In a blink, everything has changed and yet nothing has changed. Life goes on. The long, hot days of a record summer are lazily tumbling into autumn, gridlock has returned to the motorways, the kids are back at school. But the murderous events in Christchurch last Friday have distorted everything for us as a nation. This far-flung little haven of ours — we’ve been so proud of its unspoilt coastlines, its quirkiness, its outsized achievements (in our minds, anyway), its inclusiveness and safety. Bad stuff happened somewhere else. We thought we were different. We thought distance protected us from global extremism.
The horrendous events have left us questioning so much of who we are and what we stand for. Our sense of security has been stolen. Christchurch is a city still traumatised by the earthquakes of 2011, and now this — 50 dead and dozens more wounded. In our desperation to reassure ourselves and the world, we have stood together at vigils and on social media over these past days to declare ‘This Is Not Us’; that Kiwis aren’t like that. Our news stories unfailingly point out that the gunman quite literally isn’t one of us — he’s an Australian. As if that somehow distances us from his kind. The fact is, though, there’s no distancing us from him or what he did: Brenton Tarrant was resident in Dunedin, he was cleared for a Kiwi gun licence, he accumulated a small arsenal of firearms here. He will be tried in a New Zealand court, where he plans to represent himself.
A message of support from one Wellington artist has gone viral. It reads: ‘This is your home and you should have been safe here’. But these people, some of whom were refugees from war-torn countries, weren’t safe.