LAST Friday’s horrific attack on two mosques in the quiet New Zealand city of Christchurch shocked the world, with people of all faiths condemning the barbaric slaughter.
While the tragedy has started a much-needed global conversation about white nationalist terrorism, it has also brought into focus the compassionate response of the leadership and people of New Zealand.
Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, the people of this land down under have shown many in both the East and the West how a tragedy of such huge proportions should be handled, and how governments should react in times of crisis.
Right after the rampage, Ms Ardern led from the front, meeting survivors and the heirs of victims, condoling with them and offering the full support of the state.
During a parliament session on Tuesday, Ms Ardern began her speech with ‘salaam’, while a cleric recited verses from the Holy Quran. It was also announced that the azan for Juma prayers would be broadcast nationally on Friday in remembrance of the victims of the massacre.
The way that New Zealanders have stood by a minority, largely immigrant community in their hour of need has been nothing short of admirable.
In contrast, in many other parts, governments and populations have hardened their stance. For example, the Trump presidency has been marked by divisive anti-immigrant rhetoric, with the American president supported in his views by the extreme right and white nationalists in the US.
As observers pointed out in the aftermath of the Christchurch attack, Mr Trump has never visited a mosque, despite the fact that millions of Muslims call America home.
Moreover, the extreme right has also been on the march in Europe; in some states, specifically in central and eastern Europe, ultranationalist parties or their supported candidates have entered the corridors of power.
The mood in much of the West, thus, is one of intolerance and fear — if not hatred — of the ‘other’. Meanwhile in Pakistan (and many other Muslim states), the treatment of minority communities, even those who have always lived here, is hardly commendable.
While there may not be a state-led effort to persecute non-Muslims, we have sidelined religious minorities, often remaining impassive even in the event of major attacks against them.
It should be remembered that New Zealand itself has gone through major changes over the decades.
Founded as a distant outpost of the British Empire and colonised by Europeans, its own indigenous Maori population was marginalised by the settlers. However, particularly since the late 20th century, the country has attempted to go beyond its colonial past and embrace a progressive future.
Perhaps this sentiment is best summed up by one of Ms Ardern’s post-Christchurch tweets when she said, with reference to migrants, that “... New Zealand is their home — they are us”.
Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2019