Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of Aotearoa New Zealand:
“We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we’re a safe harbour for those who hate, we were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we’re an enclave for extremists, we were chosen for the very fact we are none of these things.”
I have been able to look at the world, and think how irrational, intolerant and hate-filled it is and think that this little corner of the South Pacific is so very different. We pride ourselves that we are a compassionate and caring people. We can fly around the country and at domestic terminals being checked only for a valid boarding pass – no baggage checks or x-ray machines and no armed police or security guards. The Prime minister and members of the Cabinet travel on public transport and may not even have personal “minders”.
We expect to be able to approach members of parliament, from the newest backbencher right up to the Prime Minister to express our opinions and concerns. We are a very open society. Members of the government can expect disgruntled member of the public to express anger or frustration from time to time, but until recently such emotions would be expressed by hurling eggs, cow manure or even dildos, at a politician. Violent acts? Sure, but it’s mostly self esteem or pride and not body that has been hurt.
Yesterday morning, the Minister for the Environment was assaulted punched to the ground as he walked to his parliamentary office. Typically, he wasn’t accompanied by security personnel, and although we all felt angry that someone would abuse their right to approach a government minister, we all felt this was a one-off incident, and unlikely to be repeated. Ant then today we learn that a group of four terrorists attacked two mosques in Christchurch. Im a few months short of my 70th birthday, and up until today, there had been few terrorist attacks in Aotearoa New Zealand in my lifetime:
- 1961: Four students attempted to blow up a flag pole on the Waitangi treaty grounds.
- 1982: A pun rock anarchist blw himself up in the entrance of the Wanganui law enforcement computer centre.
- 1984: A suitcase bomb killed the building caretaker of the Trades Hall in Wellington.
- 1985: the French DGSE sunk the Rainbow Warrior in Auckland harbour killing one member of the crew
- 2008: a Somali refugee attempted to hijack a domestic flight and divert it to Australia.
Perhaps trivial by world standards, but not by ours. But today all that changed. 40 people are now confirmed dead and another 20 critically ill from gunshot wounds. What makes it so gut wrenching is that many of the victims are new New Zealanders, having chosen Aotearoa New Zealand to be a safe haven from the violence they experienced in their homeland. The evil in the world has arrived at our doorstep and barged straight in.
I would like to hope that this event will not change the way we kiwis see ourselves and we continue to place as much, if not more, faith and trust in the almost 200 ethnicities that make up New Zealand as we have in the past. It would be very sad if we as a nation became suspicious of our fellow citizens simply because they follow a different religion, have a different coloured skin, wear different clothing, or speak a different language.
We should remember especially at times like this that we must avoid “othering” anyone who is different from ourselves in any way, be it language, ethnicity, religion, sexuality, gender identity, or ability. The best way to show the terrorists that they will fail is to become more inclusive and do it willingly and cheerfully.
My heart goes out to all those directly and indirectly affected by this outrage. If I believed in a deity, I’d be torn between praying for the victims and expressing hatred at the deity for allowing it to happen. Instead, I will consider what practical assistance I can give to make the lives of all those affected a little less painful.