Having just used my new US passport to wiz through border control after returning from a whirlwind funeral visit to London, I nevertheless continue to feel a deep gratitude for my New Zealand heritage. We all continue to reel from the shock of recent events in my home town of Christchurch. This attack is even more shocking because it took place in a peaceful and well-integrated community. The words of New Zealand’s inspirational Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, echo through our thoughts -
this is not who we are!
The Prime Minister’s response to the terrible atrocity committed against members of Christchurch’s Muslim Community continues to articulate the spirit of this small nation of only 4.8 million. By and large, New Zealanders are no longer a traditionally religious people in the sense that the majority of Americans might still make this claim. However, the spirituality of Maori Taonga (Maori culture) speaks strongly across NZ communities whether Maori or Pakeha (the Maori name for New Zealanders of European descent).
New Zealand is not a perfect place when it comes to race consciousness. Indigenous Maori and other immigrant Polynesian communities are still over represented in both the army and the criminal justice system. Yet, NZ is a nation that has been coming to terms with its history of European expansionism, taking active steps to put things right by honoring the extensive provisions of the 1840
Treaty of Waitangi
, made between the Maori tribes and the British Crown. Through successive acts of Parliament, the government has addressed 180-years of racial injustice. Unlike Australia where the politics of white supremacy have deep roots, enshrined for many years in what was officially known as the White Australia Policy, New Zealand has welcomed successive waves of refugees from the Vietnamese Boat People to the recent global wave of Muslim refugees, who now form around 1% (52,000) of New Zealand’s 4.8 million population.
Small and plucky New Zealand reminds Americans of their highest aspirations and their better selves. Like American’s, New Zealanders too have a rugged independent character that goes with a hunting, gun owning culture. Yet in contrast to Congress’ paralysis, the NZ government’s swift move to ban assault weapons both encourages many us to hope that where there is a political and social will, something sensible can be done to balance legitimate ownership of firearms with the safety interests of wider society. Yet, that which encourages us to believe change is possible also leaves us despondent. Unlike in New Zealand, American society overly influenced by fear mongering politicians continues to struggle to openly acknowledge the deep roots of ethnic and racial violence embedded in its history.
The image of New Zealand as an idyllic refuge from the violence afflicting the rest of the world has now been exposed as the escapist fantasy it always was. In its place something more valuable emerges. There is danger from fanatic violence everywhere. There are no such things as walls that will keep us 100% safe. But how good it must feel to live in a country that believes in the community’s power to confront current violence and hatred with an effective response.
Let’s all draw hope from New Zealand’s response to the recent slaying of innocent people in the cause of resurgent white terrorism, and recommit ourselves to become the change we long to see!
See you in church, this Sunday!