New Zealand's Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt urged "Kiwis to stand together" Friday as the toll from a gunman's apparent racist attack on two mosques mounted in the South Island city —still rebuilding after its 2011 earthquake.
"New Zealand is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world," said Hunt, whose commission is also known as Te Kahui Tika Tangata in Maori, New Zealand's other official language since 1987.
"This is not New Zealand," Mustafa Farouk, president of South Pacific island nation's Federation of Islamic Associations (FIANZ) told Fairfax media. "We go around the world we tell people we are living in the most peaceful country in the world," said Farouk, adding "we are doubly shocked."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called it "one of New Zealand's darkest days" in the wake of earthquakes and its Erebus airliner sightseeing crash in Antarctica in 1979 with the loss of 257 lives, the most fatal disaster in the country's recent history.
'Premediated attack,' says mayor Dalziel
Visibly shocked, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel urged the city's population of about 340,000 population to "pull together" after what she described as an extremist's "premeditated attack."
“Christchurch is a city that welcomes people from all cultures, religions and backgrounds and it breaks my heart to see this happen in our city," said Dalziel referring to tourist arrivals via its international airport.
A large silver fern frond — a national symbol alongside the Kiwi bird — was placed by local residents Wendy and Andy Johnson near the targeted al Noor mosque — in Hagley Park, laid out by 19th century English settlers.
"We cut the silver fern out of our garden just to let all our Muslim community know that our hearts are breaking for them today, said Wendy Johnson, "There's no tolerance for this in our society."
'Racism is an issue in New Zealand'
Susan Devoy, former race relations commissioner, ended her tenure last year saying "racism is an issue in New Zealand."
Devoy told pupils in Auckland last March that fighting racism boiled down to "sharing the real stories of New Zealanders" and treating each other with mana (respect in Maori).
"We knew that many Kiwis didn't think we had a problem with racism or prejudice here," said Devoy, recalling the "That's us," anti-racism campaign begun in 2016 to document New Zealanders experiences.
Devoy cited testimony from Wong Lui Shueng, "a fifth generation New Zealander who grew up in a small country town."
"Her story shocked people because after 70 years, she remembers with minute detail of how a gang of boys had racially attacked and tormented her throughout her childhood. But the day her friends stood up for her, she told us, her world changed for ever," recalled Devoy.
"She told us that people need to recognize that when we say things like oh don't mix with them, they smell or don't talk to them they eat weird food, that's how racism starts."
Identities self-defined in statistics
New Zealand statistics — collated on the principle that residents and citizens define their own identities — list about 25,000 persons of "not further defined Middle East" origin as well as those who described themselves as "Iranian/Persian," Egyptian, Arab, Iraqi, Somali, Egyptian, Lebanese and Israeli/Jewish.
New Zealand's 4.9 million-population diversity stems, for example, from Chinese arrivals during its 19th century gold rush days, recent decades of refugee arrivals from world war zones, such as Syria, and recruitment begun in the 1980s of halal slaughterers for New Zealand's key meat export trade.
Popper's 'Open Society' written n Christchurch
During the Nazi era, exiled Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper authored his two-part work "The Open Society and its Enemies" at Christchurch's Canterbury University.
The city's Canterbury Museum was founded 1863 by geologist/ explorer, Julius von Haast, originally from Bonn, Germany.
Statistics New Zealand as the bureau is called highlights "growth" in New Zealand's "major ethnic groups," including indigenous Maori at 15 percent, Asian 11.8 percent, Pacific people 7.4 percent – alongside three million with "European ethnicities," often referrred to as Pakeha New Zealanders.
'Passports' exhibition at Te Papa
Te Papa, the national museum in the capital Wellington has long-term exhibitions featuring New Zealand's founding 1840 Waitangi Treaty and "Passports" documenting New Zealanders' origins.
Migrants's stories are told of arriving from Britain and Ireland as well as neighboring Pacific islands, China, Dalmatia (former Yugoslavia), Greece and India .
Among New Zealand's children, 42 percent identify with two, three or even more ethnicities, says Te Papa, citing a study done by the University of Auckland.
"70 percent of children were expected by their parents to identify as European, a quarter as Maori, and a fifth as Pacific, says Te Papa.
Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, has more than half-a-million residents born oversees, recorded Statistics New Zealand in 2014, with languages spoken being mainly English, followed by Samoan and Hindi.