New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had a simple but strong message for Christchurch high schoolers who lost two of their schoolmates in Friday’s mosque shooting: remember the victims, celebrate their stories — and don’t dwell on the person who took their lives.
Cashmere High School is located less than a 15-minute drive away from both the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre, where 50 Muslim worshippers were killed by a suspected white supremacist during Friday prayers on March 15.
The school lost two of its students in the attack: 14-year-old Sayyad Milne and 15-year-old Hamza Mustafa. Hamza’s 13-year-old brother Zaed suffered gunshot wounds to the leg.
The Mustafa brothers’ father Khalid, 44, was killed.
Tariq Omar, a former Cashmere High School student from 2008 to 2012, was also among those who died in the attack, the school’s principal said.
On Wednesday, Ardern visited the grief-stricken school, with students performing a haka dance of welcome as she entered the gym to speak.
“One of the messages that I want to share with our young people in particular: it’s OK to grieve,” Ardern told some 200 students who gathered to hear her speak. “It’s OK to ask for help even if you weren’t directly affected.
“These images that people are seeing, they are really, really difficult to process.”
Ardern asked the students if they had seen material on social media that made them uncomfortable, and most of them raised their hands, New Zealand-based news outlet Stuff.co.nz reported.
She promised the students swift action on social media as well as gun control.
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Ardern then told the students that no single individual has the power to exterminate racism and that all New Zealanders had an important role to play.
“We don’t let racism exist because racism breeds extremism. It breeds some of the things that we, unfortunately, have had visited upon New Zealand,” she said.
“So this is my request. I alone cannot get rid of those things by myself. I need help from every single one of us.
“So if we want to feel like we are doing something to make a difference, show those outpourings of love, gather together… but also let New Zealand be a place where there is no tolerance for racism, ever.”
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Ardern then took questions from the students.
The first question was simple: “How are you?”
“How am I? Thank you for asking,” the prime minister responded. “I’m very sad.”
Ardern also reiterated previous remarks in which she urged New Zealanders to deny the suspected gunman the notoriety he sought from his act.
“You know some of the young people who lost their lives on Friday. It’s their names and their stories that we need to keep telling, and it’s them that we need to honour,” she told the students.
“Yes, there will be interest in the terrorist who did this. But if I can request one thing: don’t say his name. Don’t dwell on who he is. Dwell on your students and your friends because they are the most important people that we need to remember right now.”
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The gunman’s desire for infamy was made clear by the fact that he left behind a convoluted 74-page manifesto before Friday’s massacre and livestreamed footage of his attack on the Al Noor Mosque.
“He obviously had a range of reasons for committing this atrocious terrorist attack. Lifting his profile was one of them,” Ardern told reporters on Tuesday. “And that’s something that we can absolutely deny him.”
Asked if she would like the trial to occur behind closed doors, Ardern demurred, saying that was not her decision to make.
“One thing I can assure you — you won’t hear me speak his name.”
— With files from the Associated Press