Stricken New Zealanders reach out to Muslims after shooting

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People move the flowers after police removed a police line, outside Masjid Al-Noor in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Reuters)
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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets representatives of the Muslim community in Christchurch. (AP)
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Residents pay their respect at Hagley College for the victims of the mosques attacks in Christchurch. (AFP)
Updated 16 March 2019

Stricken New Zealanders reach out to Muslims after shooting

  • Some offered rides to the grocery store or volunteered to walk with their Muslim neighbors if they felt unsafe
  • Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said New Zealand was targeted “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion”

CHRISTCHURCH: New Zealand’s stricken residents reached out to Muslims in their neighborhoods and around the country on Saturday, with a fierce determination to show kindness to a community in pain as a 28-year-old white supremacist stood silently before a judge, accused in mass shootings at two mosques that left 49 people dead.
Brenton Harrison Tarrant appeared in court amid strict security, shackled and wearing all-white prison garb, and showed no emotion when the judge read him one murder charge. The judge said “it was reasonable to assume” more such charges would follow. Tarrant, who posted an anti-immigrant manifesto online and apparently used a helmet-mounted camera to broadcast live video of the slaughter in the city of Christchurch, appeared to make a hand sign, similar to an OK sign, that is sometimes associated with white nationalists.




Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern meets representatives of the Muslim community in Christchurch. (AP)


The massacre during Friday prayers prompted a heartfelt response from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who pronounced it “one of New Zealand’s darkest days” and said the shooter, an Australian native, had chosen to strike in New Zealand “because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion.”
Her fellow countrymen seemed to want to prove her right by volunteering acts of kindness. Some offered rides to the grocery store or volunteered to walk with their Muslim neighbors if they felt unsafe.
In online forums, people discussed Muslim food restrictions as they prepared to drop off meals for those affected.

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“Love always wins over hate. Lots of love for our Muslim brothers,” read a handwritten card on a wall of flowers in a historic part of the city that stretched a full block.
Still, Muslims were advised to stay away from mosques while the nation’s security alert remained at the second-highest level a day after the deadliest shooting in modern New Zealand history.
Ardern said 39 survivors remained hospitalized Saturday, with 11 critically wounded. But updates were slow to come, and many families were still waiting to hear whether their loved ones were among the victims.
Outside one of the two mosques, 32-year-old Ash Mohammed pushed through police barricades in hopes of finding out what happened to his father and two brothers, whose cellphones rang unanswered. An officer stopped him.
“We just want to know if they are dead or alive,” Mohammed told the officer.




Residents pay their respect at Hagley College for the victims of the mosques attacks in Christchurch. (AFP)


Hungry for any news, families and friends of the victims gathered at the city’s Hagley College, near the hospital.
They included Asif Shaikh, 44, who said he was among more than 100 people at the Al Noor mosque when the attacker came in. He said he survived by playing dead, but was desperate to know what happened to his friends who were there with him.
“It’s been 36 hours, I haven’t heard anything about them,” he said.
Nearby, Akhtar Khokhur leaned on the shoulders of her friend and cried as she held up her cellphone with an image of her husband.
“I still don’t know where he is,” she said.
Khokhur, 58, and husband Mehaboobbhai Khokhur, 65, had traveled from India to spend time with their son Imran, their first visit in the eight years since he moved to New Zealand. The couple was due to fly out Sunday.
Imran had dropped off his father, an electrical engineer, at the Al Noor mosque on Friday and was looking for a parking space when the shooting began. They have not heard from him since.
The gunman had posted a jumbled, 74-page manifesto on social media in which he identified himself as an Australian and white supremacist who was out to avenge attacks in Europe perpetrated by Muslims.
He livestreamed 17 minutes of the rampage at the Al Noor mosque, where, armed with at least two assault rifles and a shotgun, he sprayed worshippers with bullets, killing at least 41 people. More people were killed in an attack on a second mosque a short time later.
Facebook, Twitter and Google scrambled to take down the gunman’s 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.
The video showed the killer was carrying a shotgun and two fully automatic military assault rifles, with an extra magazine taped to one of the weapons so that he could reload quickly. He also had more assault weapons in the trunk of his car, along with what appeared to be explosives.
Two other armed suspects were taken into custody Friday while police tried to determine what role, if any, they played in the cold-blooded attack that stunned New Zealand, a country so peaceful that police officers rarely carry guns.
Tarrant’s relatives in the Australian town of Grafton, in New South Wales, contacted police after learning of the shooting and were helping with the investigation, local authorities said. Tarrant has spent little time in Australia in the past four years and only had minor traffic infractions on his record.
New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush confirmed Tarrant was involved in both shootings but stopped short of saying he was the sole gunman.
During the Saturday morning hearing, a man who was not in court was charged with using writings to incite hatred against a race or ethnicity, but it was not clear if his case was related to the mosque attacks.
“We appear to primarily be dealing with one primary perpetrator, but we want to make sure that we don’t take anything for granted in ensuring New Zealanders’ safety,” Prime Minister Ardern said.
New Zealand, with a population of 5 million, has relatively loose gun laws and an estimated 1.5 million firearms, or roughly one for every three people. But it has one of the lowest gun homicide rates in the world. In 2015, it had just eight.
Ardern said Tarrant was a licensed gun owner who bought the five guns used in the crimes legally.
“I can tell you one thing right now, our gun laws will change,” Ardern said.
She did not offer too much detail, but said a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be looked at. 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.

