In May, this year I had the honour of attending the launch of the Sakinah Community Trust which sees local Muslim women taking a leadership role as agents of change supporting and funding initiatives that are focused on bringing communities together in their healing and building a better future where all can belong.
Sakinah means tranquility, peace, calmness and belonging.
The Trust has been enabled by the funds that were gifted from across the city, the country and the world in response to the terrorist attack on March 15 2019 and honours the lives of the 51 martyrs.
Born of tragedy, inspired by compassion and empowered by generosity, this Trust brings the Muslim community and the wider communities of our city together to build community resilience, founded on social inclusion, social capital and social mobility.
The Sakinah Community Trust is an authentic community-led response to what happened here.
InCommon was founded by another group of communities, who wanted us to learn about the strengths in our differences by helping us start conversations about what we have in common.
The Christchurch Invitation will be launched next month, another authentic community-led initiative to take us forward together. Spread peace, feed the hungry and reconnect are the values the local Muslim community have chosen, and they invite us all to look at our own values and ask ourselves what has made us strong in tough times.
These are just some of the powerful things happening here.
I tell these stories as my way of welcoming you to Otautahi Christchurch for this first annual He Whenua Taurikura hui and to remind you in so doing of the importance of local leadership.
We are being invited over the next couple of days to consider a range of issues. One of those asks us to look at the underlying causes of terrorism and violent extremism of all kinds in our society, including how individuals journey down pathways to radicalisation across a range of ideologies.
In this context one of the sessions will focus on what communities, civil society and government (both public sector agencies and local government) can do together to intervene early, prevent radicalisation, and build strong communities that are resilient to extremism.
That was the session I was hoping to deliver these comments to, so I hope you can take them into the hui with you.
As Mayor of Christchurch at the time of the mosque attacks, I felt a real sense of responsibility to seek to understand the underlying issues that lay behind this senseless attack on our Muslim community in their time of worship.
I was asked by media at the time about our city’s history of white supremacism and racism.
The phrases – he was not from here – he is not one of us – were comfortable ways of side-lining the uncomfortable truth – he could just as easily have been from here.
Back then, I said the time was not right to talk about these challenging issues in the immediate aftermath of so much grief and suffering, but the time is right now.
If we are to understand the underlying causes of violent extremism and the pathways to radicalisation, we need to be honest about ourselves and our history.
We need to know our past better and we need to own up to the truth. Truth is the only way to reconciliation.
We need to understand our own history as a nation, from the impacts of colonisation, followed by waves of migration from the Pacific Islands, Europe and Asia, along with our commitment to offering protection to refugees from places of conflict, through to the multicultural society we have become over the past few decades.
What has been the lived experience of tangata whenua and each wave of tangata Te Teriti that is represented by way of its minority status?
What sense of entitlement has majority status bestowed on the rest.
And while we are asking hard questions, we need to add the internet, which brought the promise of democratising access to information, but which has also opened an uncontrollable means of spreading vast volumes of disinformation and fuelling hate, on platforms that accept no responsibility or accountability for the consequences of amplifying these messages.
And it is not the only hard conversation we need to have. We need to talk about the society we are becoming where inequity continues to grow at an alarming rate, and we need to acknowledge the impact that this has on those who feel they have nothing left to lose.
In 2019 then Cr Raf Manji and I visited the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn. He had just released the report “A Shared Endeavour - Working in Partnership to Counter Violent Extremism in London”.
Underpinning the programme, and what I want to reinforce to you, was the most comprehensive city-wide listening exercise ever in this policy area. It heard the voices and opinions of thousands of community members, stakeholders and experts.
The Mayor was determined that they hear from the voices of those who, in the past, have not been heard but who are usually the most important to listen to, including from minority and marginalised communities, women and young people.
We need to do that here, and we are willing to lead the way.
The core themes of the London programme are:
- better strengthening communities against extremism,
- encouraging communities to stand up to hate and intolerance,
- safeguarding vulnerable people from radicalisation and
- stopping the spread of extremist ideologies.
“We need to root out inequality and poverty which all too often lie at the heart of disenchantment and resentment, feelings extremists seek to exploit.…. We will only be able to counter violent extremism most effectively if all in society work in partnership together.”
This Hui is an important opportunity for government and their agencies, along with the experts, media and academics who are speaking here for the next two days to lift their sights up and out of the silos that so often divide much of what we do particularly in the public sector.
And I hope that the community voices that are heard here as well reinforce for you all that is at the grassroots in our cities and towns that the solutions lie.
‘Nothing about us without us’ is the plea of people who are so often marginalised, and that could apply to anyone, be they discriminated against on the grounds of their age, gender, sexual orientation, race, disability or religious beliefs. They become even more marginalised by those in power making assumptions about them and then making decisions without listening to them.
And the experts, the media and the academics have an important role too – and they must be made available to marginalised communities too.
I remember the community groups who came together after the earthquakes, who felt excluded by central and local government. They adopted as their motto ‘the wisdom of the community always exceeds the knowledge of the experts’. That was born of the frustration of not being heard. My experience tells me that ‘the wisdom of the community when combined with the knowledge of the experts always exceeds what one can offer without the other’.
Although local government doesn’t feature so strongly in the formal sessions, this is a ground-breaking hui, and we are here because we know the significance of the role we can play, both in terms of resourcing capacity-building at the grassroots and enabling community-led resilience initiatives. These are some of the most basic building blocks for a resilient and inclusive society.
I guess what I am saying is that there are real strengths in our communities, and we in local government can help provide the bridge to these for all the other agencies here.
Thinking about those strengths, and thinking back to why we are here, and the strength of the response, we start with the strength of the Muslim community in its call for peace, unity, love and compassion, and also forgiveness in the wake of all that had happened.
And then we think of the wider community of Otautahi Christchurch who turned up to offer their support.
We saw that here a week after the shootings, when the Muslim community held the call to prayer in South Hagley Park opposite Al Nur Mosque.
The wider community wasn’t asked to come – they just came – in their thousands.
It was the most powerful expression of solidarity I have ever witnessed. I could feel it.
And the Muslim community felt it too.
And where this hui can make a difference is to acknowledge the strengths and build on those, and to help tackle the big issues that enabled this to occur.
The first commitment of the Christchurch Call speaks of the importance of resilience, inclusiveness, education, media literacy, and the fight against inequality.
This is why we absolutely need to commit to doing this together, because governments can’t do it for any one of us, and none of us can do it alone.