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Muslims in New Zealand against making film of mosque massacre while pain still raw

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern leaves after Friday prayers at Hagley Park outside Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 22, 2019. (Photo by Reuters)

Muslims in New Zealand have expressed their opposition to a plan for a film about the 2019 Christchurch mosque massacre, saying the brutal attack is still raw for the bereaved and their community.

In mid-March 2019, 29-year-old Brenton Tarrant, a white Australian supremacist, killed 51 and wounded 40 Muslim worshipers at Al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayers.

He opened fire in the packed Al-Noor Mosque, then traveled across town to continue the carnage in the suburban Linwood Mosque, while live-streaming his actions on social media.

The film took its title – “They Are Us” – from the compassionate words New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern used to address the nation about the massacre, which shocked the island country and the world.

On Friday, Abdigani Ali, the spokesman for the Muslim Association of Canterbury, criticized the idea of making such a film about the carnage in a statement. “There is still much sensitivity around the tragic events.”

“Although recognition of our prime minister for her response to attacks is well deserved, we question the timing and whether a movie is appropriate right now? The terrorist attack is still raw for our community.”

Ardern has distanced herself and her government from the project of making the film with her office stressing that the premier and the government have no involvement.

According to a report by the Hollywood Reporter, Australian actress Rose Byrne is set to play Ardern in the movie, whose director and writer will be New Zealander Andrew Niccol.

“They Are US” was more about the response to the carnage rather than about the attack itself, describing the film as an “inspirational story about the young leader’s response to the tragic events,” Niccol was quoted as saying.

However, Mohamed Hassan, a journalist and poet based in Auckland, rejected Niccol’s view in a commentary broadcast on Radio New Zealand, saying, “This is not an inspiring story.”

“It is a tragedy, one that must always be centered around the Muslim victims and their families. No one else.”

#TheyAreUsShutDown was trending on Twitter in New Zealand.

Ali further said the story of the massacre needed to be told but that it should be done so in an appropriate, authentic and sensitive way.

“There needs to be a lot of work done in New Zealand in terms of hate speech laws, recognizing Islamophobia does exist in our society and the institutional prejudice within our government apparatus before a blockbuster film comes out stating that we’ve done a great job here in New Zealand.”

Tarrant initially pleaded not guilty to all charges but then, on March 2020, he changed his plea to guilty on all charges.

The mass murderer received life imprisonment without the possibility of parole on August 27, 2020. It was the first time a life term without parole was handed down in the country.

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