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch are martyrs.

Their names will be remembered and honoured by the Muslim community in this country. Long after most of us are dust and have been forgotten.

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Over the past few days, distracted and shaken, I've been reflecting on this word, "martyr". I keep coming back to it, wondering if it can be appropriately used to describe how I feel about these tragic deaths.

Are these 50 people in anyway martyrs to me? I'm not Muslim, I'm not religious in any way. Yet somehow I want these deaths to stand for something. That somehow the loss of life — so terribly personal to family and friends — can come out on the side of what's good."

Perhaps, given the outpouring of grief and solidarity we've participated in and witnessed, this can be so.

I would like to believe that March 15, 2019 marks the day we work harder to be a tolerant and open multicultural society.

People at a vigil in Paihia on Sunday afternoon form a circle in a sign of support for each other and the victims of the Christchurch shootings. Photo / Peter de Graaf
People at a vigil in Paihia on Sunday afternoon form a circle in a sign of support for each other and the victims of the Christchurch shootings. Photo / Peter de Graaf

Racism and bigotry aren't going to vanish overnight, of course, but post 15/3 our politicians and high-profile figures in the media will have to be very careful what they say regarding refugees and migrants coming to this country from the Muslim world.

The public response to the atrocity in Christchurch has put Islamophobia and racism on the back foot.

We're seeing that most clearly in Australia, where vile views spouted by politicians (almost to the point of normalisation) are now being shouted down.

Which brings me to the old and tired looking man I saw in TV footage sitting next to the Prime Minister in the Canterbury Refugee Resettlement and Resources Centre on Saturday.
More than any other politician in New Zealand, Winston Peters has played the "race card" over the course of his career. I won't dredge up all the quotes here. We all know the kinds of things said.

To his credit, Winston Peters was in the refugee centre alongside the Prime Minister. Being in that centre, listening to the stories of heartache, must surely change someone.

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PM Jacinda Ardern speaks to Muslim community members at the Canterbury refugee centre on Saturday. Deputy PM Winston Peters sits behind and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, is on the right.
PM Jacinda Ardern speaks to Muslim community members at the Canterbury refugee centre on Saturday. Deputy PM Winston Peters sits behind and Leader of the Opposition, Simon Bridges, is on the right.

What matters now, is not what Winston Peters or other NZ First MPs have said in the past, it's what they say now and in the future.

If there's any hint of racist or Islamophobic comments, or a scapegoating of refugees or immigrants, then the media will come down on Peters and NZ First much harder than they have done in the past. Human decency says this must be so.

It's impossible to imagine NZ First being able to play the "race card" successfully at the next election, or any other party. This has to be a good thing.

We will have a national day of mourning. Hopefully, a fitting memorial is built in Christchurch to honour the dead. They are martyrs to the Muslim community.

And yes, I'd like to think they are martyrs to the rest of us who believe in a multicultural future for this land.