Impact of Christchurch attacks felt by expats in Mid East

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern donned a hijab following the Christchurch terror attacks. Photo: Reuters
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wearing a hijab following the Christchurch terror attacks. Photo: Reuters

Being in the Middle East during the awful event in Christchurch where fifty New Zealanders lost their lives, has been a sobering experience. Outside Saudi Arabia many parts of the region are troubled, but we were always comforted by the knowledge that our home in New Zealand seemed immune to the violence of extremism.

The New Zealanders here have been outraged and saddened deeply by the news from Christchurch. We attended a vigil last Thursday where verses from the Quran were read and a karakia was given. All the victims were acknowledged and a special mention was made of Mohsin Al Harbi, a Saudi citizen who had spent his last 25 years in New Zealand . As we stood around a table of 50 candles you could feel that the emotions were deep and truly heartfelt.

The day after the terrorist attack I was outside a shopping mall waiting for my wife when I was approached by a Saudi man.

“Where are you from?” he asked, I answered "New Zealand."

He then grabbed me by the arm and started to shake my hand saying "Brother,brother”.

This is typical of the response of the local population to our tragedy.

The Muslim nations have been struck with the way our country has dealt with the situation. An example of their response was at the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. This was lit up at the ruler’s request, with an image of Jacinda Ardern, hugging a woman beneath the word “peace”. The simple act of the Prime Minister wearing a hijab, may seem to be minor, but in terms of showing respect for a culture at a time of grief it had immense impact.

The Sheikh tweeted:  "Thank you Jacinda Ardern and New Zealand for your sincere empathy and support that has won the respect of 1.5 billion Muslims after the terrorist attack that shook the Muslim community around the world." This sincerity is perceived by the Islamic world to be genuine and a character of our country as a whole.


The rapid move by the Prime Minister on gun control also contrasted with other world leaders where there was no prevarication or extended debate, just decision and action. The atrocity could easily have been the start of a vision of New Zealand as an Islamophobic country, instead the message the world is getting is that we, as a nation, are deeply saddened, and that all New Zealanders matter, whatever their creed or origin. This is the spirit of of our multicultural country, and one that we should all be very proud of, especially those of us so far away from
home.

Former Otago man Peter Heron at the 'Edge of the World'. Photo: Deborah Heron
Former Otago man Peter Heron. Photo: Deborah Heron
- Peter Heron was principal of Maniototo Area School from 2007-2010 before moving to become Head teacher of an Auckland high school. After this post he left New Zealand in 2015 to become the high school principal of one of the most prestigious schools in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This school has 1600 students from 70 nationalities aged 4-18 and has over 20 New Zealanders in its staff including its principals and owners.
Peter and his wife Deborah have a home in Waipiata and in this blog he aims to contrast life in Saudi Arabia and Central Otago.

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