South Hagley Park is quiet. A peaceful wooded enclave flanked by busy city roads, it’s the kind of place people go to walk dogs and where children learn to ride bikes. On Friday, that quiet was brutally punctured, when a white nationalist terrorist entered the neighbouring Masjid Al Noor and gunned down 50 people while they prayed.
By Sunday the quiet had returned — this time eerie, funereal and awash with emotion. The entrance to Deans Avenue, where the mosque resides, was laden with floral tributes. Even while armed police kept an ominous watch over the scene of the crime, people came from across town to pay their respects. They left flowers, sweets, and messages of love and hope along the edge of the park in front of the mosque.
Above all, Christchurch remains in shock that such a thing could happen here. “I have no words,” said Ruda, a Romanian immigrant. “It just doesn’t feel safe here anymore.” One man at the vigil dryly joked that he expected such an attack to happen in Australia, or maybe Auckland, but not Christchurch.
The crowd gathered outside the mosque was a display of Christchurch’s multiculturalism. The vision of people from all races and religions brought together in solidarity with the city’s Muslim community is a stark repudiation of Brenton Tarrant’s fantasy of a white ethnostate.
People of colour dominated the crowd — Somalis and Samoans, Punjabis, Afghanis and Turks stood side by side. A group of tear-stricken young Southeast Asian women in hijabs were enveloped by a white family in a group hug. “We love you, don’t ever forget,” the mother said. A white ambulance worker comforted an Indian woman in a salwar kameez.
Even as night fell, and the wind took on an autumnal bite, the crowds kept coming. Flowers were replaced with candles. A group of young women produced a guitar and began singing hymns. “You are welcome here,” they sang.
Of course only time will tell what the Christchurch attack will truly mean. In New Zealand, Muslim groups have been sounding the alarm for years about the growing tide of Islamophobia, while across the western world, other Brenton Tarrants are emerging from their online sewers to commit acts of horrific violence on communities of colour.
But right now, after the carnage, the sense of solidarity and compassion at the endless vigil outside the Masjid Al Noor is a powerful and hopeful reminder that the fascists won’t win easy.