Sunday, March 24, 2019

Thoughts on the Christchurch attacks

A little more than a week ago, I remarked to my youngest child that we are fortunate to live in New Zealand. Our country appeared immune to most of the craziness that infects other Western nations - the identity politics, the religious fundamentalism and the increasingly authoritarian excesses of governments. New Zealand seemed the least insane country in the world. But on the Friday of that week the illusion was shattered when a madman attacked two mosques in Christchurch, announcing that politically-motivated mass murder had arrived on our hitherto peaceful shores.

There was a brief period after the tragedy when everyone seemed to be equally shocked and the only comments were of sympathy with the victims and relief that the killer had been caught. Unfortunately it lasted no more than a few hours and all too soon those who saw the opportunity to exploit the terrible events to their political advantage began slinking out of their boltholes. We were all either victims or perpetrators depending on our group identity, they said, ignoring the emerging evidence that the heinous crime had been committed by an individual acting alone. Many were quick to blame the 'extreme right' despite the fact that the perpetrator's manifesto reportedly includes admiration for the Chinese Communist regime and casts him as a radical environmentalist. A particularly odious Australian senator blamed Muslim immigration for the killings (which really takes some gall), while politicians including former prime minister Helen Clark blamed lax guns laws and freedom of speech. A New Zealand Green Party MP equated the attack to 'the theft of land, language and identity of indigenous people', while another Green MP said it was caused by opposition to the United Nations' Migration Compact.

Last Friday afternoon at 1:32pm, exactly a week after the gunman began his act of mass murder, two minutes of silence were observed across New Zealand in memory of the victims. If that had been all there was, it would have been a fine gesture. However, prime minister Jacinda Ardern insisted that the Muslim call to prayer be broadcast on state TV and radio, and the state services commissioner, Peter Hughes, sent out an email to all government agencies ordering them to provide staff with facilities to watch or listen to the call to prayer. I happened to be at a government agency at the time and what I observed made me both bemused and extremely uncomfortable. The bemusement came from the sight of young New Zealand women wearing hijabs over their cut-off shorts and tank tops (which indicates they had sort of missed the point about the hijab), while the discomfort came from seeing our public servants file into meeting rooms to listen to observe a religious practice because they had been ordered to so by their masters. I felt I had to leave the building and I wasn't the only one to do so - a number of us gathered in a park across the road, where we sat in silence in the warm autumn sunshine, thinking about the propensity for evil that lies deep within the human heart.

I can understand why Jacinda Ardern might have thought the call to prayer was a good idea - a means to bring about reconciliation, no doubt - but to me it was a step too far and showed poor judgement in what otherwise has been a measured and conciliatory response by the prime minister. I am grateful that we live in a relatively free, open and secular society where people are at liberty to practice their religion or to not observe any religion at all, a freedom that is not enjoyed by many people across the world. But we do not preserve such freedom by abandoning our universalist principles.

The prize for the stupidest response to the events in Christchurch would have to go to the Whitcoulls bookstore chain, which in a demonstration of their utter ignorance decided to ban Jordan Peterson's book Twelve Rules for Life. Peterson, a clinical and academic psychologist, has made a career of studying the effects of political extremism on individuals and his book seeks to help disaffected young people jettison their resentment and build constructive and rewarding lives - in other words, he is the solution, not the problem, to that which motivated the Christchurch killer.

I hope that New Zealand will transcend this tragedy and become a stronger society as a result, but I think we have been damaged in way that is not immediately obvious, much as America was damaged by 9/11. It seems entirely possible that we will descend into the tribalism that increasingly characterises political engagement in much of the rest of the Western world - intolerance that breeds even more intolerance and ultimately that leads to tit-for-tat violence. It will be a tragedy of another kind were that to happen in the least insane country in the world. That, of course, was the killer's intent. 


paul scott said...

If you think we were the least insane county with our socialist puppet and UN globalist PM then you have been cushioned. If you stay here long enough you will see our armed Police replaced by UN goons and your family will be helpless like the rest of the sheeple in this country. The armed madman by the way had military training, it was anything but a solo effort

paul scott said...
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