NZ communities gather in unity for He Whenua Taurikura Hui on countering violent extremism

Al Noor mosque, where the majority of deaths took place during the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019
Al Noor mosque, where the majority of deaths took place during the Christchurch terror attack on 15 March 2019. Image: 123rf/RNZ News

By Jonty Dine, RNZ News reporter

The widow of the final victim in the 2019 terrorist attack says things have not improved for New Zealand Muslims.

Hamimah Amhat was recently exercising in Christchurch when a passing motorist screamed at her to go back to her country.

“That shook me, I just had to sit down and let myself calm down.”

Hamimah said she did not stoop to the level of such hatred but found herself feeling bitterly disappointed.

“It was broad daylight and in a university area. That is just one of the recent incidents that has happened to me but I know of plenty of others too which is very discouraging.”

New Zealand’s annual gathering on countering terrorism and violent extremism, He Whenua Taurikura Hui 2022, got underway in Auckland today.

Members of the Māori, Pasifika, Jewish, Muslim, rainbow, and many more communities will unite at the Cordis Hotel for the two-day hui.

Conversations crucial
Hamimah said conversations were crucial to prevent another mass murder.

Zekeriya Tuyan was the 51st victim of the 15 March 2019 terror attack, passing away 48 days after being shot in the chest.

He was survived by his beloved wife and two sons.

“The boys were very young, we lost a great friend, husband and father.”

Hamimah said her husband treated her like a queen and she was still getting used to opening doors for herself as Tuyan always insisted on doing this for her.

“Simple things like that, he put me on a pedestal.”

Hamimah is the chair of the Sakinah Community Trust, a kaupapa created by the daughters, wives and sisters of March 15 victims.

Strength and well-being
“It involves promotion of strength and well-being in the community.”

Among the many initiatives the group is involved with is Unity Week, which runs from March 15-22.

“It is about galvanising our allies, and touching the hearts of those sitting on the fence.”

The week acknowledges the affected communities which Hamimah said were not just the people who were directly impacted by the events.

“It’s also the people who pulled up their sleeves and got together even though they were grieving as well and in shock, they made time to help the families and make sure the community continued to function.”

Hamimah said the Muslim community could not sit back and wait for tolerance to come to them.

“People find it hard to approach us, just recently my driving instructor told me, ‘I didn’t know how to react to a Muslim woman,’ and I just had to tell him to smile, we are human beings.”

She said education was key to dispelling fears and myths.

‘Sharing our space together’
“We invite them to share our space together. Cut through our skin and we bleed red blood.”

While we were moving forward as a nation, things could be faster and more effective, Hamimah said.

She cited recent incidents in Aotearoa including the Dunedin student who had her hijab ripped off, New Zealand soldiers linked to white supremacist groups and school board nominees spouting hateful ideology.

Hamimah said anti-Chinese racism was also prevalent during the pandemic.

“It was as if people had forgotten about March 15 and racism actually increased towards the Chinese and everyone else who looked Chinese to those discriminatory people.”

Formalities at the hui began by acknowledging the survivors of the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch.

The morning then focussed on the consequences of colonialism and near two centuries of Pākehā dominance in Aotearoa.

He Whenua Taurikura Hui 2022
He Whenua Taurikura Hui 2022 . . . “a good cause in keeping Aotearoa safe and free from violence and hate rhetoric based on identity, including faith and ethnicity.” Image: Khairiah A. Rahman screenshot APR/FB

‘Colonial entitlement’ still rife
Auckland University professor of indigenous studies Tracey McIntosh opened panel discussions looking at why the country needed to face deep but necessary discomfort over the impact colonisation had for Māori.

This included relocation, confiscation and invasion.

“Of all the times I hear government agencies say Te Tiriti, if there is one word that seems to avoid their tongue, that’s the word colonialism,” McIntosh said.

Those impacts included dishonouring the Treaty with impunity, mass incarceration, immigration policies and racialised myth making, she said.

“The forces that brought us here today are no less than pure, distilled, colonial entitlement.”

There was a responsibility of powers to humbly engage with the issue of racism, McIntosh said.

“You have centrist power mongers who passively protect and maintain colonial privilege while presenting themselves as benign allies.”

Independent body
Māori deserved an independent body to monitor threats, she said.

“While extremists get the most attention, because they are the loudest and most violent, they hold less structural power.”

Both the Crown and government agencies had a lot of work to do, McIntosh said.

“Taking on a Māori name and logo but not sharing power is not equality.”

New Zealand had seen the rise of groups that represented hate and hostility through online emboldenment, she said.

The 2019 terror attack disturbed New Zealand’s complacency, McIntosh said.

Another prominent Māori leader said his people continued to endure terrorism at the hands of the state.

Enduring terror acts
Bill Hamilton of the National Iwi Chairs Forum spoke of the terror acts his people had endured such as invasion and abduction.

“Our children were taken and continue to be taken by the likes of Oranga Tamariki, and those are violent terrorist acts on our people.”

Aotearoa still had very subtle and sneaky forms of racism today, he said.

Hamilton said what was supposed to guarantee protection, equality and a mutually beneficial relationship — Te Tiriti o Waitangi — had instead seen the demonisation of Māori leaders, beatings for use of te reo, and widespread invasion.

“Our grandparents were beaten as kids for speaking their language.”

The state needed to apologise for the terror inflicted on the Māori people, he said.

Hamilton believed there had been a residual effect across society where people viewed Māori as less than equal.

He Whenua Taurikura Hui 2022 continues tomorrow with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern scheduled to speak about 9am at Cordis Hotel.

The topic will be diversity in democracy, creating safe spaces online and countering messages of hate.

Asia Pacific Media Network (APMN) is represented at the hui by Auckland University of Technology communications academic and Pacific Journalism Review assistant editor Khairiah A Rahman.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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