Solidarity amid tears at vigil for New Zealand attack victims

Participants observing a minute of silence during a vigil held at The Red Box in Somerset Road yesterday for the 50 victims who lost their lives in the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. The vigil was organised by interfaith group Ro
Participants observing a minute of silence during a vigil held at The Red Box in Somerset Road yesterday for the 50 victims who lost their lives in the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. The vigil was organised by interfaith group Roses of Peace and ground-up movement We Are Majulah.ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH
Participants observing a minute of silence during a vigil held at The Red Box in Somerset Road yesterday for the 50 victims who lost their lives in the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. The vigil was organised by interfaith group Ro
MS JO TYNDALL, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore (back to camera) embracing 9/11 survivor Judith Francis-Wertenbroch.ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH

9/11 survivor, NZ envoy call for understanding, peace at event to pay tribute to the 50 killed

After Ms Judith Francis-Wertenbroch narrowly escaped the Sept 11 attacks in 2001, she was pained to see the strife that the terrorist attacks inflicted upon communities in New York.

"There was so much division among people. You had riots in one neighbourhood, people attacking Muslim people who practise their religion with love," said Ms Francis-Wertenbroch, who is in her 50s and moved to Singapore two years ago.

She had been working as a business consultant in Two World Trade Center when she and her colleagues saw a plane fly into the first tower. They managed to run 102 floors down to the ground floor before the tower collapsed, but the ordeal led her to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder for years.

With tears in her eyes, she shared her experience yesterday at a youth forum and vigil for victims of the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch hosted by interfaith group Roses of Peace and ground-up movement We Are Majulah.

"A question that was constantly asked of me after 9/11 was 'Aren't you angry at the Muslims?', and my only response was 'Why should I?'" Ms Francis-Wertenbroch, who is a Christian and works as a higher education executive, told The Sunday Times, adding that every individual had to be proactive about guarding against hate.

At the simple and solemn ceremony held at The Red Box in Somerset Road yesterday, some 50 attendees of all faiths, together with representatives from the New Zealand High Commission, paid tribute to the 50 who had lost their lives in the attacks on March 15.

NO HATRED

By replacing ignorance with understanding, replacing fear with acceptance, and replacing the concept of 'them' with us, we will make sure those with hatred and resentments in their hearts do not prevail.

MS JO TYNDALL, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore (back to camera) embracing 9/11 survivor Judith Francis-Wertenbroch.

One by one, roses were laid before a sign that declared "We stand in solidarity", and a minute of silence was held after prayers led by Ustaz Leyaket Ali, the managing director of Human Connection Sg, and Rabbi Nathan Alfred of the United Hebrew Congregation.

In a speech, Ms Jo Tyndall, New Zealand High Commissioner to Singapore, mentioned a survivor, Mr Farid Ahmed, who told the crowd at a recent remembrance service in New Zealand that he had forgiven the shooter who killed his wife.

Mr Farid said he wanted to have a heart full of love and care, and did not want any more lives to be lost.

"This points to the most critical thing - our darkest day in New Zealand must be followed by light. Those who have lost their lives and suffered must not have done so in vain," said Ms Tyndall. "By replacing ignorance with understanding, replacing fear with acceptance, and replacing the concept of 'them' with us, we will make sure those with hatred and resentments in their hearts do not prevail."

Listening in the audience was Saqib Ahmed, 15, and his family of four from Pakistan. "As Muslims, we feel really connected to this issue as it concerns our brothers and sisters who lost their lives. (The shootings) should not be something happening in the world today," said the Canadian International School student.

Legal counsel Asha Chan, 32, said the attacks showed the important role of education against prejudice. "Singaporeans tend to be apathetic and take the security of the country for granted... but (as such terror attacks) keep happening closer and closer to home, more people need to be aware that they could come from anywhere," she said.

 

At the forum, teacher Humairah Mohamed Jamil, 27, read a poem she composed about the Christchurch tragedy. "A thousand gunshots can never deafen our daily call to prayer...We take the bullet for each other, but never will we ever take the gun to pull the trigger. For our religion teaches us forgiveness, submission, peace," she said.

After her reading, Ms Francis-Wertenbroch warmly embraced Ms Humairah. She said: "Today was important for me, because it brought healing for me as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 31, 2019, with the headline 'Solidarity amid tears at vigil for NZ attack victims'. Print Edition | Subscribe