It’s 7:30am on a Sunday Morning, Sunday 17th of March 2019 in New Zealand. Two days after an Australian White Supremacist terrorist murdered 49 innocent people in a Christchurch Mosque. Another has died from their wounds this morning, after I started writing this. 50 people murdered and 50 more wounded in a few minutes, in suburban Christchurch. A place already deeply scarred by recent massive tragedy.
If 3 days ago, you had told me I would yesterday be standing with tears rolling down my cheeks, in front of the Palmerston North Islamic Centre, trying to find some words to say to a young, heavily armed New Zealand police officer guarding the entrance, I’ve had looked at you as though you were mad. But here we are.
There has been much international news coverage; buildings have been lit up with New Zealand flags and silver ferns. Solidarity and condolences have been offered from world leaders, celebrities and literally everyone on social media.
Journalists all over the world have offered their expert opinion on the birthplace of the murderous insanity. If, like me, you read a lot of news, from all corners of the Internet. The noise of opinion is global. Examination and expert analysis of this act and its fallout is vital. I just want to talk about what we are feeling though. Kiwis in our homes, on the street. My friends, our community.
We are traumatized. We’ve previously watched the news in complete horror when this sort of thing happened in America, or somewhere else in the world. But this was here, this doesn’t happen here. We have had our fair share of disasters, man made and natural, but a Nazi terrorist, murdering dozens of innocent people in suburban New Zealand, doesn’t happen here. Normally stoic people are crying actual tears, for the innocent. Not just for those killed, but the abject sadness and trauma of ourselves, our country.
The news coverage of the event ran all day, from 3:30 pm on our main Television channel, it’s not a news channel. There was no other news that day. Not even the thousands of young people who had marched all over the world, demanding that we start doing something to protect their future. Then this.
I tried to articulate to my friends how they could help, or show respect and solidarity with the Muslim community of New Zealand. Go to the Mosque, or Islamic centre, lay simple, modest flowers, show them we are appalled.
As I was writing my plea, I noticed I was using the word, them. Show them, love and support. Them suggests they are apart, something different from we, or us. I realised I was part of the problem, so many of us are. We think of them, as them. But as your young Prime Minister so eloquently put, they are us.
We New Zealanders, too many of us, regard people from overseas, different faiths, creeds and religions as them. We are considered a friendly, welcoming country, but I’ve seen and heard the mumblings of discontent everywhere, from white Kiwis, and Maori, unhappy at them, being in our community.
The Muslim community in New Zealand is tiny, less than 1% of our population. Mostly poor, refugees and the immigrants who came here for a better life, or simply life, not to be killed in their own country. They are also doctors, engineers, teachers, academics, highly skilled professionals; I even met an actual rocket scientist.
All these people work incredibly hard, many doing the jobs we are too lazy to do ourselves. All of these people are trying to make a better future for themselves and for New Zealand. They support the All Blacks, all our sports teams, our way of life and our society.
They’ll warmly welcome you into their places of worship and happily tell you about their culture and beliefs. I’m still using the word they, and them. But these are our people, this is our community. This is New Zealand in 2019, not 1957, thank goodness. Our immigrants and refugees enrich our society, bringing goodness, diversity, culture and colour. The only bad part is our own ignorance and misplaced mistrust of the unknown.
Today though, I hope that has changed. People are turning out all over the country to show solidarity, to weep in the street, hug each other and lay tributes to, now 50, murdered innocent, peaceful people. An Australian Nazi brought bloody murder upon people without shoes on their feet. Walked into an enclosed place of peace, murdered everyone he could see, and broadcast it live on the Internet. We are traumatized, now 2 days later, we are still unsuccessfully fighting back the tears of sadness and anger.
Our young Prime Minister has been immense, showing great leadership in the face of circumstances that would try any world leader. Our police were incredible, 2 rural cops found and rammed the terrorists car, dragging him into the street. He was still heavily armed, with bombs on board, looking for more people to murder. He’d already murdered so many men, women and children in two locations. The terrorist was in custody just 36 minutes after the first 111 call. The gravitas and dignity of our Police Commissioner, Mike Bush reassures us as he gives televised updates on the heinoussness of what happened, and what is being done about it.
Now? People are holding vigils, still laying flowers and messages. We are still, but never will, trying to come to terms with what happened. What will happen though? What will happen? New Zealanders will grow a little; become less naive, we will became a little less insular. We will be more aware and accepting, welcoming and supporting those we used to think of as ‘them’. Those among us who came from a different place. We have cried many tears, or simply just watched open mouthed as the worst violence imaginable was visited upon the most vulnerable in our community.
We have turned out to tell them they are welcome here. Because they are not them. This happened in our community. This is our community and our country and we are all collectively traumatized. But here we are. I don’t know how to end this, because this isn’t the end. Hopefully it becomes a good beginning, that some light will come from the worst possible place. Meanwhile New Zealanders, me, my friends, our friends, our community, are in abject grief and we don’t quite know what to do. I reckon we’ll figure it out. Meanwhile, we are hopefully at least starting to learn, it’s us, not us and them.