The scars remain

The gunman brought injury and death. Places of prayer were desecrated and lives were ended or altered forever. Our collective community was assaulted and deep scars remain.

We have had a year to come to terms with what happened in Christchurch on March 15 and with what it means for us and those around us. We have had a year to understand, and we still have a long way to go.

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on Al Noor mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. Fifty-one people, there for afternoon prayers, were killed during a time of community and love.

Families lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters and children. Whole communities lost their sense of safety. And New Zealand lost any sense of being distant from the ills of a world beset by bigotry and hatred.

The murderous rampage was broadcast live on social media, the gunman’s video streaming on Facebook feeds as the police and paramedics scrambled to the scenes.

Thousands of people saw the video. Many called it an abhorrent window to the horror of hate, something they only ever saw happening overseas. Dreadful, that people could see such things at all.

The first responders were met with fear and desperation. At Al Noor mosque, the wounded and the bereaved fled into Hagley Park where they were comforted by joggers, students, office workers and passing motorists.

Across the park, Christchurch Hospital was readying to treat wounds most often seen in war.

The alleged gunman was caught — "alleged" as he denies 51 charges of murder, 40 of attempted murder and one charge laid under the Terrorism Suppression Act — by two rural police.

As the hours passed, it became clear so many "ordinary" New Zealanders found themselves helping so many other ordinary New Zealanders in the aftermath of such an extraordinary tragedy. Thousands more attended prayer and memorial services; many more donated money and time to support the victims and the wider Muslim community.

Tribal politics aside, there was a sense Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern spoke for us all when she condemned the atrocity and the division it sought to achieve. The night of the attacks, she told the world New Zealand was a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, and in that diversity were common values that underpinned our condemnation of the ideology behind the attacks.

She said of such hateful ideologues: “You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you."

This month, we have been reminded of the dreadful toll the acts of terror continue to have on those affected, and on the communities that support them.

They, and the wider Muslim community urged unity, peace, love and forgiveness after the attacks, and many New Zealanders — regardless of colour, creed or religion — responded with solidarity, love and support for the victims.

There remains a sense we stand with the victims. There has been broad and, hopefully, enduring commitment to embrace understanding and acceptance, to call out racism, bigotry and hatred.

Gun laws have been tightened and the Prime Minster’s Christchurch Call asked governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.

But many of our diverse communities continue to report instances of bigotry and abuse. "Freedom of speech" continues to be a cloak under which hate hides.

We have learned what many in our diverse communities already knew: that not everyone in New Zealand follows a creed of acceptance and understanding.

The alleged gunman posted online that he had his eyes on the Al Huda mosque in Clyde St, Dunedin. The Australian national had been living in Andersons Bay, Dunedin, in the two years prior to the attacks.

The attack did not happen in Dunedin, but it affected all of us. Tomorrow, we should reflect on what we have all done to help tackle hatred and to stop such an atrocity happening again.

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