I’m back from a brief hiatus. Before I posted anything else about New Zealand, I wanted to address the March terror attack in Christchurch. I was not there, but I thank everyone who called and texted to make sure that I was safe.
I was at work when the new reports first came in. Nothing about the day prior to the news was remarkable. Around 3pm a colleague received news that there had been a shooting at a mosque in Christchurch. Others around me were visibly shaken and upset. At the time, I wasn’t sure how big of a deal this was. I wasn’t even certain of the distance of Christchurch from where I was in Wellington.
Sadly, as an American, this isn’t the first or even twelfth situation like this that has happened in my relative proximity. The reactions of me and the kiwis were in stark contrast. I went to the familiar sad place that I often go when this type of things happens. I waited for the dust to settle and the facts to solidify. The kiwis around me were reading every update as it came in. While the little bubble I’d been living in since my arrival to New Zealand was burst, their entire view of the world was shaken.
Later when I got home and finally listened to the news reports I heard the reporters say “We can’t believe that this has happened here.” I got a sick sense of déjà vu. I was a child during 9/11 and Columbine. The disbelief that something so horrific can happen in your own back yard. My heart hurts at every tragedy that has occurred since then, but I can no longer be shocked.
As a child I took these terror attacks as a part of the norm. The rhetoric never seemed to change, and I don’t really believe that I ever really felt like my voice had power. Sure, I stayed informed, I voted in every election, and I spoke out about it at every opportunity, but what could I do?
I’ve always been an empathetic person. Maybe that’s why every tragedy feels like its so close to home, but this one hits a little different. I am not a Kiwi, I have never been to Christchurch, and other than being a human being, there isn’t anything that should make this tragedy more singular than any other. Yet, it left me shook and I thought it wise (and good for my mental health) to process what I was going through.
Christchurch has shown me the difference that a leader can make. After 9/11, Bush’s has been quoted to say “My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass." Then he prayed. Then America proceeded to enter a time of war that is pushing twenty years now. Thousands of people have been killed since then. I saw a shift of how Muslims and Middle-Easterners were treated in the States.
Maybe Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, had the opportunity to learn from the misteps of world leaders before her. Being present to witness the leadership of Jacinda has definitely had a profound impact on my life. Everyone in New Zealand calls the prime minister by her first name, Jacinda, because she is just that accessible to her constituents. When Jacinda first was elected to office, her first speech at the UN was about kindness (and included the Native language of the indigenous people of her nation). In her speech she addresses that the remoteness of her nation has contributed to the overall demeanor of the citizens. It’s easy to talk about compassion and kindness when you don’t share a border, haven’t been in a war since the first half of the 20th century and are considered one of the safest countries in the world. What impressed me about Jacinda’s is that when tragedy, hate and violence came to her front door she met it with the same beliefs she has always stood on.
In the aftermath of the attacks, Jacinda outright rejected the ideologies of the perpetrators and called for Kiwis to stand together with the victims and the fallen. She addressed the fallen, not the attacker. And the country followed suit. After the attacks I was so moved by how the entire nation was moved to stand in solidarity with the victims. The trending hashtags were “Christchurch Strong” “We are them”.
I was amazed that New Zealand promptly addressed the gaps in the gun laws. New Zealand also has universal healthcare so the victims and survivors of the attacks aren’t saddled with astronomical medical bills. Everyone involved was respectful of the victims beliefs. Jacinda, as well as female members of the Police, coroners, and forensics teams wore hijabs in the mosque. Women across the country wore them in solidarity with the mantra “We are them”.
Seeing this kind of leadership is something that I won’t soon forget. I have heard politicians and reporters talk in circles for years about how “It cant be done”. I am no longer accepting that as an answer. I now have a new level of accountability to which I hold my government leaders. I hope we all can learn from this. We cannot no longer foster an environment where things like this continue to happen.
Pella the Pilgrim.