Today is seven days since 15 March, one of the worst days in New Zealand history.
50 innocent people are dead, 27 are still in hospital, one man is in custody pending trial, military-style assault weapons are now illegal in this country, and there is a metres-deep carpet of flowers and teddy bears and ‘We are terribly sorry your family members got murdered at Muslim prayers by a white supremacist terrorist’ cards along the wall by Christchurch City’s Botanic Gardens, between the hospital and museum.
The cards and signs are handmade and heartfelt. As was the horror and grief that gripped all our hearts, and still does. A city of 400,000 is not so big that an act of unthinkable evil done to 100 people (and streamed live on Facebook, because this is 2019, in the dark timeline) can leave many untouched.
Women wore headscarfs and the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast live on New Zealand radio and TV as a gesture of hospitality and respect, both of which will no doubt offend many of my right wing Christian (soon to be former) friends. But you know what else offends me? Neo-Nazi mass murderers do. And also all the words, stacked up since the Crusades but amplified since 2001 and then plunged into overdrive since 2016, which made this atrocity thinkable to someone.
Something utterly terrible has happened in this city. Something so awful that the mind fails to grip it, keeps sliding past. Yet there seems to be the birth of something new. For the first time, we seem to be seeing our Muslim neighbours in New Zealand as human beings.
I hope this strange new discovery of love continues. And becomes an ongoing conversation about the wall of difficulty and prejudice and sometimes genocidal hatred that immigrants (and women, and the poor, and others) face in this country. And that we can brick by brick start to take it down, and build something more worthy of our humanity.
Christchurch, New Zealand is my home town and my wife is an immigrant. My workplace and my church are filled with people from all countries. Today is a day of great pain.
“Our thoughts and our prayers are with those who have been impacted today. Christchurch was the home of these victims. For many, New Zealand was not the place they were born, in fact for many New Zealand was their choice. It was the place they committed themselves to, where they were raising their families, where they were part of communities that they loved and who loved them. It was a place that many came to for its safety, a place where they were free to practice their culture and their religion.
“For those of you who are watching at home tonight and questioning how this could have happened here, we, New Zealand, we are not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate, we were not chosen for this violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the fact we represent none of these things. Because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those who share our values, refuge for those who need it.
“And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack. We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages and amongst that diversity we share common values and the one that we place the currency on right now and tonight is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy.
“Secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology for those who did this … we utterly reject and condemn you.”