Jacinda Ardern recently reiterated her commitment never to speak the name of Brenton Tarrant, the Christchurch terrorist, ‘He deserves a lifetime of complete and utter silence.’
I am not convinced by the NZ Prime Minister’s silence on this matter. However, the way the NZ justice system gave voice (and names) to victims who wished to speak at his sentencing should be commended.
Apparently, many of them found the prospect of facing Tarrant again too distressing. Yet, watching others speak with passion, borne out of unspeakable pain, they discovered courage to do likewise.
I am moved by what took place in that courtroom; by their bravery, their grief, their commitment to Islam, and their strength.
I recommend reading their statements. It takes time. I could only read a few, then had to stop, and return later. The words are too engaging; powerful and raw.
‘My 71-year-old dad, whom you murdered, would have broken you in half in a fight. You are weak. I am strong. And you made me even stronger,’ Ahad Nabi
‘I smashed the side window of his car. I could see fear in his eyes for his own life.
You should thank Allah I didn’t catch you on that day. You will never forget these two eyes you ran from,’ Abdul Wahabzadah
‘The memory of the shooting is very difficult for me. I don’t go to the mosque so much now. I’m too scared to go. It’s too hard for me now; my friend being shot dead right in front of me. I miss my friend very much and cry for him all the time,’ Taj Kamran (his picture is above)
‘You put bullets into my husband, and he fought death until his last breath. My eldest son has only five years’ worth of memories with his father; my wee one, much less, not enough. I see the longing in my sons’ eyes as they watch other boys holding hands, tumbling on the grass, reading books, building Legos with their fathers. How do I, their mum, console their aching hearts?’ Hamimah Yuyan
In that courtroom, we saw the power of individual testimony, an indispensable part of de-escalating violence.
Now, when outrages take place around the world, we predict an escalation in bloodshed through airstrikes and invasions, with more victims, more heartache, and more destruction. The cycle often plays out over generations, and the result is hatred.
That Christchurch courtroom pointed to a different pathway. It allowed bitter feelings to be spoken, heard and held. It promoted recognition and healing rather than hatred.
(After the attack on the World Trade Centre, imagine if instead of invasion the efforts of the US had focussed on catching Osama bin Laden. He would then have faced court; required to listen to victims speak.)
As we struggle to make sense of this disturbing world and look for new ways forward, we should seek out the voices of victims. That is where hope lies.