The Nation: Al Noor Mosque spokesperson Anthony Green
On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd Interviews Al Noor Mosque spokesperson Anthony Green
Six months on from the worst terrorist attack in New Zealand history, Simon Shepherd asked Al Noor Mosque spokesperson Anthony Green how the Christchurch Muslim is community faring.
Anthony Green: It's a disarmingly simple question to a pretty complex thing. So, there is the community, and the community is made up of individuals, each one of whom has a different perspective on all of this, physically, emotionally, spiritually. And then the whole thing has ramifications because it radiates out, because where people were saying, ‘This is not us,’ in terms of identity, it's also not just us, in terms of ramifications, because of the very, very international nature of how this has come to be.
Simon Shepherd: Yes, OK, but in terms of the local community, what are the ongoing issues there?
They vary. We had, yesterday, and over this weekend, Tributes of Aroha in the art gallery. I met one of the ladies there who lost her husband, and she was able to smile. The smile is on the outside. We know that we have people who think of their own houses now, and they keep seeing the missing one, the one who's not there. I made the announcement after Friday prayers about the fact that Christchurch Hospital has an ongoing thing now on monitoring lead levels in the blood, because there are people carrying around lots of bits and pieces of stuff, which is more— it can't really be taken out, because it would cause more stress. We have people with very, very serious nerve damage. So it's constant pain. So that's the individual. Then there's the wider thing. We're healing, but healing the heart takes its own time. It doesn't go in sync with the calendar.
What about the welfare of the children and young people?
Again, again, again, these things take time. Yesterday at the art gallery, I saw people there taking a photograph of all these tribute walls, and there was a picture of their own son, who got killed, and his sister. And you can't help looking at that and not being disturbed by it. It takes time.
Is the six-month thing just too soon? Should we be doing this kind of commemoration now? Does that sit uncomfortably, or is it OK with the Muslim community?
For us, really, we don't see things in those terms. So the three month or the six month or the one year, when anything of grief happens to a Muslim, we say, ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un’ – ‘From the one we come, and to the one we return.’ It's a bit like the biblical, ‘From dust we came and to dust we return.’ So we don't see things in terms of anniversaries like this. So with the greatest of respect, it's more for the external world.
Right. OK. There was a global surge of support for the Muslim community post the attack, but there's also sort of been a spike in hate speech and hate crime. What are you noticing in your daily lives?
I'm probably the wrong person to ask — this skin colour.
So, the kinds of things that have gone on do still go on. I think it has possibly flushed a lot to the surface that was latent or simmering. But the balance of things, as well, is remarkable. These are the things that are not seen. We have had floods of people coming into the mosque and bursting into tears. We had a guy some weeks ago who came in, burst into tears. He went away, came back with $2,000 to give. We had a young lady from Idaho, in the States, came in, in tears, followed by a woman from Melbourne, in tears. They hugged one another. Somehow, the whole experience was speaking as a kind of experiential metaphor to people globally who were thinking this cannot go on. We had a French family — mother, father, her father and three children. She then sent me an email to say she was very moved by the reception, moved by the generosity of the community, and that they were travelling around the world to try to develop with their children un grand coeur, a big heart, open to diversity.
So, as you say, it has touched that chord in the global community. There's also the fight against online hate and online hate speech. And that's the Christchurch Call, which Jacinda Ardern is going to the UN to announce some details of this week. But how did it feel this week to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that most Kiwis don't care about the Christchurch Call?
Yeah, I don't want to get too much into that. I don't know whether it's true or not. And I think sometimes, when things are remote – and they become remote either in terms of distance you are from it, or in terms of time – we've seen a spike in mental health issues, people troubled by this sort of thing. Finding that you're older than you once were means that you're now— and reminded — as we have been by the earthquakes and by this — that your life is finite and it can end, it's a huge reminder. So I'm now in a space where I think, what good can I do? And so, when Simon Bridges spoke like that, I don't really want to get into that. I say, ‘OK, fine,’ because there will be different opinions.
All right. But one thing you do want to point out, or one thing you do want to raise is while we're looking at this six months on, you're concerned and want to put a call out regarding how people should respond.
Yeah, we have seen copycat issues in Norway and in other places — in California and so on — people inspired by what this guy did on the 15th of March. I've spoken to a number of people in our community, and the one thing that they do not want is revenge attacks for Christchurch. That is very, very clear. One lady — I was in Singapore when this thing happened. I came back two weeks later. When I finally got to see her— She called me on the day and she said, ‘Have you seen him?’ and named him. And I said, ‘No, because I'm overseas.’ When I got back, I saw her, and she said, ‘He never came home.’ And that is as stark as it is. So we do not want it to happen to a Jewish community, a Hindu community, a Christian, anybody. And so we do not want anybody to go out there and say, ‘In revenge for what this man did, I'm going to now attack somebody.’ I don't think any of the people in our community who lost loved ones want that at all. They would never sanction that.
How is it that a community can take that stance when such hurt has been put upon it?
The French lady I mentioned, when she wrote, she said she was touched by the dignity of our community. And that, to me, begs questions about how we come to a situation where people are surprised by dignity. How do we get to that point? There's an American scholar called Hamza Yusuf, and he's spoken about Muslims as being there, having an identity theft situation, so that people who appear like you, who speak like you in some respects, who quote from verses you quote from, can then do things which are absolutely abhorrent and against everything you feel. That image of Muslims that's been portrayed unwittingly or consciously in the media has something to say very much about this.
Right. OK. We're going to leave it there. Anthony Green, thank you so much for coming up to see us today. That's Tony Green, spokesperson for Al Noor Mosque.