 


Arabic-speaking Pakistanis meet online to bridge cultural gap

Updated 20 min 47 sec ago

Arabic-speaking Pakistanis meet online to bridge cultural gap

  • Apolitical platform to promote language, encourage people-to-people contact, organizers say
  • Constitutes a versatile mix of people from all walks of life

ISLAMABAD: For an hour and a half every fortnight, a group of Pakistanis log on to Zoom, a video-conferencing platform, to enter the digital space of the “Halqa-e-Aldardsha Al-Arabia” or the Arabic Speaking Circle.

The group of 20 are joined by 50 other linguaphiles from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan and even India — Pakistan’s nuclear-armed neighbor, and its archrival since the 1947 partition.

However, due to the apolitical nature of the group, the conversations are exclusive to and revolve around their experiences and mutual love of Arabic — a language that transcends their digital boundaries.

“Currently, there are 70 members in the group, 20 Pakistanis and 50 from other countries. The Pakistanis and two Indians aren’t native Arabic speakers, they’ve learnt it in the 1970s (as overseas workers), while members from Middle Eastern countries are native speakers, so it’s a good mix,” Dr. Inamul Haq Ghazi, founder of the group and chairman of the Arabic translation department at the International Islamic University in Islamabad, told Arab News on Tuesday.

The group held its first meeting on May 15 with an aim “to promote the language and exchange cultural experiences.” 

The idea, Dr. Ghazi said, originated from the fact that a lot of overseas workers and expatriates were well-versed in spoken Arabic but “didn’t have a platform to connect to a larger audience.”

“Our governments (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) have strong historical relationships, but we want to promote people-to-people contact through our platform. Millions of our nationals are employed in different fields in several Middle Eastern countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE),” he said.

Prime among those is Ambassador Javed Hafeez, another founding member, who said that it began as an informal “group of friends” who were fluent in classical Arabic and “wanted to share their social and cultural experiences.”

“Being fluent in the language, I appear on numerous Arabic news channels as an analyst where I promote a positive image of Pakistan,” Hafeez, who has served in many Middle Eastern countries including Saudi Arabia as an ambassador, told Arab News.

He added that Arabic was a rich language, before urging Pakistani youth to learn it “to expand their careers in the Middle East and know more about their social and cultural values.

A screen grab shows participants of the Arabic Speaking Circle meeting via Zoom held on May 15. (Supplied by Ambassador Javed Hafeez)

All are welcome, Dr. Ghazi added, since there are “no restrictions on nationality.”

“We are, in fact, including people of different nationalities in our group to make it a multinational platform,” he said.

The topics vary from talking about personal experiences to curated subjects.

“In our next meeting, we are planning to discuss ‘Arab travelers to the sub-continent, and how they have portrayed the area in their travelogues.’ We’ve already circulated this topic among the participants, and each member will come prepared to talk about it and ask different questions,” Hafeez said, adding that in the previous session he’d shared his experience of learning the language and how it helped him “climb the ladder of success as a diplomat.”

Next, the group has plans to set up a “Regional Arabic Center” in Pakistan, with the help of Saudi Arabia, to promote the Arabic language and cultural exchange between the two countries.

“The platform could also be used to dub classical dramas and films in both Urdu and Arabic to promote them in Pakistan and Middle Eastern countries. This is an apolitical platform, and its only purpose is to promote Arabic language and strengthen our relationship with Middle Eastern countries,” Dr. Ghazi said.