Early this evening, I, accompanied by my three grandchildren and their mother, went to the town square, where with 1500 to 2000 fellow residents we took part in a service for those affected by the tragedy of the hate filled attack on the Christchurch mosques. The service has just the right level of respect, mourning and hope. Considering the town has a population of around 14000, it was a good turnout. The service was a little too Christian in character for my taste, but considering Christians make up slightly more than half the population of this town, perhaps that’s understandable.
Being late summer Monday, holding the service between 5:30 and 6:15 was a sensible choice, and of course, as most businesses close at 5:30, the closure of the square to vehicular traffic was only a minor inconvenience. There’s not a lot to say about the service except that it was simple, moving and beautiful.
There is something about tragedy that brings people together, and I felt that today. While the loss of 50 lives is terrible, loss of this magnitude is really felt by everyone. To put it in context, New Zealand has a population of 4.7 million and the loss of 50 lives is the equivalent of America losing 3400 lives. I’ve seen similar levels of grieving after the Wahine disaster in 1968 when 51 people lost their lies, and the Erebus disaster in 1979 with the loss of 257 lives. I also have a very vague recollection of the sombre mood of the nation after the Tangiwai disaster on Christmas Eve 1953 which took 151 lives, although I was too young to fully understand it. But none of those were caused by a deliberate and intentional act that can only be described as inhuman.
The number of Muslims in Aotearoa new Zealand, is small (a little under 1% of the population), and when you consider that 1 in every 500 Kiwi Muslims died in Friday’s atrocity it’s easy to understand their grief and fear. Grief is a natural emotion following loss, and most of us will learn to manage that. But fear is another matter altogether, and we all need to work together, to help all those affected overcome it. Fear, whether justified or not, has the potential to develop into a powerful and dangerous force if allowed to simmer. In fact, in all probability, the terror act carried out on Friday was in part motivated by an irrational and unfounded fear of those who the perpetrator perceives as invaders. I really do not want to see his actions cause the radicalisation of anyone else.