There is something all New Zealanders are pausing and reflecting on this week. The tragedy that took place at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, where 51 people were killed and 49 injured by a white supremacist terrorist, is now a year old. Our country and people have moved through fear, grief, shame and outrage.The Wahine sinking, the Tangiwai disaster, Pike River, Mount Erebus disaster the CTV building in the Christchurch earthquake were all events that affect New Zealand in a big way. However, none of them affected our national security in the way the Christchurch massacre has – New Zealand’s National Terrorism Threat Level went from Low to High within the hour. New Zealand’s defence lines failed. Our national security intelligence and surveillance faculties were caught napping. We allowed New Zealanders to be exposed to danger in our own homeland. Did ‘God defend New Zealand’?
We have done our best to make sense of it, and to learn from it. The 1-year anniversary is a powerful call to action. Aotearoa bids its community and government to take time to reflect critically on how they have responded to this event, and where to channel our efforts from here.
White Supremacy is real
It is true that New Zealand can be proud, not simply because of how we responded to the terror attack, role modeling a compassionate and united community and government – within a matter of days there was the Hagley park prayer, vigils around the country, streets painted with messages of solidarity and anti-hate – but also because we are at the forefront of the shift toward a solid Treaty based multicultural society.
There was a spectrum of initial responses to the terror attack from different NZ communities. Though everyone was aggrieved, the NZ community responded with complete shock at the event, whereas the Muslim community cried that they had been warning of this danger for a long time now. This difference in response illustrates that the disconnect between peoples in Aotearoa is still very real. Unfortunately, the shock and surprise of the local people comes from our complacence and ignorance as a young nation. White supremacy is a real and tangible thing, and it has taken us this long to call it terrorism. New Zealand has the dubious honour of being the first country to name it as such.
They are not just Muslims, They are Us.
Prime Minister Arden obviously has a clear grasp on the importance of language and has done a powerful job of role-modelling a non-violent response to violence while also upholding the severity and unacceptability of such an act in our country, to our people. Really, simply because they are us too.
The korero and coverage around this event has referred to the victims as Muslims – but they’re just people, who deserve to be as safe as anyone, no less or more so because of their faith. Categorising people in this way can cause more harm than good; when we focus on the differences between one group of people and ourselves, we reinforce a disconnect. We sabotage our own ability to empathise, to respect, to whakawhanaungatanga. Until we hold an awareness of these effects, our actions and relationships will always embody a disconnect.
From tolerance to acceptance
New Zealanders have always had trouble with exterior differences. As have most colonial nations. But the reality is we are a diverse population, we have no choice but to come to terms with accepting these colourful differences if we want to cohabitate a flourishing and abundant space.
Migrant communities are ready to embrace New Zealand life. But they want acceptance, not tolerance. They want integration, not assimilation. Forcing one people to shed their ways has never worked, and it isn’t right to expect that. To expect that is privilege and an assumption of supremacy. And that’s why the coverage of this event received such vested and positive acclaim around the world: New Zealand community and government chose to respond to a terror attack with an energy of solidarity, empathy, kotahitanga. We stepped above responding to violence with violence, and it is a privilege to be a New Zealander in this time because our response has given us recognition for being a compassionate people.
We have dealt well. Our hearts go out to Christchurch for having to face so many challenges, but it has shone a spotlight on how a good community can be role modelled.
Role of Government
Let us openly acknowledge that our defence lines as a nation have failed. We spend millions of dollars protecting our borders – to have a terrorist come and break the defence line, digitally enabled at such a low cost in such a digital society, means we need to be rethinking our strategies. The current digital strategy of the country is not in line with our need to keep the country safe. This cannot continue.
Government has set precedence with how it’s shown its support for the community, but, like the weaver that does not pull the harakeke tight. There are still many cases of communities in need that are falling through the gaps in this net. A Royal Commission of Inquiry was launched to examine how the attack was responded to, could have been prevented, and how to prevent such attacks in the future. There has been criticism of the Inquiry’s approach to engaging with the communities, with many claims of cultural insensitivity, exclusion/secrecy, and a lack of support for the Muslim community through this unfamiliar process. This is a symptom of the general lack of awareness in New Zealand of our population’s minority groups. As a lay person, in my view, this is reflected at all levels – from the State to the neighbourhood. The Mosque shooting has given a minority community a unique window to be listened to by the nation. We need to take this as an opportunity to revise our presumed understanding of these groups, to take their stories at face value, and to set a precedent for a culturally sensitive nation.
