It is a privilege to feel safe in the places you call home. It shouldn’t be, because what is home if it is not a place that is known and that is safe, but again and again we see places that should be known made unsafe by hate. Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and saddened to hear the news of the mass murder of Muslims at a mosque in Christchurch. New Zealand is the safest and most peaceful country I have ever been to or lived in, and yet a group of people decided that shouldn’t be the case for their victims.
New Zealanders haven’t had to grapple with a tragedy like this, whereas in America we are nearly desensitized to news of yet another mass shooting. Politicians send their thoughts and prayers, outraged is silenced with cries of “too soon,” The Onion reposts that too-accurate headline, and nothing changes. I was surprised and gladdened to hear that the New Zealand government’s immediate response was to promise a ban on semi-automatic weapons; imagine if our politicians had ever acted so quickly and decisively? How many schoolchildren, churchgoers, and others would still be with us?
The outpouring of support for the Muslim community in the wake of the tragedy is also heartening. Flowers cover mosques around the country. Vigil attendances number in the thousands. A givealittle page (New Zealand’s answer to Go Fund Me) for victim support has topped $5 million in donations. Kiwis and the world are coming together to echo Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s words about the victims: “They are us.”
At the same time, although for many New Zealand seemed like a utopia between its stunning natural beauty and its peaceful, unified society, the sad truth is that New Zealand is not immune from the influence of intolerance, white supremacy, and an environment where “casual” discrimination is given a blind eye rather than spotlighted and called out (and what does “casual” discrimination even mean? Is it a hobby? A side-hustle? Part-time racism?). Where alt-righters like Stefan Molyneux, Jordan Peterson, and Lauren Southern have eager audiences. Where stereotypes about Maori and other islanders flourish as “jokes.”
I am certainly not writing this as a sanctimonious outsider pointing out the flaws of another country; I, too, am certainly often guilty of not doing enough to call out intolerance when I see it. It’s particularly tragic to think that the murderers were likely inspired by the political climate of my own nation. And New Zealand is certainly a lot more welcoming than the United States (or Australia, by the way; wow, there is a lot of racism here, and not just from the Senator who made that awful statement after the mosque shooting, although you should enjoy this video of him getting egged by a teenager).
However, it is tempting to dismiss the murderers’ terrible actions as unrelated to anything else in New Zealand society, to identify solely with the victims. But without changing our own actions and stepping up every time to speak out against racism, discrimination, Islamophobia, intolerance, we are dishonouring the victims by allowing the murderers and those who think like them to find something to identify with in us (please read this powerful comic by Spinoff journalist Toby Morris for more).
It is important to carry the feelings of love and solidarity for the Muslim community, the immigrant community, the community as a whole, that are strongest and most present now in wake of this tragedy, and let them be a guideline going forward. We must cultivate an environment in which seeds of hate can not plant roots. And that means asking ourselves difficult questions, and being willing to ask difficult questions to others. Kia kaha, New Zealand. Stay strong and show your strength by protecting your whānau—Maori, pakeha, Muslim, and everyone else who is lucky enough to live in such a kind and beautiful country. Come together in love and action to ensure that everyone is safe in the places they call home.