Prof. Colin Starger has been on sabbatical this semester in Wellington, New Zealand. Here he shares his thoughts on a recent tragedy there, and its aftermath, with photos.
As an American on sabbatical in New Zealand, I have been inspired and amazed by this country’s collective response to the Christchurch tragedy. Of course, like anywhere, folks here reeled in horror at the hate-filled attack. Yet right from the start, reactions differed from those we are all too accustomed to in the United States.
For starters, I didn’t hear astonished statements of disbelief — “I can’t believe this happened here.” The reality of white-nationalist terror and its threat seemed grimly accepted. The question became what to do.
Answers to this question varied. On the walls and sidewalks in and around Wellington, I noticed one type of grassroots reaction: graffiti. Suddenly, I saw messages of love and solidarity appear in random places. “Love to all Muslims” read one message. “Terror has no religion” has another. While anonymous souls painted words of solidarity, the nation saw real leadership. Within a week, parliament banned military-style assault weapons such as those used in the attack.
Such decisive action on gun-control is sadly unthinkable in the United States. Here it was simply logical. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern attended funerals for victims of the attack wearing a headscarf. This simple gesture of respect spoke volumes. What leader in the United States would do this?
Exactly one week after the tragedy in Christchurch, I attended a solidarity event outside of the Wellington Islamic Center. The attack had occurred on a Friday during the call to prayers. Now the Wellington mosque was literally surrounded by a human chain as symbolic protection from hatred and harm. The crowd was diverse and solemn. Members of the Jewish community were clearly in attendance. Young and old, white and Pasifika. Many, if not most, women wore headscarves.
This profound solidarity was deeply moving to me. After the call to prayer, we observed two minutes of silence. There was no speechifying. Just instructions on when to begin the silence and when it was over. Then the crowd spontaneously burst into “Te Aroha Waiata” – a Maori song literally calling for “Love, Hope/faith, Peace, For Everyone.”
Although New Zealand is small and distant, I feel it is at the forefront of showing how to confront the serious threat of white nationalist terror. I don’t think this place is paradise or perfect, it just seems to take the problem more seriously and seems to couple words with concrete actions as well. We in America could learn from this. I certainly have.