New Zealand terrorist attack betrays the country’s identity

  • On Friday, the country and its people were lassoed into a violent world it mostly felt safe from
- Thomas Heaton, Kathmandu

Mar 16, 2019-

New Zealand has long been a place of refuge, away from the conflicts of the world. The country has been a safe haven, where people lived peacefully, unmolested. There’s even a sizeable Nepali population. And the South Island city of Christchurch is the perfect embodiment of all these New Zealand qualities—quiet, green and peaceful.

But all that peaceful innocence was shattered Friday afternoon. Just before 2pm, despicable, white supremacist terrorists killed at least 49 Muslims during their afternoon prayers. The gunmen emptied clip after clip into the congregations of two mosques in Christchurch. One gunman live-streamed the shooting, sharing his disgustingly methodical execution of innocent people for the world to see. Four people were arrested soon after the attack, one charged with murder.

A friend of mine was a block away from where the shooting took place. He heard a loud staccato of cracks, but couldn’t believe it was gunfire—it’s New Zealand, after all.

“This kind of stuff never happens here,” he reminded me over Facebook. That phrase was repeated over and over, in interviews with people at the scene. My friend saw police cars speeding past his office, confirming the worst.

He’s right; this kind of behaviour is limited to television screens in New Zealand, terrorist attacks come in the form of footage on the six o’clock news. New Zealand’s history of shootings is minimal, the most notorious in modern history being in the isolated town of Aramoana, in 1990, where 13 people were killed. But, on Friday, New Zealand and its people were lassoed into a violent world it mostly felt safe from. Local terrorism made local news. Everyone is confused and in shock, my friend told me. The country is collectively gobsmacked that this kind of behaviour could happen in its own backyard.

The sleepy country down under rarely makes international headlines. The last time Christchurch made international headlines was in 2011, when the city suffered through an earthquake that killed 185 people. The quake sent shockwaves through the entire country, and Kiwis rallied to help as many people as they could.

Like every country, there are crises and violence in New Zealand but nothing in the realm of this kind of terrorism and bilious hatred.

These attacks are a betrayal of New Zealand’s collective identity. New Zealand is a new country built on immigration, and its identity is inextricably tied to increasingly mingling cultures and diversity. People have a right to exercise whatever religious beliefs they have in New Zealand. Even the country’s national anthem refers to peace, prosperity and diversity. What the shooters did was shocking not only to the country, but the entire world. For the first time in its history, New Zealand’s national security risk has been raised to ‘high’.

The arrested gunman justified his actions in a reprehensible 73-page manifesto, saying his actions would “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands, our homelands are our own and that, as long as a white man still lives, they will never conquer our lands and they will never replace our people”. But those “invaders” are New Zealanders. Some were migrants, some could have been refugees, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told media following the attack.

“They chose to make New Zealand their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence is not,” said Ardern.

What makes a New Zealander a Kiwi is not skin colour or which deities they follow, what their native tongue is, or where they were born. A Kiwi is a human who calls New Zealand home and embraces its people, no matter their creed or colour.

In te reo M%u0101ori, the indigenous language of New Zealand, there is a popular affirmation that means ‘stay strong’. At this incredibly tough time, we should all say it in solidarity: kia kaha, Christchurch; kia kaha, New Zealand.

Thomas Heaton is a New Zealand journalist currently working as a reporter at The Kathmandu Post.

Published: 16-03-2019 07:21

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