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Source: Massey University

Sara Qasem with her father Abdelfattah Qasem.

Sara Qasem’s defiant statement to the Christchurch terrorist who murdered her father has won Massey University’s 2020 Quote of the Year. 

The winning line, “Let it be known these tears are not for you”, was said by Ms Qasem at the sentencing of the mass killer in the Christchurch High Court in August. She was referring to her grief for her father, Abdelfattah Qasem, who was killed at the Al Noor mosque. Ms Qasem told the terrorist to remember her father’s name.

The top quote is decided by public vote, with Ms Qasem’s line attracting 26.5 per cent of the 2479 votes cast.

Speech writing specialist at Massey University Dr Heather Kavan says the win was not surprising, given New Zealanders’ solidarity with the victims. She described footage of the courtroom scene as “intense”.

“As Ms Qasem gets to the part in her speech about how she misses the smell of her father’s cologne, her eyes well with tears. She pauses mid-sentence to regain her composure, turns directly to him in the dock and says, “Let it be known these tears are not for you”, before resuming her speech.

“Reportedly, witnesses were deeply moved, while the killer sat motionless behind a glass pane.”

Ms Qasem was one of more than 90 people who shared their grief in victim impact statements. 

“The scenes are so raw and the emotions so powerful that the words are better felt than explained,” Dr Kavan says.

Sara Qasem says she is stunned her quote won the competition.

“I feel honoured that my words have left an impact on someone out there, and that they were able to sympathise and resonate through their compassion and humanity. This statement was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done; I wasn’t sure how I could speak to and bring justice to so many in my community; to my own dad, Abdul.”

She says reading the statement was both heart breaking and incredibly empowering.

“When I sensed myself getting increasingly upset, I felt an urgency to race through my words and quickly run off the podium. But my dad was there, somewhere, somehow, and I felt him, assuring me with the words, ‘take your time, he has taken plenty of ours, of yours, of mums, your sisters, take your time, cry, be angry, tell him what you think, look him in the eye, pause Sara, breathe, continue; there is no rush, I’m here.’

“It was in these moments where my emotions were at their peak, and it came to me that he needed to know, so I stopped reading. I looked him in the eye, and I let him know; I let him know that these tears were mine and my fathers, a moment we shared together; they weren’t for him. He’d taken enough, he wasn’t going to claim this, too.”

Covid-19 announcement takes second place

This year’s runner-up, with 22.2 per cent of the vote, was Dr Ashley Bloomfield’s announcement that there were no new cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand. Dr Bloomfield made this announcement (with slight variations in wording) several times at press conferences throughout the year.

Dr Kavan attributes the quote’s success to its impact and Dr Bloomfield’s likeability.

“This is the news we all wanted to hear—that New Zealanders had averted a crisis that could have killed up to 80,000 of us. The subtext is that everyone’s sacrifices were invaluable.

“The quote doesn’t need any stylistic niceties to be one of our best language moments. In fact it’s Dr Bloomfield’s sincere, unpretentious style that adds to its appeal.”

Next came Zoom, cannabis and the parakeet

“You’re on mute”, Hilary Barry’s tweet about jazz cabbage, and the orange-fronted parakeet’s campaign line placed third, fourth and fifth respectively.

Dr Kavan says the ‘mute’ and ‘jazz cabbage’ quotes were popular within the first few hours of voting.

“The surprise was that the little parakeet’s quote beat quotes from the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.

“Had the year been normal, we’d interpret this as a reflection on New Zealand politics. But 2020 has been so jarring, people may just be catching their breath and enjoying the parakeet’s humour.” 

2020 Quote of the Year finalists in order of votes received

“Let it be known these tears are not for you.” Sara Qasem, daughter of Abdelfattah Qasem, speaking to the Christchurch Mosque gunman in her victim impact statement.

“There are no new cases of Covid-19 to report in New Zealand today.” Dr Ashley Bloomfield at press conferences throughout the year.

“You’re on mute.” Most New Zealanders on Zoom from March 2020 onwards.

“Put your jazz cabbage away people.” TVNZ’s Seven Sharp co-host Hilary Barry on referendum results showing New Zealanders voted against legalising cannabis.

“I am the orange face you can trust.”  Orange-fronted parakeet requesting votes in Bird of the Year competition.

“I did a little dance.” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern when asked how she reacted when New Zealand had zero active cases of Covid-19.

“It really highlights how three-ply soft we’ve become as a species.” Psychology Professor Marc Wilson on stockpiling toilet paper during lockdown.

“Because we can’t get on each other’s nerves if we’re dancing constantly.” The Buchanan family in their music video that went viral during lockdown.

“When my eyebrow goes up, it’s a joke.” National Party leader Judith Collins on how people can tell whether she is joking or being factual.

“The Aussies can have Russell Crowe, but they can’t have our buzzy bee.” Simon Beattie after The Crown (Netflix series) shifted the New Zealand buzzy bee scene to Australia.