A nation overcoming hate
DIPLOMATIC POUCH - David Strachan (The Philippine Star) - April 13, 2019 - 12:00am

New Zealanders are still coming to terms with the savage terrorist attack in Christchurch on 15 March that left 50 New Zealanders dead. The terrorist, an extreme right wing white supremacist, who live-streamed on Facebook his murderous spree at two mosques, was a chilling manifestation of the very worst of humanity. New Zealanders of all persuasions were deeply shocked by the attack which will go down as the darkest day in our modern history. The attack was even more insidious as it occurred at places of worship.

The evil mind-set at play in Christchurch was the same as that which motivated those responsible for the Jolo Cathedral bombings in January this year which left more than 20 innocent Filipinos dead and more than 100 wounded. 

For all the terrorist’s methodical planning of his murderous rampage, his assumption that the attack would divide New Zealanders has proved utterly wrong. On the contrary, there has been an outpouring of compassion, love and solidarity for our Muslim brothers and sisters who we cherish as a rich part of our society. As Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said; “they are us”. Her words struck a responsive chord with a great many New Zealanders and indeed from around the world. 

On Friday 22 March, one week after the attacks, two minutes silence and reflection was observed by people the length and breadth of New Zealand. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders joined vigils for the victims and families of this terrorist attack. Tears were shed by Sonny Bill Williams, an iconic All Black and Muslim convert, who comforted some of the victims in their hospital beds.

Speaking in memory of the victims, a local imam, draped in the New Zealand flag, said that while our hearts are broken, our unity as a nation is not. In an extraordinary scene, an imam led the prayer in parliament and the adhan (Muslim call to prayer) was aired live on national radio and television. The symbolism provided a poignant and meaningful sense of national unity. 

On Friday 29 March a national remembrance service of victims of the attacks was held in Christchurch. It was jointly led by the Government of New Zealand, the city of Christchurch, Ngai Tahu, the M?ori iwi (tribe) in the South Island and the Muslim community. The service was marked by song and speeches expressing sympathy, faith and unity against hatred.

Immigrants are warmly welcomed in New Zealand. They include more than 60,000 “Pinoy Kiwis,” our fastest growing ASEAN community in New Zealand. From the wine valleys to our market gardens, to the sporting field, business and the arts, immigrants have contributed an enormous amount to our economy, prosperity and status in the world.

Our diversity is something that we value and celebrate. New Zealand is one of the most multicultural nations in the world. We are a small nation of just 4.5 million people, but with over 200 ethnicities and 160 languages.

New Zealand is a strongly secular society, but we have always upheld religious freedoms. We acknowledge too that the strength of any democracy is often judged by the way it treats its minorities. Successive New Zealand governments over the past 30 years have done much to address legitimate historical grievances of M?ori, our indigenous people. We have strong human rights institutions to protect minorities and hold government to account. 

We are proud of our long tradition of accepting refugees from conflict stricken countries. As our Prime Minister has said; “we offer a home for those who share our values and a refuge for those who need it.” New Zealanders pride themselves as peaceful nation where police do not carry guns. The terrorist attack struck against our core values.

Regrettably, like any country, New Zealand has its pockets of bigotry and racism. But the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders utterly reject racism and the poisonous and delusional white nationalist ideology that motivated the terrorist attack.

Over recent weeks I have been heartened by the kind words of support I have received from Muslim Filipino friends who, while horrified by the attacks on the New Zealand Muslim community, told me they were inspired by the response of the New Zealand Prime Minister and ordinary New Zealanders to events in Christchurch.

The terrorist attack in Christchurch was a reminder than no country, however geographically remote, is immune from the scourge of modern day extremism. Prime Minister Ardern has spoken of the need to address online extremism. Out of our shared anguish about what happened in Christchurch to our fellow New Zealanders, I am sure a stronger resolve will emerge to work with peace loving people around the world to reject terrorism and hate in all its forms.     

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(David Strachan is the ambassador of New Zealand.)

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