This Community Victim Impact Statement is from the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand (IWCNZ). The organisation feels compelled to provide the Statement because of the tragic and significant impact on our organisation, our community, and our nation. We thank the Crown Prosecutor for affording us this opportunity.
There was an immediate impact during the attacks, and ongoing effects that will last long into the future. The psychological impacts of being present or viewing the events online will be ongoing and require long term support. The attacks have affected people’s sense of security and safety, including their ability to attend places of worship or to leave their homes. It affected their ability to concentrate on work and studies, and therefore current and future financial security.
It has taken up time and resources, as well as having effects on physical health. The largest impact is on those who were murdered and injured, those present during the attacks and all of their families. They are always in our thoughts and we pray that Allah (SWT) will keep them in His care. Ameen.
The impact of these mass murders was immediate on our organisation. Our head, Dr Maysoon Salama, lost her son in the attack and her husband was shot and survived. Both she and her husband have detailed the impacts in their own statements. For IWCNZ, the governance group felt the immediate shock and grief of knowing that a beloved member of the organisation suffered such a loss. Further to this, they personally knew others who had been killed and injured during the attack. The grief was immense, but they had little time to give it space.
During the most difficult time that the Muslim community has faced in New Zealand, IWCNZ lost the wisdom and guidance of our leader. She provides us with both practical and spiritual leadership, and to be without this was a great burden in the aftermath of the attacks. The governance group is comprised of five members and is supported by our government engagement lead. This group of six was reduced to five. All are volunteers.
In the week after the attack, four out of the five travelled to Christchurch to provide comfort and support to the victims. There were thirty-two widows, children of families who had suffered a loss, Muslim women who had been present at the mosques, and wider community members who knew and loved those who had passed. All these people required support and nurturing.
In the day or two after the attacks, the Muslim community was deprived of their places of worship. Congregational prayer and coming together are a huge part of healing for the Muslim community, but our mosques were shut down for security reasons. At the time we most needed, we were not able to gather and pray together. Even after they were re-opened, the freedom people had felt to enter places of worship has been reduced, severely for some.
Due to the demands at global and national levels, IWCNZ had to play a significant media role after the attack, as media sought interviews and information. Interviews were given to print and broadcast media, and because of time differences, were often in the early hours of the morning and late at night. The intense media coverage carried on for at least a month, and after that, has continued to take up a significant amount of time. For the days when victims were grieving and burying the dead, IWCNZ stepped in and spoke on behalf of the community, until they were able to give their own accounts.
Soon after the attacks, through engagement with the Christchurch victims, we realised there was need for mental health support, and that students had been unable to concentrate on their studies for NCEA. IWCNZ was offered the support of mental health experts from Canada and the United States, those who had dealt with the Quebec mosque attacks and the 9/11 attacks. We organised the visits of these experts to Christchurch and organised meetings with health officials and the community. We also organised a national speaking tour, so that Muslim community members in other parts of the country who had been dealing with trauma received some support. We provided tutoring for youth in Christchurch to make up for studies they may have missed due to trauma and grief.
We engaged with the Chief Human Rights Commissioner and the Minister for Ethnic Communities, who attended a meeting in Christchurch to find out what gaps there were in support. We had to deal with issues related to Victim Support.
Some Muslim youth around the country reported that their schools provided no support for them on the Monday after the attacks. There was no recognition that they had suffered grief and fear due to this targeted attack on their community. Some youth reported further bullying at school related to the attacks. There is a fear of being singled out, of being the centre of attention.
There were numerous youth who watched the livestreaming of the attack or a subsequent video. These young people have reported a lack of ability to sleep, to concentrate on their studies. Their family relationships were disturbed, and their sense of safety severely compromised. To actually watch the events unfold, rather than be told about them second hand, was a different level of horror. To then see some add messages of hate and mockery to the video was absolutely appalling.
A significant amount of time was taken up in meeting with government officials and Ministers in the aftermath of the attacks. IWCNZ representatives met with the Chief Executive of the Department of Internal Affairs, the Minister for Ethnic Communities, the Chief Human Rights Commissioner, and others in the month after the attacks. Subsequently, due to mishandling of correspondence, IWCNZ representatives met with the Minister of Corrections and the Chief Executive of Corrections. We also engaged in meetings for the Christchurch Call in May and June.
Our engagement with Government has been ongoing, whether it is to do with changes to hate speech legislation, censorship laws, the Police, the Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Education, the Office of Ethnic Communities, Immigration New Zealand, and others. We have given generously of our time and expertise. While this engagement had happened prior to the attacks, it has been at a much higher level and much more traumatic as we continue to push for changes that will improve the safety of all New Zealanders.
The Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Christchurch Mosque Attacks was announced in late March. IWCNZ representatives advocated for representation on the Royal Commission, and for input into the Terms of Reference (which was not granted). We then spent time seeking legal representation and funding. Our representatives not only joined the Muslim Community Reference Group, but also prepared detailed submissions and have had numerous hearings and meetings with the Director and Commissioners. We organised for the Director and a Commissioner to attend the IWCNZ annual conference.
All of this work, including support for the Christchurch victims and wider community, media, government engagement and engagement with the Royal Commission has taken a huge toll on IWCNZ members. This work meant members had to take time away from our paid employment and our families. It meant no weekend breaks and having to work evenings as well. In all, one of our Admin Council members related that between 15 March and 14 December 2019, she had only 5 days where she was not working solidly from morning until late night. Another reported averaging 4 hours of sleep a night from March through to June and this has now moved to six hours, but she was forced to take medical leave for ten days when hit by a virus, as she had no physical reserves to draw on.
