It’s been a numb and difficult time for Christchurch, and the horrific terrorism that befell upon the Al Noor mosque has been gut-wrenchingly felt across the world. It was a normal Monday for most of us, but for many in the local community, life will never be the same again. Indeed the world won’t be the same again, as the usual suspects for intolerance and violent gun crime in the Western world are this time sending prayers to a seemingly more peaceful and sheltered island. The global outpouring of support and reinvigorated united front with Muslims against Islamaphobic hatred has shown that, once again, humanity can cross cultural bridges to our brothers and sisters in an increasingly closed-off and distant society. But glimpses of evil such as what unravelled both on news bulletins and social media show that we are in a finely poised moment between order and chaos when it comes to our ability to express religious freedom. The rise of populism has not gone unnoticed sweeping through Europe and South America, but it’s a worrying sign that some tropes of such a movement are being exhibited in the land of the Maori.
Amongst the condolences, many nuanced questions have cropped up that have divided opinion. The increasing rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the West, the double standard of terrorism portrayal in the media depending on race of the perpetrator, the role the internet plays in the spread of extremist viewpoints and how tech companies can combat the spread of content that clearly violates terms of service, like where the murderer live-streamed his attack in some attempt to make himself immortal. Let’s deprive wannabe martyrs from their supremacist missions and forget them instantly. Instead, the focus must shift on how we can prevent such manifestation of bigotry happening in the future in such a devastating way.
The reason this was so shocking to me was the location. New Zealand and Australia, despite not being immune to cultural imports from the US, are geographically isolated in a recluse paradise. While the US have had more mass shootings than days in a calendar year, this is unheard of in New Zealand. This is the worst mass shooting in their modern history. The last one they had involved six fatalities back in 1997 and you have to go back to the Boyd massacre of 1809 for a higher death toll. Since the 90s, the country has undergone significant gun reform, despite a strong gun lobby like the US. New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern has said she will announce gun law reforms within the next few weeks, and it seems that the rest of her cabinet is equally as committed to her pledge. New Zealand is one of the few countries where all gun-owners must have a licence, but most individual weapons do not have to be registered, which might be a facet of their gun laws that might need to be reviewed in light of this tragedy.
It’s difficult to stop hateful individuals enact their extreme ideologies onto innocent people, but to restrict their access to weapons specifically designed to carry out acts of terror is a more effective and capable goal to achieve. This is, of course, short termism. The root of the problem is to tackle insidious hatred towards groups of people through education and rigorous challenging of ideologies, but taking away semi-automatic weapons from those think it is morally acceptable to mercilessly gun down people during their time of prayer is an obvious first step.
The US has always been a trailblazer to Britain in a number of ways, but when the NRA stood in the way of gun reform (yet again) after the tragedy of Sandy Hook, the US lost all moral high ground for me. The fact that they could make the case that their right to bear arms with military grade weapons trumps the lives of 20 six and seven year old children who were murdered for nothing other than being at school showed me the true colours of the American ideology, which favours their constitution over their children. If New Zealand make the right steps with their reforms and rethink the way they perceive and interact with minority groups, not only will they show that they value the positive influence that Muslim Kiwis have on their society, but that they genuinely value the sanctity of life above anything else.