As New Zealanders gather today to remember the 50 people who died in the Christchurch mosque attacks, Simon Wilson reflects on what the tragedy means for this country and where we go from here.

Moana Maniapoto sings: I've come so far, journey's been long, searching for something, place to belong. Wind and the waves, carried me here, hope can move mountains, faith destroyed fear. I'm not alone, I'm not alone, I'm coming home.

We arrived from over the water. All of us, ourselves, our ancestors, carried over the sea on wings of hope. We came with prayers and with poetry, we came with songs. We came to build a life together.

We didn't always know we were in this together.

The first migrants, our tangata whenua, built communities, forged a culture, found strength in their identity. Each new wave of migrants learned the same lessons, found the same strength. In identity there is courage, there is endeavour, there is hope. We have all learned this.

And there is more. When you know who you are, you have a choice. You can shrink into yourself and build a wall around you. Or you can become a part of something greater. The security of your own culture can lock down your mind or give you the strength to embrace the world.


And to build friendships, each of us revealing ourselves to the other. To know trust. To revel in the excitement and worry at the confusion and relish the rewards that come from discovering the lives of others. The richness of living amid diversity and the pleasures of it. And the safety too, that comes when you understand: we are friends.

We belong. We are all home. We are many who come together as one.

It has never been easy. It never will be. We have fought wars because of it. We have put up barriers and clenched tight our hearts. And now we have experienced a terror beyond our previous imagining.

Tragedy defines a nation

There is a prayer for the dead that says: Almighty Allah has called for your soul to be taken. The leaf has fallen and your time is up.

An attack on one is an attack on all, but it is especially an attack on the one. The gunman in Christchurch chose his target: not a shopping mall or a crowded street, not a place to find victims randomly. He chose two mosques.

Fifty people died. Their sacrifice was not asked for nor freely given. Their lives were wrenched from them and from all who loved them. But in place of those lives we have been witness to something extraordinary.

Imam Gamal Fouda, who was in Al Noor mosque when the gunman attacked, told us last Friday, "Thank you, New Zealand, for teaching the world what it means to love and care."


Every tear, every hug, every offer of help. The flowers in their thousands, the people in their tens of thousands. And all of us owe a bigger thank you in return. To the Muslim community, for teaching us.

Thank you.

The Prime Minister said last Friday, "At a time when it would have been completely justifiable to close the doors and lock the gates, you did the exact opposite."

They welcomed us. They shared with us. They comforted us.

Was it a surprise, that response? We've heard it before. Every visitor to Gallipoli has read the words of Kamal Ataturk, the leader of the Turkish troops during that long and terrible campaign one hundred years ago, now carved in stone.

Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives … You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country, therefore rest in peace … You, the mothers, who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears ... they have become our sons as well.

Tragedy defines a nation. We have been witness to something extraordinary and we have joined it.

Dave Dobbyn sings: This is for you standing up to a bone-chilling wind, this is for the failures you collected from my sin, and this is for your lonesome tears I never dried, this is for you hanging in, in the hope that it never dies. And baby I'm beside you.

We are all beside you. We have our slogans now: They Are Us, and This Is Not Us, and We Are One. They help us learn how to belong.

We want to feel united, even though no one can know another's grief and most of us do not know the fear of being so vulnerable.

We want to say the horror is not ours, that we are repulsed by it and the ideas that gave rise to it, and all of that is true. But still, did we help the killer decide that what he did was right?

Horror rises when good people do not stop it. Prejudice can be popular. Sometimes, bigotry gets voted into office.

What falls to us now is to honour the fallen. We can do that by living the good lives they might have wished to live. By being the many come together as one, making our society as rewarding, as uplifting, as inclusive and as safe for all as we know how. By remembering them, in grief and in love.

Can we do this? Imam Fouda told us: "We are broken-hearted but we are not broken."

The student leader Bazir Shah told us, "We need to overcome this ideology by gaining knowledge. Through knowledge, we can eradicate ignorance. And once we have eradicated ignorance, we can truly, truly, not act foolishly in the future."

Cashmere High School head boy Okirano Tilaia told us, "When you see hatred, you say love. When you see anger, you say peace. For we do not let these horrific events define who we are."

He quoted C.S. Lewis: "We can't go back and change the beginning. But we can start where we are and change the ending."

This is our journey now.

There is a prayer for a journey that says: May God in heaven protect you on the way and may His angel accompany you.

E Ihowā Atua, O ngā iwi mātou rā.

Hollie Smith sings the words of Don McGlashan: I'm gonna bathe in the river, gonna hold my head up in the mirror. Not gonna worry anymore 'til I reach that golden shore.

We remember the 50 brave souls who lost their lives. We remember Naeem Rashid, who tried to stop the killer and died, and Abdul Aziz, who chased him away. We remember the first responders: the police, the emergency service workers, the neighbours, all the people who helped. We remember everyone who was so brave that day.

We remember the doctors and nurses and all who worked so hard to save the fallen. We remember the survivors and we remember those who help them now, for their road is long.

We remember our own loved ones, our own friends, the people we comforted and the people who comforted us. We remember the imams who proclaimed the power of love and we remember the wise young leaders who did the same. We remember who we are.

Warren Maxwell sings: From the tail of the fish to the tip, talkin' 'bout our home, land and sea.

We remember and we grieve. We hold hands with strangers and with friends, and strangers become friends. We have, all of us, arrived from over the water, and we are borne up still on the wings of hope.