Australians sometimes think our Kiwi cousins are two hours ahead but more than 20 years behind us. New Zealand is the sort of country we once were: the sort of place where you can keep your door open at night, and sheep dog trials are top-rating TV programmes.
But last week’s appalling carnage in Christchurch shows New Zealand is more than 20 years behind in other ways too. It’s now 23 years since a deranged gunman killed 35 innocent people out for a Sunday excursion at Tasmania’s Port Arthur. Now New Zealand has passed Australia all these years later with a meticulously-planned mass killing with one chilling innovation: live-streaming by the killer of his own horrific actions.
That fifty innocent people were mowed down, and dozens more wounded, simply by attending their own places of worship, is sickening. That the victims are Muslim New Zealanders, targeted by the alleged killer simply because their cultures, religion and religious practices don’t accord with his warped world view, adds to the horror. Christchurch, New Zealand and the world rightly have embraced the local Muslim communities who are suffering in ways the rest of us barely can comprehend, reminding us the better angels of mankind’s nature still fly among us.
Australians know what Port Arthur feels like, so it is a matter of great shame for all of us that a fellow Australian is the alleged mass killer who has broken New Zealand’s heart. But as Australian political leaders have said, this man may have come from us, but he is not one of us in his beliefs, thoughts and actions.
As for those beliefs and thoughts, the alleged killer’s confused, racist and rambling manifesto showed his religious hatred was percolated from the extreme Left as much as the far right. However he arrived at his abhorrent views – and international police investigations are now piecing together his long journey to last week – he appears to have killed out of a deep-seated generic hate of the Muslim religion and its history. That only a relative few Muslims are violent fanatics, or brainwashed followers of the now-defeated Islamic State, was lost on him, and on those who appallingly cheered him on through social media.
The lesson of Christchurch, however, is the same as those of Manchester, London, Paris, Nice and Bali among many other places around the world, where religious and race-inspired terror attacks and mass killings have destroyed so many innocent lives. Be it a Christchurch mosque or Charlie Hebdo, no-one has the God-given right to inflict death and violence on those who look or think differently to them. The despicable actions of the Christchurch accused rightly have been condemned across the political and religious spectrum. It’s been easy for some to do so this time because the perpetrator is an extremist white Anglo man, and not, say, a fanatical Muslim attacking ‘infidels’. Such selectivity of condemnation is utterly wrong.
Religious and race-motivated violence is generically evil. Which race or what religion is targeted does not matter: attacks of the New Zealand kind are attacks on us all and what we hold dear as a free society. We condemn and grieve what happened in Christchurch, but we must not treat it differently from what previously shocked and sickened us in Manchester, London, Paris, New York, Nice and Bali.
John Howard can show the way (again)
To her great credit, Jacinda Ardern is wasting no time in cracking down on her country’s easy access to guns, including military-style semi-automatics that are portable killing machines. On gun law reform, she has boasted she is doing in 72 hours what John Howard did in 12 days.
But unlike Ms Ardern, in 1996 Mr Howard had to persuade eight state and territory governments, of both major parties, as well as his own. With Tim Fischer, he had to reassure his jittery National party partners as they faced their own gun-owning constituency, especially farmers and graziers. He raised the Medicare levy to pay for gun buybacks. He won cross-party consensus by bringing Labor leader Kim Beazley into the decision-making. And while never the media darling Ms Ardern is, he discovered deep personal reserves of empathy that brought comfort and hope to the victims and the exhausted responders who heroically gave everything to help. In facing Port Arthur’s ghastly challenge, Mr Howard showed a genuinely national leadership that we much miss. All that Ms Ardern is being acclaimed for now has been done before by Mr Howard. Ms Ardern should call on him to lend his insight and wisdom to what she and New Zealand now confront.