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In conversation with Dr Hamimah Tuyan, widow of the 51st victim of the New Zealand mosques terror attack

25th Sep 2020
In conversation with Dr Hamimah Tuyan, widow of the 51st victim of the New Zealand mosques terror attack

(Photo credit: Dr Hamimah Tuyan/Twitter)

Singapore-based, mum-of-two Dr Hamimah Tuyan, exhausted all of her annual work leave, left her young sons behind and boarded a flight to New Zealand, where she then endured a fortnight of Covid-19 travellers’ isolation to deliver her victim impact statements at the sentencing of the terrorist responsible for widowing her and 33 others.

Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a far-right anti-Muslim terrorist admitted opening fire at two mosques in Christchurch killing 51 people, among them, many elderly and disabled worshippers as well as several children, the youngest of whom was just 3 years old.

The 29-year-old Australian was also sentenced for the attempted murder of 40 others as well as for a terrorism charge. On August 27, Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole, the first such sentencing in New Zealand’s judicial history.

Hamimah’s husband, Zekeriya, 46, who is of Turkish origin, was the last person to die from the horrific terror attack, after fighting for his life for a month and half in the Intensive Care Unit with her by his side.
Hamimah was one of more than 60 victims of the attack to come face-to-face with the terrorist. It was the first time survivors and victims’ families, saw him.

Hamimah’s own statement came after three days of the victims’ families addressing the terrorist. Hamimah told her husband’s killer: “You put bullets into my husband, and he fought death – 48 days, 18 surgeries – until his last breath. His status then was uplifted to martyr from a hero and for me from wife to the martyr’s widow.”

She spoke of her son’s loss the eldest of whom “has only five years’ worth of memories with his father” as well as of the enormity of his harrowing act, informing him, “God says in the Qurʼān whoever kills one innocent soul, it is as if he has killed the entire mankind. And you killed 51. They left behind 34 spouses, 92 children and more than a hundred siblings who now have to endure the life sentence of being without their loved ones”

However, she also told him his actions had only succeeded in uniting communities: “Your heinous acts brought thousands of New Zealanders and millions of international communities together in solidarity with us, the affected families and survivors, and in vehemently denouncing your white supremacist ideology. We are the survivors. I feel like you are the victim here.”

A fortnight after the trial and back home in Singapore, Hamimah, a speech and language therapist, spoke to The Muslim News about coming face-to-face with her husband’s killer.


Why was it important for you to fly from Singapore to attend the hearing?

There were many philosophical and practical factors to consider. For example, would I be playing into his agenda and fanning his narcissism by giving him the satisfaction of listening to my impact statement? Does he deserve my presence and audience at the expense of my time away from my sons? (Two weeks of isolation in New Zealand, a week of sentencing and another two weeks of isolation when I returned to Singapore). On the other hand, sentencing is an important part of the justice process.

It was a way for the voices of the Tuyan family to be heard, to tell the judge how the crime has affected us, and to appeal to him for the punishment that we thought the terrorist deserved. My husband, my sons and my husband’s family were not able to do that. This was something that I know my husband would have wanted me to do. And of course, I hope someday my boys will be proud of their Ummi for what she did.

How did it feel like to face your husband’s killer?

When I wrote my victim impact statement, I had written it in the third-person narrative. I had planned to simply speak to the Judge. I had not planned to face the terrorist let alone to honour him with looking him in the eye. But as I sat in court watching my brothers and sisters read theirs, directing their words and emotions towards him, I was inspired by their bravery.

I remember walking through the glass door, placing my documents on the podium and then turning towards him and I actually smiled at him. I think it was a…“oh look what you have done” type of smile. And from that moment on I just spoke to him. Everyone else around me was blocked out of my peripheral vision until I had to address the judge. Deep down I had hoped my words would pierce his heart (if he had one) if not his conscience.

A week on from the hearing do you feel anything different?

My focus since the attack had always been on my husband (staying with him at the hospital) and my sons (staying strong for them and to help navigate through the chaos with as minimal trauma as humanly possible).

So I never had the chance to think about him too much or to harbour anger for him. I also never felt like I needed to decide whether to forgive or not to forgive him.

I had left his fate to Allah and, to the justice system. This was pretty much how I felt before and during the sentencing. But one thing is for sure, a huge weight is now off my shoulders and my heart. We now await the Royal Commission report and the media here is abuzz with the debate on whether to return him to Australia or keep him in New Zealand. To me, that is a no-brainer.

In the hearing you likened the shooter’s actions to that of ISS. Does far-right terrorism needs to be taken more seriously?

Both groups are extremists consumed by hatred and a narrow world-view. They are both products of radicalization and are selective in their choices of references from history to justify their violent agenda. It may turn out that the terrorist in Christchurch had acted alone, but he was motivated by an ideology that has spread around the globe, in fact gaining support from politicians – crooks who stoke people’s fear of and ignorance about immigrants, even making excuses for the activities of right-wing groups.

I am in no way denying that there is a fear of terrorism committed by extremist Muslims, but the response by security and intelligence service to the threat from both groups of extremists have been disproportionate.
Yet, according to a recent report by the Global Terrorism Index, far-right terrorist attacks increased by 320 per cent over the past five years in North America, Western Europe, and Oceania.

The atrocity of March 15 should be the last one needed to convince us that an extremist is not defined by his or her race, skin colour, facial hair, dress choice, philosophical persuasion and age.

Interview by Elham Asaad Buaras

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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