Another result of this event has been a large increase in the amount of funding available to community groups from the government. This is New Zealand’s generosity and it has given them a tremendous boost to become able to help themselves integrate into the wider New Zealand community. On the other hand, there is evidence that this is creating great challenge to smaller community groups, in their ability, to provide the governance to manage the funds properly. There have been many cases where the change in funding has contributed to internal strife, even in peak community organisations. It’s important to recognise that funding alone isn’t enough – it’s vital that government agencies are working together to provide unconditional support for these groups as they find their feet.
Role of Communities
The immediate outpouring of support and reassurance that came from the wider community after the attack was a powerful wave – already the beginning of the healing process was being facilitated. We knew instinctively in this time of crisis that this is what needed to be done. However, as is often the case, as the crisis passes, so fades the momentum. We return to normal life, the open smiles of passersby on the street slowly retract. If we really want to show the minority communities that this show of welcoming is not just tokenistic, we must continue to keep the doors of our minds and hearts open.
It is my believe that this event has the dubious honour of being the most powerful instance in Aotearoa’s history of its different peoples resolving to live together with aroha and mana as envisioned in Te Tiriti o Waitangi. We have always been a nation of diversity, there is no denying that. Te Tiriti holds the original agreements between the Crown and Tangata Whenua, the First Nation people of this land, for us to live together as a multicultural society, and it is both an obligation and an honour to be familiar with them and to integrate them into our lives. There needs to be active inquiry and action around how to integrate the values of Maori, Pakeha and migrant cultures into our community. There needs to be an ongoing discourse on how to heal the environments and attitudes that foster racism and violence against the other. New Zealand communities need to acknowledge that we ARE multicultural and need to adopt a Treaty-based framework to achieve this.
What you and I can do
If you were born here, it is your responsibility as tangata whenua to manaakitanga.
Let us, as individuals and as a nation, openly acknowledge that white supremacy, racism and xenophobia are still a reality in New Zealand, and minority groups feel that the most. Individuals who walk past more recent migrants with their walls up and their faces closed are in absolute denial of how multicultural New Zealand is becoming.
Migrant New Zealanders hold a unique perspective of this country – they can recognise and be thankful for its gifts in a way those who have been born into this land cannot. They want to be a part of this country and this community. They seek to belong. How better to encourage this integration than to remind them that they are welcome?
Let us recognise that are people of different faiths and cultures in every neighbourhood. Sometimes they occupy unique spaces like temples, mosques, churches or marae. Sometimes they speak in ways or wear clothes that may not be what you are familiar with. It is easy to fear what we do not know, and daunting to enter a space where we do not know the rules. In working against xenophobia, aroha and firsthand inter-cultural experience is one of our greatest eye openers. Show your support and curiosity by attending the cultural events happening in your neighbourhood no matter how grand or humble. Catch that feeling of resistance and gently recognise it as the feeling of stepping outside your comfort zone. This is especially relevant for NZ pakeha – as the majority group they are most unused to stepping out of their cultural comfort zone.
Te manawa o Aotearoa
The Christchurch terror attack may feel like a black mark in New Zealand’s history, but there is no undoing it. This is a part of our story towards nationhood. It is a call for us to rise with aroha and mana as a stronger and more united people. It pains us all to have such tragic growing pains, but the fact that the attack was such a wakeup call is indeed a sign that we are growing and learning from it. The weave of a Treaty-based multicultural society is the most difficult to tear apart – as we grow closer, we grow stronger, we close the gaps in the net. You cannot undo this work. Our resolve as a caring nation is immense – Aotearoa has a tremendous heart, and as it is gentle it is fierce – and if we can remain in close relationship with it, it is our taonga and certainly one of our most abundant and mobilizing resources.
Let us partner to defend New Zealand.
Ki te kahore he whakakitenga ka ngaro te iwi
Without foresight or vision the people of the land will be lost
(Kingi Tawhiao Potatau te Wherwhero)
President | Multicultural New Zealand