There are doubtless those who will regard it as futile for New Zealand to seek national unity in the aftermath of the massacres at two mosques in Christchurch last week. They'll say the divisions run too deep to fill in, and too wide to bridge.
That, however, is not what the majority of New Zealanders appear to believe. They're making an all-out, passionate affair to use this tragedy as a fulcrum towards unity, rather than allowing it to tear their society apart.
Exactly a week after a gunman opened fire in the Al Noor Mosque, the ancient call to Friday prayers echoed out over police tape, and drifts of flowers, and over the thousands of New Zealanders gathered in central Christchurch’s Hagley Park to honour the 50 slain.
The haunting strains travelled across the nation, via simultaneous radio and television broadcasts.
"It used to be that you had to go into the mosque to hear the beauty of Islam. Now look at this," said Omar Nabi, gesturing at the sea of people. His father Haji-Daoud Nabi was among the first worshippers killed on Friday, a week ago.
"Today my father is smiling at me, and laughing at him," Omar said of the gunman.
Imam Gamal Fouda had a powerful message for the crowd: “We are broken-hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us.”
At the heart of the national response has been the country’s young prime minister, 38-year old Jacinda Ardern, rising day after day to her terrible duty. If there had been quiet criticism in some circles that she was an inexperienced leader with as much stardust as substance, that has now been put to rest.
Ardern has been a commanding figure of poise, compassion and strength, a textbook example to other world leaders about how to respond in the face of mass casualty terrorist attacks.
One of Australia’s leading counter-terrorism experts, Jacinta Carroll from the ANU’s National Security College, wrote this week that Ardern had provided a “masterclass … from possibly the most unlikely place in the world.”
It was, Carroll said, “that rare combination of the right words and the right actions” from the leader of a small country which until now had enjoyed a reputation as a blessedly low-threat environment.
. . .
From [Dr Bryce] Edwards' point of view, all of this suggests that beyond her genuine compassion Ardern has been acting with strategic pragmatism. Her goals, he believes, are manifold.
Firstly, she seeks to ensure that the division the gunman sought to sow between New Zealand Muslims and the greater community does not take hold.
Secondly, she wants to head off the potential for a culture war inside her country, with elements of the left seeking to identify racism in New Zealand society as the cause of the attack and sections of the right using it to impugn immigration or the Islamic community itself.
Thirdly Ardern - no doubt on the advice of police and intelligence agencies - has security implications in mind.
“Her security staff will be very concerned about the potential for retaliation and blowback,” Edwards told the Herald and The Age. By positioning New Zealand itself as the victim of the attack as well as its Muslim community, and by demonstrating unity with that community, Ardern is intent on reducing the potential for revenge attacks.
There's more at the link.
An Australian cartoonist is drawing international praise for his adaptation of the New Zealand fern symbol into a message of mourning and healing.
A simple but powerful image by The Canberra Times cartoonist Pat Campbell in response to the Christchurch massacre has been shared around the world, cutting through the millions of words written about the tragedy.
Campbell has received messages from Malaysia to Canada to Egypt, as people reacted to the humanity of the cartoon, which uses the iconic New Zealand silver fern to represent 50 Muslims in various stages of prayer, representing the 50 victims of the Christchurch shootings last Friday, March 15. [Click the image for a larger view.]
"I can’t tell you the full reach but it’s spread far and wide," he said.
"Many Muslims have sent me messages thanking me for the image, which has been moving. I’ve been approached by several parties wanting to use the image for vigils and fundraising for victims. It is a bittersweet thing to happen."
. . .
Much of the reaction has focused on the simplicity of the image. That it can encapsulate the horror and the humanity of the shootings without words. That it can also suggest hope, resilience, and that a gentle, loving spirit will endure against even the worst mankind can serve up.
Again, more at the link.
Contrast such approaches with those who've used the atrocity to stir up yet more anti-Muslim feeling, or (in essence) blame Muslims themselves for what was done to them. Even some of the comments on this blog (for example, here) have been very negative, which saddens me greatly. As far as any of us know, those who died in the two mosques in Christchurch were not terrorists, not criminals, not extremists . . . not even violent at all. They were as much innocent victims as those murdered by ISIS fanatic terrorists in Iraq or Syria. Yet, some of the comments about their deaths indirectly imply that they deserved to be murdered, because of their faith and because of the actions of other people of that faith, in other countries.
Frankly, I find that sickening. When extremist Islamic terrorists decide (as, for example, in Paris in November 2015) that otherwise innocent Westerners deserve to die simply because of who and what they are, do we regard the terrorists as justified in killing them? Or do we condemn their mindless massacres as the atrocities they are? And, if the latter, why are some of us so hesitant, so reluctant, to condemn mindless massacres of Muslims in precisely and exactly the same terms? Aren't they the same crimes, the same evil - just with different victims? (I'm not alone in asking those questions, either.)
New Zealand is trying to heal its internal wounds as best it can, under the most difficult of circumstances. Some of the actions there, such as new restrictions on firearm ownership, I don't support, because my life experience and views lead me in different directions: yet, the majority of New Zealanders appear to support them. If I lived there, I'd now be facing a dilemma. Would I be prepared to give up some of my cherished rights in the cause of national unity, putting my country ahead of my personal views? Or would I "go along to get along", and make the sacrifice in the name of a collective rather than an individual cause? I know many Second Amendment fundamentalists in the USA would reject that out of hand. In New Zealand, which is a very different society with very different national and legal perspectives on such matters, it's a different ball game. Firearms owners there are expressing anger and disappointment at being singled out for attention, but they don't have the constitutional, legal and other protections afforded to shooters in the USA. I suspect they're not going to be given an option.
I'm many thousands of miles away from New Zealand, living in a very different country, under a very different constitutional, political and legal system. I'm not going to second-guess that country, or its leaders, or try to impose my own views and perspectives on what they're doing. They're trying to heal from a devastating wound to their national psyche. I wish them every success in doing so, and I hope they find a way forward that helps all New Zealanders to grow together, and resist extremism in any and every form. God be with them.