The Christchurch mosque massacres of March 15 brought out the best and the worst in New Zealanders.
The best was evident in the overwhelming displays of support for the Muslim victims and their families. Massive floral tributes materialised at the scenes of the shootings, tens of thousands attended memorial vigils throughout the country and 40 fundraising campaigns raised more than $12 million.
It was evident in the way passers-by saw what was happening in the streets outside the Al Noor and Linwood mosques on the day of the shootings and stopped to help the wounded, even as the alleged gunman was still firing. While ambulances were ordered to wait behind a police cordon, ordinary citizens loaded victims into their cars and rushed them to hospital.
It was evident in the bravery of two unnamed country cops, in Christchurch for a training day, who intercepted the alleged shooter as he was driving to a third mosque, rammed his car and dragged him out onto the footpath despite him shouting that he had a bomb. The alleged gunman was in custody just 21 minutes after the first shots were fired.
It was evident in the actions of prime minister Jacinda Ardern, who took decisive charge of the crisis and reacted to the atrocity in exactly the way a leader should in a civilised, liberal democracy – with compassion and empathy.
It was evident too in the way the New Zealand Muslim community responded: not by withdrawing into itself, indulging in recriminations or apportioning blame, but by reaching out in a spirit of reconciliation and unity.
But while all this was happening, a jarring alternative narrative was emerging. According to this alternative narrative, the slaughter of 50 innocent New Zealand Muslims was entirely predictable. It was the inevitable consequence of all-pervasive race hatred and white supremacist attitudes.
The purveyors of this narrative lost no time pushing their divisive message.
Four days after the massacres, the historian and anthropologist Dame Anne Salmond wrote an overwrought commentary that began: ‘White supremacy is a part of us, a dark power in the land.’
An Auckland rally organised by radical activist groups (‘Smash Fascism’ was a popular placard) seemed less concerned with mourning the dead than with finding someone to blame. In a speech to the rally, which some attendees left early in disgust, the part-Maori Green party co-leader Marama Davidson implied that race crime was imprinted in New Zealand’s DNA.
‘New Zealand was founded on the theft of land, language and identity of indigenous people,’ she was reported as saying. ‘This land we are standing on is land we were violently removed from to uphold the same agenda that killed the people in the mosques yesterday.’
Davidson wasn’t the only one to suggest that New Zealand was indelibly stained with the blood of hate crimes. A writer of Chinese descent delved into history and cited the infamous assassination of Wellington man Joe Kum Yung as evidence of New Zealand’s shameful record. That killing (as in Christchurch, the act of a lone fanatic) happened 114 years ago.
In Parliament, the Iranian-born Green MP Golruz Ghahraman used what was supposed to be a condolence speech to attack ‘breakfast shock jocks’ – presumed to be a reference to one particular top-rating New Zealand radio broadcaster, whose politics could be described as moderately centre-right – and fellow MPs whom she accused of promoting ‘hate speech’ and ‘gratuitous racism’. On what grounds? Because they had spoken against the United Nations Global Compact on Migration, they were deemed somehow culpable.
Elsewhere on the Left, an orgy of score-settling was set in motion as vigilantes trawled through social media archives looking for imagined evidence of complicity in the mosque shootings. One mild-mannered centre-right blogger was subjected to accusations of racism because three years ago he had published a guest post – which he personally disagreed with – opposing Muslim immigration because of the fear of terrorism.
Other casualties of the witch-hunt included an Auckland doctor and a husband-and-wife real estate team who were respectively suspended and dismissed because someone found old social media posts which they considered hateful. Meanwhile the Whitcoulls chain of book stores cravenly capitulated to leftist bullies who demanded the company withdraw Jordan Peterson’s best-selling 12 Rules for Life from its shelves because someone found a photo of Peterson with a fan wearing a ‘Proud to be an Islamophobe’ T-shirt.
All this was in stark contrast to the quiet, dignified response of the Muslims who survived the attacks. Their reaction was not one of anger, but of sadness that this terrible thing had happened in a country that they thought of – and still think of – as inclusive and welcoming. The one discordant note from the Islamic community came from the head of an Auckland mosque who, in a rush of blood to the head, blamed the shootings on Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
Politically, the Christchurch atrocities were a gift to New Zealand’s Labour-led government, albeit one that it never wanted. Not only has Ardern been feted internationally, but for three weeks attention has been diverted from the government’s clumsy handling of everyday issues.
But if the events of March 15 boosted Ardern’s stocks, they also did huge damage to the credibility of her deputy prime minister, the populist New Zealand First party leader Winston Peters.
Peters has long nurtured an image as a tough guy. But dispatched to Turkey to confront president Recep Tayyip Erdogan over Erdogan’s reprehensible exploitation of the Christchurch killings for domestic political gain, Peters wimped out.
Confronted by a bigger bully he rolled over like a puppy, and his image in New Zealand will never be the same again.
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