Guilty as charged

Flowers at the gate of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo: NZME
Flowers at the gate of the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. Photo: NZME
Many questions remain following the shock news yesterday that the lone gunman who murdered 51 Muslim people at two Christchurch mosques a year ago had admitted his guilt.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant — it is a name that has deliberately been mentioned as infrequently as possibly since his hideous, hate-fuelled act — briefly took the nation’s mind off the Covid-19 global pandemic when he entered guilty pleas at a special High Court hearing in Christchurch.

All 51 murder charges, guilty. All 40 charges of attempted murder, guilty. One charge of engaging in a terrorist act, guilty.

Why now? Why wait till 377 days after the shootings to put his hand up and admit his guilt?

Many will no doubt wonder if the Australian gunman was seeking to capitalise on some sort of news vacuum created by the unprecedented, in recent times, focus on a single issue, the coronavirus sweeping the globe and putting New Zealand, among other countries, in a state of lockdown.

If that was his quest, he has failed, just as he failed to divide the community following the events of March 15.

Yes, his guilty pleas were briefly the news of the day, but his court appearance was quickly overtaken by the latest address to the nation regarding the pandemic by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. She provided far more compelling viewing.

While Ardern spoke of breathing a large sigh of relief upon hearing the gunman’s plea changes, the bigger question is obviously how the Muslim community felt about developments.

Again, the man has failed. If he thought he might be angering those of the Muslim faith by denying them the opportunity to have a full trial determine his guilt, he was wrong.

Muslim reaction — the most important thing, remember — seems to be largely positive.

Survivor Hisham Alzarzour, who was shot multiple times, told The New Zealand Herald it was "very good" there would be no trial, and his wife, Susan, described it as "really good news".

Omar Nabi, whose father Haji Daoud Nabi was killed in the attacks, told the same newspaper it was "about time. His plea should have been earlier but it's good he's changed his mind. And good to have it done".

Closer to home, Dunedin survivor Mustafa Boztas told the Otago Daily Times he wasn’t expecting the news but hoped it would help bring justice and closure.

These are the voices that really count. They are, as they have consistently been, the voices of warmth and reason.

Others may feel empowered to ask another question: has this man, in changing his pleas to guilty, denied our community the chance to understand more about what happened and why? And could that understanding have helped, in any way, prevent any similar atrocity happening in this country again?

Or, should we be grateful a drawn-out process did not give further oxygen to a monster?

This was going to be a long (up to six weeks), arduous trial with up to 300 witnesses. It would have been visceral, disturbing, unpleasant.

The gunman has spared the Muslim and wider communities that horror, at least.

Justice has been done. Now for the appropriate sentence to be delivered.

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