New Zealanders pay tribute as terror attack victims’ families anxiously await return of dead

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People present floral tributes at a makeshift memorial for victims of the March 15 mosque attacks, in Christchurch on March 17, 2019. (AFP)
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Lit candles are seen in front of floral tributes at a makeshift memorial for victims of the March 15 mosque attacks, in Christchurch on March 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 17 March 2019
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New Zealanders pay tribute as terror attack victims’ families anxiously await return of dead

  • “All of the deceased have had a CT scan, their fingerprints are taken, the property they were wearing or had with them is removed,” said Chief Coroner Deborah Marshall
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she expected all the dead would have been returned to their families by Wednesday

CHRISTCHURCH: A steady stream of mourners paid tribute Sunday at a makeshift memorial to the 50 people slain by a gunman at two mosques in Christchurch, while dozens of Muslims stood by to bury the dead when authorities finally release the victims' bodies.
Hundreds of flowers were piled up amid candles, balloons and notes of grief and love outside the Al-Noor mosque. As a light rain fell, people clutched each other and wept quietly.
"We wish we knew your name to write upon your heart. We wish we knew your favorite song, what makes you smile, what makes you cry," read one of the tributes, which contained cut-out paper hearts under a nearby tree. "We made a heart for you. 50 hearts for 50 lives."
Two days after Friday's attack, New Zealand's deadliest shooting in modern history, relatives were still waiting for authorities to release the bodies. Islamic law calls for bodies to be cleansed and buried as soon as possible after death.
Supporters arrived from across the country to help with the burials in Christchurch and authorities sent in backhoes to dig graves in a site that was newly fenced off and blocked from view with white netting.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said authorities hoped to release all the bodies by Wednesday, and Police Commissioner Mike Bush said authorities were working with pathologists and coroners to complete the task as soon as they could.
"We have to be absolutely clear on the cause of death and confirm their identity before that can happen," Bush said. "But we are so aware of the cultural and religious needs. So we are doing that as quickly and as sensitively as possible."
Police said they had released a preliminary list of the victims to families, which has helped give closure to some who were waiting for any news.
The suspect in the shootings, 28-year-old white supremacist Brenton Harrison Tarrant, appeared in court Saturday amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read one murder charge and said more would likely follow.
Tarrant had posted a jumbled 74-page anti-immigrant manifesto online before the attacks and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter.
Ardern said the gunman had sent the manifesto to her office email about nine minutes before the attacks, although she hadn't gotten the email directly herself. She said her office was one of about 30 recipients and had forwarded the email to parliamentary security within a couple of minutes of receiving it.
Bush said at a news conference that another body had been found at Al-Noor mosque as they finished removing the victims, bringing the number of people killed there to 42. Another seven people were killed at Linwood mosque and one more person died later at Christchurch Hospital.
Thirty-four wounded remained at the hospital, where officials said 12 were in critical condition. A 4-year-old girl at a children's hospital in Auckland was also listed as critical.
Dozens of Muslim supporters gathered at a center set up for victims, families and friends across the road from the hospital, where many had flown in from around New Zealand to offer support. About two dozen men received instructions on their duties Sunday, which included Muslim burial customs.
Abdul Hakim, 56, of Auckland, was among many who had flown in to help.
"As soon as people die, we must bury them as soon as possible," Hakim said. "We are all here to help them in washing the body, putting them in the grave."
Javed Dadabhai, who flew from Auckland after learning about the death of his 35-year-old cousin, Junaid Mortara, said the Muslim community was being patient.
"The family understands that it's a crime scene. It's going to be a criminal charge against the guy who's done this, so they need to be pretty thorough," he said.
Still, it was hard, he said, because the grieving process wouldn't really begin until he could bury his cousin.
People across the country were still trying to come to terms with the massacre that Ardern described as "one of New Zealand's darkest days."
At the Vatican, Pope Francis offered prayers for "our Muslim brothers" killed in the attack. At his traditional Sunday prayer, Francis renewed "an invitation to unite in prayer and gestures of peace to oppose hatred and violence."
The gunman livestreamed 17 minutes of the rampage at the Al Noor mosque, where he sprayed worshippers with bullets. Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambled to take down the video, which was widely available on social media for hours after the bloodbath.
The second attack took place at the Linwood mosque about 5 kilometers (3 miles) away.
Ardern has said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who legally bought the five guns he used.
At a news conference, the prime minister reiterated her promise that there will be changes to the country's gun laws. She said her Cabinet will discuss the policy details Monday.
Arden used some of her strongest language yet about gun control, saying that laws need to change and "they will change."
Neighboring Australia has virtually banned semi-automatic rifles from private ownership since a lone gunman killed 35 people with assault rifles in 1996.
Before Friday's attack, New Zealand's deadliest shooting in modern history took place in 1990 in the small town of Aramoana, where a gunman killed 13 people following a dispute with a neighbor.


New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 24 May 2019
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New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.