This week has been emotionally confronting as casualties from the Christchurch Terrorist attack shared with the court a mixture of sadness, resentment, anger, and boldness in their victim impact statements. Emboldened by the outcry of support – which extends far beyond the physical walls of the court – more than 90 people, who were either wounded or spoke on behalf of the bereaved, stood only a few metres away from the Australian terrorist.
Today, the man responsible for the senseless murders of 51 Muslim worshippers, has been sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail without a chance for parole. This is the first time New Zealand has ever issued a judgement of this nature; his actions caused concerns of similar terrorist attacks in the future, and the sentence acted as a necessary deterrent.
It is reported that the terrorist (who will not be named in this article) showed no signs of remorse over the last three days. Despite representing himself, he dared not to speak nor engage with his victims as he impassively sat in the docks, only momentarily looking around at the diverse faces present at his hearing. Before handing down the final sentence, Justice Cameron Mander reminded the court of the lives lost. During his reading, he paused only briefly to regain composure.
The judge read the names of the murder victims and repeated the details of what their lives had been before they took their final steps in a mosque, a place which offered them a sense of community and a safe space for refuge. He referred to this in his sentencing asserting how “the mosques were places of sanctuary…I have no doubt you came to New Zealand and targeted its Muslim community for that very reason.”
Justice Mander told the white nationalist he was clearly motivated by a “hatred of people perceived to be different from yourself…you committed mass murder…you showed no mercy, you ignored the pleas of the wounded to be spared…you advanced on them, stood over them and shot them…slaughtered unarmed and defenceless people…their loss is unbearable…your actions have destroyed that family as they have so many other families.”
Noting the past psychological reports conducted in 2019 and the white supremacist’s nonchalant demeanour over the past week, Mander continued to say that “it is not apparent that you are genuinely remorseful for your actions apart from the circumstances in which you now find yourself…even if you are detained until you die, it would not exhaust the requirements of punishment and denunciation.” When being presented a final opportunity to speak after sentencing has been passed, the terrorist declined the offer.
It needs to be emphasized that justice will never be fully granted to the victims and families of those indiscriminately gunned down, as “no amount of punishment” will bring loved ones back. By committing a series of mass murders at places of Islamic worship, the white supremacist’s actions were described by the lead prosecutor as “calculated and militaristic determination.” This premeditated terrorist attack invoked a popularised right-wing rhetoric which sees the lines of racial and religious incompatibility being defined, and ultimately, fought for. However, this did not happen. The quick response in the aftermath of March 15 shows how Kiwis banded together to ensure that the trauma incurred – “the painful and harrowing mark in New Zealand’s history” – would never again be repeated.
The result of a white nationalist’s actions has seen the birth of genuine solidarity and antiracism activism. Not only was this felt across the world in these unprecedented times of social injustice, but it was perhaps best encapsulated in the immediate cheers and celebrations held outside the court. Crowds welcomed the judge’s final sentencing and embraced the victims who left the court feeling vindicated and with a sense of ‘adl – عدل’ – as in, the Islamic word for justice.
PM Jacinda Arden has just released a statement at the time of this submission and while welcoming the judgement, she implores us all to “forget the gunman’s name” as he deserves a lifetime of “complete and utter silence.”