Former army major Simon Strombom is president of the Titahi Bay RSA. He had the madcap idea to acknowledge the victims of the shootings at the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre by including a prayer from Newlands Mosque imam Mohamed Zewada at the conclusion of his branch's dawn service on Anzac Day. Strombom served in Afghanistan and therefore has met a Muslim or two in his career.

It didn't go down well. The strength of the reaction showed that prayer can still be very powerful.

It turns out tolerance of non-Muslim New Zealanders was fine for a post-massacre week or two, while the world's awestruck admiration was shining this way. But, "They are us" and "We are them" has quickly become "Who do you think you are?"


"We" are grief weary. "We" have done enough for "you". The imam's prayer would probably have dragged on and on for seconds, trying everyone's already exhausted patience.

A subtext of much RSA commentary on the prayer plan is that people "have had enough" – enough hijab wearing and symbolic newspaper front pages and changed avatars on social media profiles.

According to many RSA members, all this acknowledgement of a "foreign" culture has served its purpose and now needs to be tidied up and put away before Anzac Day, which is for "us" and not "them".

Strombom seems to have been surprised by the promises of violence his gesture of harmony elicited. Don't worry for him, though. If you've ever met anyone who's served in Afghanistan, you'll know a death threat's a waste of breath.

Not that there isn't still sympathy out there. One Vietnam veteran opposed to the prayer didn't hold back. He prefaced his remarks by saying the attack was "completely out of order in every way". Pretty strong words. I hope the gunman gets a chance to take note.

The proposal also brought out the claim that "we" are a Christian nation. New Zealand hasn't had a majority Christian population for some time, but even at its Christian height, it still provided a safe home for other faiths.

Some in the RSA almost get this: "Obviously, we are a multicultural country now."

Actually, we have been a multicultural country since colonists arrived en masse in the 19th century and immediately doubled the number of cultures. It's just that no one acted like it until recently. Only when people don't need to be reminded of it will we truly be one nation of many peoples.


Would my forebears who fought overseas as New Zealanders in various wars want the Muslim community to be acknowledged in this way? Probably not. But the country has come a long way since their time. And what they fought for and won was our opportunity to enjoy our freedom and develop into a people with compassion and respect for everyone here. So, thanks to them for that, now and forever.

The biggest opposition has come from those who want Anzac Day reserved to remember and honour those who took part in wars. If the 50 people who were shot and killed in Christchurch on March 15 aren't New Zealanders who fell in a war, then I don't know who qualifies.

They were involved in a war. It is a guerrilla war being fought by white supremacists against people who are not "us". It wasn't voluntary. They didn't sign up for it, but they got dragged into it as participants as surely as the victims of any other conflict. They're no different from the villagers of My Lai, the inhabitants of Dresden or the people of the Naik and Khak Kudday Dad villages in Afghanistan.

Multiculturalism is New Zealand's future. Not just for a fortnight but forever. If the RSA is to have a future it is people like Simon Strombom who will take "us" there.