International Human Rights Advocate Tony Briffa was in New Zealand within hours of the mosque massacres in Christchurch, revealing to Willy and Hobby what it felt like to be an Australian in New Zealand at the time.
It was at home in Melbourne packing for the flight to New Zealand when Tony Briffa first learned of lives being lost in two separate terror attacks when a gunman with a semi-automatic weapon opened fire on worshippers gathered for Friday prayers.
“I left Australia to fly to New Zealand within hours of the massacre. I was horrified, shocked, angry and felt deeply for the victims, their families and the community. I know New Zealanders are peaceful, friendly, warm and loving people,” Briffa said.
“I have been to a number of mosques over the years including our local mosques and know how vulnerable Muslims are during prayer. I knew Friday afternoon prayers would have been chosen by the terrorist to achieve as much carnage as possible.”
“I have worked in New Zealand and visited their beautiful country many times. They embraced and celebrated my wife and I when we went there to marry in 2013 because we couldn’t marry in Australia.”
In the country to attend an international human rights conference, Tony Briffa was with other Australians who shared a similar sentiment of shame after one of the terrorists had been identified as 28-year-old Australian man Brenton Tarrant.
“When I had heard the terrorist was Australian born this made me feel sick. I felt a level of shame that the person that did this came from Australia. I even considered using my Maltese passport to enter New Zealand,” Briffa said.
“I bought Australian pins and little koalas to give to friends and colleagues in New Zealand and I hesitated to give them out. The massacre very much impacted us as well as the entire New Zealand community.”
Tony Briffa said it was not only law enforcement and security agencies that were showing a sign a force following the mosque massacres, reflecting on the outpour of community support and solidarity after first responders had processed the scene of the attacks.
“The warmth towards the local Muslim community was everywhere and wonderful to witness and participate in. In addition to arranged community events like vigils for victims, there were impromptu posters and notes on shops and other public places,” Briffa said.
“(There was) even chalk pictures and messages of love and support on footpaths. The newspapers were also full of stories about the victims and acts of bravery such as people that had tried to shield others, or victims that tried to stop the terrorist.”
Back home in Hobsons Bay, a local mosque in Newport held its annual open day on Sunday which saw a number of local, state and federal political figures donning a veil in support of the Muslim community.
“It was great to see how many local residents attended the Mosque Open Day in Newport on the weekend, and the feedback has been extremely positive. I think that people are building an awareness and understanding for our Muslim community,” Briffa said.
“I don’t think we have a particular increased risk (of terrorism) because of the events in New Zealand. We can’t let terrorism events like this impact on our way of life. That is what terrorists want. We can’t let them win.”