On 15 March 2019, a declared white supremacist stormed two mosques in the centre of Christchurch, New Zealand, killing fifty innocent people and injuring dozens more. As investigations began into the attack, it was confirmed that the gunman, acting alone, targeted Al Noor Mosque in the centre of the city and Linwood Mosque, about three miles away. The attacks appeared to be calculated and coordinated, with undetonated explosives found hours after the mass shooting. The Australian-born accused was charged with murder in the hours immediately following the attack and was to appear in court on the following Saturday morning. As investigations continue as to how this attack was allowed to take place, and the motivations behind the heinous act, the international community mourns the loss of the victims and unites in the face of hatred.
In a televised news statement delivered in the hours immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned the mass murder of innocent people. She stated: “We were not the target because we were the safe harbor for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism . . . we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion.” Professor Richard Jackson noted the need to divert national attention away from extremist Muslim groups and towards far right national parties, stating “they ought to be directing a great deal of resources to looking at the threat from nationalist groups.” Paul Spoonley, Vice Chancellor for the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Massey University in New Zealand, noted that “social cohesion and mutual respect need to be asserted and continually worked on.”
In the wake of such tragedy, the expression of solidarity and love was evident across New Zealand. Prime Minister Ardern, in a symbolic act of unity, wore traditional Islamic attire while visiting the victims of Christchurch. Expressions of solidarity have continued to grow exponentially, with the international community uniting with the Muslim community to show a front of defiance in the wake of tragedy. This remains the core lesson one can take from this horrible attack: the power of a community far outweighs the attempt of one man to break it.
The Christchurch shooting is to date the largest terror attack New Zealand has experienced. While sentiments of right wing ideology remain an undercurrent of the New Zealand political landscape, in comparison to other Western nations such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and many European countries, these sentiments remained largely silenced by vocal messages promoting diversity, multiculturalism, and compassion. It remains the duty of New Zealand to continue these wholly positive messages and remain an example for the rest of the world to follow. In countries like Australia, the far right wing in recent years has flourished in the wake of global migratory patterns. Such instances as the 2015-16 refugee crisis, a result of the Syrian Civil War, perpetuated a growing anxiety across nations regarding the leniency of border control policies and the possibility of terror-related acts. However, such far right parties are already experiencing cracks within their systems. A prime time interview was recently conducted with the co-founder of the German far right wing party, Alexander Gauland. When he was asked about the issues of climate change, retirement, education, and digitization, it was revealed that the party had no realistic or tangible solutions that would successfully equip themselves with the necessary policies to incite effective change. Rather than bolstering support for the party, the interview helped quash political support for the far right. As noted by Marcel Dirsus, a political scientist at the University of Kiel, “These should be questions that should be easy to answer for any political leader, because they are so important for the future of Germany.”
While the city of Christchurch, and indeed the international community, reels after the events of 15 March, a glimmer of hope shines through. In a press statement delivered in the immediate hours of the shooting, Arden’s message that “they are us” showcased the humility, togetherness, and binding connection we all possess as citizens of the world. This simple, yet powerful message can be thought of as a lesson that all countries can adopt and enforce. Through local initiatives designed to foster a sense of integration and belonging, the demise of attitudes that endorse mantras of separation, difference, and violence will engender a more peaceful, secure environment. It all starts with the recognition that we are one, or more profoundly, the recognition that “they are us.”