by Helen Martin
Four days after 50 Muslims were murdered and many were injured in the horrific terrorist attack in Christchurch, around 100 Helensville and Parakai locals took part in a gathering at Springs Road wharf to honour the victims and to share our grief. Flowers were thrown into the Kaipara River and, after a song, a prayer and quiet conversation, we drifted away. We probably felt better for having ‘done something’, but I doubt any of us were better able to make any sense of what had happened. An act like that is beyond comprehension.
In the days that have followed the massacre there has been much talk of the evils of social media, the means by which the alleged terrorist gained support for his plan from like-minded white supremacists, distributed it in a manifesto and broadcast himself acting on the plan in real time. But we need to remember that, in the hands of good people (no room here to debate that one, you know who you are), social media is a terrific communications tool, our local Facebook pages being a case in point.
It was through these pages that Helensville local Fiona MacBride rallied people for the Springs Road gathering because of “complete outrage”, and was grateful for the practical support she found through Facebook - Esra Williams had the idea to use the wharf, Mark Dennis opened up the back paddock for extra parking, Pastor Tim Forlong stepped up and talked through some prayers.
Like the village well and the corner and community hall meetings in pre-internet times these pages also provided, and continue to provide, a local forum for people to share ideas. Our local library has posted some online sites to help people talk to their children about the incomprehensible. Much sorrow has been expressed - “I don’t know why, but this hit me hard. And I write this through tears for people I did not know. But for people who should not have been hurt by evil” and “The hurt gets into your heart, your head and the very core of your being. Just so much sadness to process”. There has been a lot of comment on the racism in our society–“This has also unfortunately brought out the ugly side in a lot of people. Time to have a good chat with any racist friends or family. There are plenty of casual or closet racists amongst us and it does no good to deny it” and “I want to be aware of the growing power of separatists, but I do not want to engage in their arguments.......so if I am quiet it’s because I am watching and waiting”. There has been encouragement to support others in general - “It’s about manaakitanga, kotahitanga & aroha” and the Muslims in our community in particular - “If there are members of the Muslim community in our area who don’t feel safe doing your groceries, walking home, waiting for the bus, anything like that, please let us know or PM me and we will organize someone to support you. Stand together.”
In Census 2013 (taken before the boundary changes), 54.4% of the large Helensville electorate “stated they had no religion –the highest proportion of any general electorate” while 0.4% (213 people) recorded themselves as Islam/Muslim. Iranian-born Mohammed E Abbassian says there are 10 Iranians living in our small Helensville community. While he has been in New Zealand for 24 years, he and his family have been here for just three. After the Springs Road gathering, he thanked the community on Facebook. On the phone Mohammed tells me, “The people here are friendly and helpful. They are lovely people. I love my Helensville community.”
Local man Mike McKeown’s Facebook post calling for a united front on racism and religious intolerance - “Time to stand together people. Muslim, Catholic, Anglican, Presbyterian, agnostic, does not matter. This is not us. This is evil. Let’s stay together and be strong. Let us not please let this evil divide us. Evil is evil. No matter what colour, race, creed”–must speak for all of us.