IWCNZ members were lucky to have the support of our employers who shouldered the financial loss of our absence. We have been away from work for weeks, once the days have been added up. Others in our workplace have had to take on our responsibilities and work extra to cover what we have missed. Our employers have had to pay for replacement staff. It is difficult to quantity the impact, but it will run to tens of thousands of dollars. Our employers’ support has been generous but has come at costs to them. This demonstrates a wide impact on others extending past the Muslim community.
We were extremely fortunate in the support of our families, though they suffered in our absence and did not get the support they needed. For those who had younger children, there was an impact on their studies and their results. The concept of family time, for most, has been severely limited, as community needs have often superseded family needs.
There was a toll on our physical and mental health. Members were unable to sleep or eat, and these patterns were disrupted for many weeks. Several needed counselling. There were expressions of grief during hearings with the Royal Commission, and in preparing submissions, as members were retraumatised again and again. A similar situation occurred in countless meetings with government officials and during numerous public speaking engagements – each of these would cause trauma and physical reactions. Members suffered dizziness, fainting, migraines, colds (brought on because we were so overworked and rundown). There was no time for exercise, so physical fitness and health suffered.
In addition to all of this, IWCNZ has been receiving constant reports of harassment and physical violence against Muslim women and youth after the attacks. A certain section of the community was emboldened in their expressions of hate, both online and offline, because of the attacks. We had to deal with a video game made from the point of view of the Christchurch killer, clearly inspired by the attacks. We have had to deal with death threats and threats of harm to our leadership. We have had to deal with threats to other mosques.
In dealing with all of these, we have had to engage with the Chief Censor, NetSafe, the Human Rights Commission, the Christchurch Call team and the Police. Again, this is time taken away from our families and away from our workplaces. Each of these incidences caused us to be retraumatised.
In terms of the effects on our wider community, there has been significant trauma and grief. As mentioned above, there are orphans and widows who require ongoing support. Some of the widows are young, many victims have had ongoing immigration issues and the provision of mental health support has not always been consistent or adequate.
The leader of IWCNZ, despite her own personal grief and loss, has had to step up and provide support to the Christchurch community. She has also attended numerous meetings for victims’ families, called by government officials and Ministers. She has advocated to the best of her ability and through her grief. This has taken a significant toll on her wellbeing.
In consultation meetings organised by the Minister of Ethnic Communities, many Muslim women reported feeling less safe, many had been afraid to leave their homes due to being identifiably Muslim with their hijab. Others had stopped going to the mosque, which was part of their spiritual nourishment.
Further grief and trauma was caused by seeing mass murders committed overseas by those who were “inspired” by the Christchurch mosque attacks. To know that further loss of life was occurring because of the killings of our beloved community members has been incredibly hard to take. To know that the far right and white supremacists continue to organise and plot to cause the Muslim community harm undermines our sense of safety.
The long-term impact can be seen in the modified behaviour that has been reported to IWCNZ. Muslim women riding on buses report that they sit by the door now to exit quickly if need be, they are wary and look out. At a recent youth camp organised by a regional Muslim women’s organisation (WOWMA), girls indicated that they felt a lack of confidence and want self-defence training provided nationwide for fear of another attack. They are more careful about posting location and time.
There have been significant financial impacts, as families have lost one or more breadwinners through death or injury. At least one family business has had to close. Many other businesses suffered and are still struggling due to the loss of a business owner/partner through death or severe injury. Due to the impact of the attack families pulled their children from a Muslim-owned childcare centre and a qualified teacher in that centre resigned for the reason of not feeling safe. Some restaurants were also not doing well. Late last year, financial insecurity was reported as the primary concern by victim families, with immigration issues being next.
Some community members have reported an inability to concentrate at work, and not all employers have been supportive. A Muslim woman has reported a feeling of grief every time she enters a mosque. An indication of the on-going trauma was that, when a threat to the Al-Noor mosque posted on Telegram was reported on by media in February 2020, several Muslim women in Christchurch did not leave their homes for days, purely because of fear for their safety.
Despite all of these negative consequences, the killer needs to know that he has not beaten us down nor has he taken away our hope nor crushed our spirits. By far, the most common feedback we have received from our community are expressions of gratitude and joy that the good people in New Zealand have given us overwhelming support. We have stronger relationships, much more warmth in our personal interactions, and feel the aroha that has been extended from all levels of the community, including the Prime Minister, the government and everyday New Zealanders.
They have stood alongside us, they have been vocal in their condemnation of these heinous acts. They have reiterated that we, the Muslim community, are a valued part of New Zealand and that we belong here. We receive smiles, positive comments and warmth from the many diverse communities of Aotearoa, and we know that this support is lasting and will not fade. Despite those who continue to denigrate us online and offline, we know that the voices of support are much more numerous and stronger.
New Zealanders contributed not just with their words and actions, but also with their wealth. The numerous donations, along with support from businesses and philanthropic organisations, have provided support to victims of the attacks and again, let the New Zealand Muslim community know that they are valued.
In sentencing this offender, we ask that the intentions of the killer be taken into account. He intended to cause serious harm and did so. He intended to terrorise our community and New Zealand as a whole. That he was not successful is because of the beautiful nature of millions of New Zealanders, and it is clear that he did not know us or this country well enough. However, his intention was clear and the level of effort he put into this mass murder is absolutely clear. We ask that the sentence reflect this.