As a country that prides itself on its liberal, moral outlook, we must now confront the fact that our values are under threat from a hatred that has been brewing under the surface for longer than we would like to admit.
Words do not suffice when attempting to describe the sorrow many New Zealanders are feeling right now. The terror attack in Christchurch has shocked my homeland, a nation which prides itself on its inclusive diversity. It has sparked an outpouring of grief, and a commitment to solidarity with our Muslim brothers and sisters who call Aotearoa home.
But it should also serve as a wake-up call to our politicians and our people, that while we may be geographically isolated from the rest of the world, the right-wing extremism and Islamophobia, which is so obvious in many other parts of the world, has found a foothold within our country.
New Zealand has built its reputation on being a liberal, moral, on-the-right-side-of-history type of place. We were the first to give women the vote, flew the anti-nuclear banner in the 70s and 80s - and nearly ruined our relationship with the US as a result - and came out onto the streets in the thousands to protest against apartheid during the 1981 Springbok rugby tour.
In the last few years, campaigns to increase New Zealand’s refugee quota have taken hold. Supporters lamented our low intake of refugees, and encouraged kiwis to stand up for those facing war and famine, by offering them a safe harbour in our own little piece of paradise.
Indeed, whenever anyone asks me about where I’m from, I’m eager to espouse the stable, welcoming, and above all safe place that I call home. After reporting from some of the most dangerous places on the planet, I’ve always been proud to say that New Zealand is exempt from the hatred and violence easily witnessed elsewhere.
That is no longer the case. And the hatred has been brewing much longer than we would like to accept.
At least one of the alleged attackers in this attack has made clear he’s been radicalised online, pushed further toward committing the unspeakable by those that champion white supremacy on the internet. New Zealand has not taken this threat seriously. Right wing extremism has been something those poor Europeans suffer from, not something we need to address in our own backyard.
We failed to question our priorities when reports surfaced that the NZ Security Intelligence Service was asking Muslims to spy on their own. We quickly moved on from a racist attack in which covered women were told they don’t have the right to be here. We’ve written off the desecration of Jewish headstones with swastikas and have been told they don’t represent the opinion of New Zealanders.
The majority of New Zealanders abhor this kind of hatred, but we’ve failed to confront those who accept and disseminate it. And now we grieve together for our much-loved Muslim whanau.
He aha te mea nui o te ao
He tangata, he tangata, he tangata
What is the most important thing in the world?
It is the people, it is the people, it is the people
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