'The nation that discovers the cure': Jacinda Ardern's anti-racism speech sparks standing ovation

Jacinda Ardern's speech at the Christchurch National Remembrance Service sparked a standing ovation after she said New Zealand could be the nation that "discovers the cure" to racism. 

The Prime Minister stood before thousands gathered at Hagley Park to mark two weeks since the Christchurch terror attack on two mosques when a gunman killed 50 people in a shooting. 

"In the days that have followed... we have often found ourselves without words. What words adequately express the pain and suffering of 50 men, women and children lost and so many injured?" Ardern said. 

"What words express the grief of a city that has already known so much pain? I thought there were none, but then I came here, and I was met with a simple greeting: As-salamu alaykum, peace be upon you."

The Prime Minister suggested the attack was a wake-up call for New Zealand and that every New Zealander has a responsibility to reject racism and embrace diversity. 

"These stories, they now form part of our collective memories, they will remain with us forever... But with that memory comes a responsibility... to be the place that we wish to be, a place that is diverse, that is welcoming, kind and compassionate."

The Prime Minister delivering her speech at Hagley Park.
The Prime Minister delivering her speech at Hagley Park. Photo credit: Getty

Ardern warned against "the ugliest of viruses" that spread racism throughout communities, alluding to the alleged gunman's suspected allegiance to white supremacy. She acknowledged that racism exists, but that it is "not welcome" in New Zealand. 

"Our challenge now is to make the very best of us - a daily reality because we are not immune to the viruses of hate of fear of other - we never have been. But we can be the nation that discovers the cure."

The Prime Minister also urged people not to rely on the Government alone to combat extremism. She said it is the responsibility of every person "in our words and in our actions and our daily acts of kindness". 

She pointed to the 95-year-old man who took four buses in Auckland to attend a rally against racism because he couldn't sleep from the sadness of seeing the hurt and suffering of others.

"To the global community who have joined us today, we say thank you," Ardern said, adding that there needs to be a "collective response" around the world to combat violent and extreme views like those exhibited by the alleged 28-year-old gunman. 

Crowds at Hagley Park.
Crowds at Hagley Park. Photo credit: Newshub

Last week Ardern joined other world leaders calling for technology giants such as Facebook and Google to take accountability for the content they facilitate. And on Thursday Facebook officially banned white nationalism and separatism. 

"The world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and it must end," Ardern said on Friday. 

Ardern's reaciton to the Christchurch attack has not gone unnoticed around the world. Over the weekend an image of her was projected onto the world's tallest building in Dubai in a show of thanks for how she embraced the Muslim community. 

The National Remembrance Service gathered thousands of people to Hagley Park on Friday, with performances from Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, as well as Kiwi artist Marlon Williams who performed a stirring waiata. 

Ardern was welcomed to the service on Friday by a traditional karanga, an exchange of calls that forms part of a pōwhiri, a Māori welcoming ceremony. She wore a kākahu cloak as she walked alongside Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy. 

Ardern will later meet with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison who has travelled to New Zealand with Australia's Governor-General Sir Peter Cosgrove, with their respective partners, to pay their respects. 

The Prime Minister's full speech

E rau rangatira mā, e ngā reo, e ngā mana

Tēnā koutou katoa

(I acknowledge amongst us today our distinguished leaders, speakers and those who bear authority)

Ngāi Tahu Whānui, tēnā koutou

(My greetings to the whole of Ngāi Tahu)

E papaki tū ana ngā tai o maumahara ki runga o Ōtautahi

(The tides of remembrance flow over Christchurch today)

Haere mai tātou me te aroha,

(So let us gather with love)

Me te rangimārie, ki te whānau nei,

(In peace, for this family)

E ora mārire ai anō rātau,

(So that they may truly live again)

E ora mārire ai anō, tātou katoa.

(So that we all may truly live again)

We gather here, 14 days on from our darkest of hours.

In the days that have followed the terrorist attack on the 15th of March, we have often found ourselves without words.

What words adequately express the pain and suffering of 50 men, women and children lost, and so many injured?

What words capture the anguish of our Muslim community being the target of hatred and violence?

What words express the grief of a city that has already known so much pain?

I thought there were none. And then I came here and was met with this simple greeting.

Asalamu Aleykum. Peace be upon you.

They were simple words, repeated by community leaders who witnessed the loss of their friends and loved ones.

Simple words, whispered by the injured from their hospital beds.

Simple words, spoken by the bereaved and everyone I met who has been affected by this attack.

Asalamu Aleykum. Peace be upon you.

They were words spoken by a community who, in the face of hate and violence, had every right to express anger but instead opened their doors for all of us to grieve with them.

And so we say to those who have lost the most, we may not have always had the words.

We may have left flowers, performed the haka, sung songs or simply embraced.

But even when we had no words, we still heard yours, and they have left us humbled and they have left us united.

Over the past two weeks we have heard the stories of those impacted by this terrorist attack.

They were stories of bravery.

They were stories of those who were born here, grew up here, or who had made New Zealand their home.

Who had sought refuge, or sought a better life for themselves or their families.

These stories, they now form part of our collective memories.

They will remain with us forever.

They are us.

But with that memory comes a responsibility.

A responsibility to be the place that we wish to be.

A place that is diverse, that is welcoming, that is kind and compassionate. Those values represent the very best of us.

But even the ugliest of viruses can exist in places they are not welcome.

Racism exists, but it is not welcome here.

An assault on the freedom of any one of us who practices their faith or religion, is not welcome here.

Violence, and extremism in all its forms, is not welcome here.

And over the last two weeks we have shown that, you have shown that, in your actions.

From the thousands at vigils to the 95 year old man who took four buses to attend a rally because he couldn’t sleep from the sadness of seeing the hurt and suffering of others. 

Our challenge now is to make the very best of us, a daily reality.

Because we are not immune to the viruses of hate, of fear, of other. We never have been.

But we can be the nation that discovers the cure.

And so to each of us as we go from here, we have work to do, but do not leave the job of combatting hate to the Government alone.

We each hold the power, in our words and in our actions, in our daily acts of kindness. Let that be the legacy of the 15th of March.

To be the nation we believe ourselves to be.

To the global community who have joined us today, who reached out to embrace New Zealand, and our Muslim community, to all of those who have gathered here today, we say thank you.

And we also ask that the condemnation of violence and terrorism turns now to a collective response. The world has been stuck in a vicious cycle of extremism breeding extremism and it must end.

We cannot confront these issues alone, none of us can. But the answer to them lies in a simple concept that is not bound by domestic borders, that isn’t based on ethnicity, power base or even forms of governance. 

The answer lies in our humanity.

But for now, we will remember those who have left this place.

We will remember the first responders who gave so much of themselves to save others.

We will remember the tears of our nation, and the new resolve we have formed.

And we remember, that ours is a home that does not and cannot claim perfection. But we can strive to be true to the words embedded in our national anthem

Men of every creed and race,

Gather here before Thy face,

Asking Thee to bless this place

God defend our free land

From dissension, envy, hate

And corruption, guard our state

Make our country good and great

God Defend New Zealand

Tātou Tātou

Asalamu Aleykum

Newshub.

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