A day after the government announced a ban on military-style weapons, the Muslim call to prayer rang out across New Zealand on Friday, followed by two minutes of nationwide silence to mark a week since 50 people were murdered at two mosques in Christchurch.
As the call to prayer was broadcast around the country, thousands of people, including Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and wounded survivors, stood in a park opposite the mosque where the killing started as the nation of 4.5 million came to a standstill.
The normally peaceful, quiet country was still in shock after the killings by alleged shooter Brenton Tarrant, a 28-year-old Australian who hoped to foment an ethnic war with his attacks. Instead, New Zealanders have responded with outpourings of love, with many embracing their Muslim neighbors on Friday in moving scenes across the country.
In neighboring Australia, people stopped in the streets and in shops to mark the moment. Many commentators have noted the difference in approach to the massacre between the two countries, with New Zealand’s Ardern showing strength, and compassion, while some Australian politicians bickered over the country’s controversial immigration policies.
Ardern and her government moved quickly on gun control, announcing a ban on military-style assault weapons like those used in the attack on Thursday. By Friday, hundreds of New Zealanders had contacted authorities to hand in their guns within hours of their prime minister announcing the ban.
The ban took effect at 3:00 pm on Thursday, local time. Outlawed were semi-automatic weapons, assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and parts that can modify weapons to make them deadlier.
The gunman had legally purchased his weapons, including two modified semi-automatic rifles, which he used to carry out the massacre. The crackdown applied to new gun purchases, but also effectively rendered illegal the targeted weapons already in the hands of New Zealanders.
Ardern said these would be subject to an amnesty and buyback program, adding that people should immediately start surrendering the arms to police. In the first 20 hours since the ban took effect, almost 500 people called a hotline set up by police to arrange the gun hand-ins, Assistant Police Commissioner Tusha Penny told AFP.
More than 1,000 people also went online to notify police that they wanted to give up their guns.
Meanwhile, in gun-obsessed America, lawmakers and activists desperate to curb firearm violence looked on with both admiration – and bitterness. Democratic Congressman David Cicilline offered a bleak rationale for why New Zealand’s Ardern was able to act so decisively, while Americans appeared unable to reduce gun violence.
“Their politicians aren’t bought and paid for by the gun lobby,” Cicilline tweeted.
Nearly 40,000 were killed by firearms in the United States in 2017, two-thirds of them suicides, the highest annual toll in five decades, according to government figures. “The role of guns in our society is very, very different. It goes way back as part of our culture, unfortunately,” Democratic congressman John Yarmouth told CNN Thursday.
In New Zealand on Friday, Al Noor mosque imam Gamal Fouda spoke to the large crowd in Hagley Park for the memorial to denounce the “evil ideology of white supremacy” and praise Kiwis for their support.
“I look out and I see the love and compassion in the eyes of thousands of fellow New Zealanders and human beings from across the globe,” Fouda said. “This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology … But, instead, we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable.”
The Al Noor mosque remains closed while workers repair bullet-pocked walls and clean blood-spattered floors. Many women across the country wore headscarves in solidarity with Muslims.
“I can take my scarf off if I feel afraid. They cannot,” said Kirsty Wilkinson, who came to Hagley Park with two friends, all in make-shift hijabs. “The message I want to send is that hate cannot win.”
Alleged gunman Tarrant took advantage of relatively lax New Zealand laws to acquire the military-style weapons he used to mow down 50 men, women and children, ranging in age from three to 77, leaving dozens injured in an attack live-streamed online.
New Zealand police revealed on Friday that in October 2017 they met with Tarrant at his home and conducted a “security inspection” as part of the gun license approval process. The “correct process” was followed and the license was granted, a police statement said.
Tarrant is in police custody and has been charged with murder.
Major New Zealand newspapers published special tributes on Friday, with the front page of Christchurch daily The Press bearing the Arabic word “Salam” (Peace) and the names of the 50 killed. The national mourning and moment of silence were broadcast on television networks, radio and across multiple local media websites.
“We are so happy that this prayer will be broadcast to the entire world so that everyone can be part of it,” Mustafa Farouk, president of the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said in a statement announcing the prayer session.
Burials also resumed Friday in Christchurch, with 26 people expected to be laid to rest, ranging from three-year-old Mucaad Ibrahim to 77-year-old Muse Awale. Salwa Mustafa, who lost her husband Khalid and 15-year-old son Hamza in the massacre, had defiant words despite her devastating loss.
“People say that … Muslims are terrorists. The whole world saw who is the terrorist,” she said of the shooter. “Muslims are people of peace and love, not terrorists. And I hope the whole world now can understand the real Islam, the reality of Islam.”
With reporting from AFP