Anzac services Islamic prayer dropped after threats of violence

It hasn’t taken long for the ugliness of intolerance to come back to normal nasty levels.

A report that one Anzac service in New Zealand would include an Islamic prayer raised some genuine concerns, but also initiated a barrage of anger and threats that has resulted in a change of plan with the Islamic prayer deemed too risky.

It’s very sad to see threats of violence dictating what can and can’t be done, especially involving Anzc Day which has become New Zealand’s primary focus on the need for peace.

I think this is as bad as the threats of violence that have been used to try to stop international speakers from\m speaking at events in New Zealand.

What if there were threats of violence to try to eliminate Christian prayers from Anzac services?

What next – a ban on wearing anything on your head at a dawn service?

New Zealand appeared to have changed a lot after the Christchurch mosque massacres, and in some ways we have, but it has also stirred up discord that shows that we have a lot of work to do still to move towards a more tolerant and decent society.

A Muslim prayer too far?

My first reaction to this was ‘too far’ for sure, but as I thought it through doubts arose.

I think that Muslim prayers were entirely appropriate after the Christchurch mosque massacres. They were often alongside Christian prayers and prayers from other religions in a coming together in common purposes of grief and condemnation.

But is including a Muslim prayer at Anzac Day taking it too far?

Possibly – but it should be remembered that the British attack at Gallipoli that New Zealand took part in was against Muslims and a Muslim country.

New Zealanders are allowed to go and commemorate Anzac Day in Turkey at events organised by Turkey, a largely Muslim country, alongside New Zealanders and Australians.

If Turkish representatives came to Anzac services in New Zealand would they be banned from any Muslim prayers?

NZ Herald:  Muslim prayer at Anzac Day service upsets RSA veterans

That headline is misleading – there have been mixed reactions from RSA veterans.

A decision to invite a Muslim cleric to say a prayer at an Anzac Day service has sparked an anguished backlash from veterans.

The Returned and Services Association (RSA) branch at Titahi Bay near Wellington has moved the Muslim prayer from its 6am dawn service to its 10am civic ceremony after some veterans said the dawn service should remember only NZ and Australian soldiers who have died in wars.

The backlash has exposed sensitive emotions around a sacred day in the New Zealand calendar as the nation struggles to become more “inclusive” after 50 Muslims were shot dead in the Christchurch mosque massacre.

Vietnam veteran Dave Brown, a former manager of the nearby Porirua RSA, emailed the Titahi Bay branch protesting against its initial decision to invite Newlands Mosque imam Mohamed Zewada to say a prayer at its dawn service on Titahi Bay Beach.

“What took place in Christchurch was shocking and we all agree that it was completely out of order in every way,” Brown said.

“I believe that the appropriate measures have been taken to recognise that and to show the Muslim community that they are part of us and we are part of them.

“Anzac Day came about to recognise all those who went overseas and served their country and returned, and those who never returned. That is the significance and the only justification for Anzac Day, and I feel it should stay that way.”

Anzac Day in New Zealand has certainly focussed on New Zealanders who served in the word wars, and especially those who died serving their country.

But there is also significant New Zealand participation in commemorations in Gallipoli. Are Muslim prayers allowed there? Are Christian prayers allowed?

This event at Gallipoli is organised jointly by the Australian, New Zealand and Turkish governments

Simon Strombom, a veteran of the more recent Afghanistan war and organiser of the Titahi Bay service, said he was shocked at some comments on the club’s Facebook page after he announced that the Muslim community “will conclude the ceremony this year with a prayer from the Koran”.

Anzac Day has widened to include more recent New Zealand military involvement in wars, like Vietnam and Afghanistan (another Muslim country).

Brendon Walton from New Plymouth posted: “The Titahi Bay Club, well, you’re completely disrespecting New Zealand culture on a day that is uniquely shared between us and Australia.”

Peter Downie, a veteran of the Malaya war who now lives in Cambridge, posted to another RSA site saying: “Dawn service is to honour the Anzacs. Anything else can be done at civic services.”

Malaysia is another Muslim country.

Strombom said he deleted some other comments.

“I did get some quite aggressive hate mail and emails to the website,” he said.

“That disappointed me because I think NZ soldiers, particularly in operations, have always been very adaptive and very culturally sensitive.”

As a major in Afghanistan, Strombom was in command of several Muslim soldiers and he noted that more people died in a few minutes in Christchurch than all 37 Kiwis who died in the Vietnam War.

“What is the difference between that and an IRA bomb that kills a soldier?” he asked.

“The world has changed, but when you start drawing lines and saying these are the good guys and these are the bad guys, we get the problems we had in Christchurch.”

Auckland RSA president Graham Gibson…

…said a Navy padre would say a prayer at the dawn service in front of the War Memorial Museum which is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. He said Anzac Day was separate from remembering the Christchurch mosque victims.

“We shouldn’t mix the two events,” he said.

“We have traditionally been a Christian country in terms of our services and that type of thing. Obviously we are a multicultural country now so it’s up to individual RSAs, but they are two separate events.”

Wellington RSA president Theo Kuper…

…said the NZ Defence Force traditionally provided a military chaplain for the Wellington dawn service which Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy is expected to attend.

“I don’t think the NZ Defence Force has a Muslim imam,” he said.

RSA national president B J Clark…

…said in a message to his national executive that there had been many events to remember the mosque victims and “there should be no intention or need to make our Anzac services another one of these”.

“However, given the proximity of these events to Anzac Day 2019 and the significant impact this has had throughout our country, it may seem appropriate to local organisers to acknowledge these during this years Anzac Day ceremonies,” he said.

“Our communities are diverse and Anzac Day organisers have always tailored ceremonies to match their community and their local history. This year is no different.

“In your town and city, you are the stewards of Anzac remembrance, we trust you to make this call and as always, believe you will do so in the respect and spirit of our Anzac tradition.”

New Zealand casualties at Gallipoli:

  • 2,779 died
  • 5,212 wounded

Australian casualties at Gallipoli:

  • 8,709 died
  • 19,441 wounded

Ottoman casualties at Gallipoli:

  • 86,692 died
  • 164,617 wounded

Many Anzac soldiers at Gallipoli will have been Christian.

Many Ottoman soldiers at Gallipoli will have been Muslim.

Aren’t prayers appropriate for all of them?

The Anzac tradition has changed over the years. Is including a Muslim prayer at one event a change to far?