I write this with heavy heart and deep sadness. My thoughts are with all those affected by the tragedy in Christchurch; I stand by them, as do all Kiwis. As I write this, I hear reports that the youngest victim was just five, pursued and gunned down in cold blood. There are no words to describe just how appalling all this has been. This is not New Zealand.
Yesterday, 15 March, was an extraordinary day. It was the day of the ‘school strike,’ the protest at climate change. I walked through Parliament grounds, as I sometimes do around lunchtime. It’s always open to the public. People often picnic in the grounds. As I walked by the crowd was being addressed by Green party leaders, urging them to keep talking to their MP’s.
I reflected on how lucky New Zealand is – one of the top four democracies in the world by the EIU’s 2018 democracy list. Only Norway, Iceland and Sweden rank ahead of us. We are one of the few nations in the world to be made a democracy from the start – specifically, by the 1852 Constitution Act. In 1893, New Zealand became the first country in the world to introduce universal suffrage.
It’s a country where diversity is welcomed; where kindness, tolerance and compassion are virtues. New Zealand is a place where those oppressed elsewhere know they can be safe; where ordinary people can express reasonable views without fear of being persecuted.
Then, as the afternoon unfolded, something appalling happened. Something I would never have thought to see in New Zealand, the country I was born in, the country where a large part of my life’s work has been dedicated to understanding how it came to be as it is today. By evening, the death toll stood at 49, with 48 in hospital, some critically wounded.
Based on what the Prime Minister outlined in her media conference last night, all was conducted by one man and a couple of friends – extremists. Doubtless the full story will unfold as police and intelligence services investigate. But it begs questions. How can anybody sully this country with such evil? And where now for New Zealand?
As we weep in our hearts and stand beside those who have suffered loss, who are suffering, and who will continue to suffer from an event of darkest evil, without precedent or parallel in our history – I think New Zealand in general has no choice other than to move forward with the tolerance, kindness and compassion that has been so much a part of our life and society.
Through that, I think, we can show a strength far greater than that of cowards who believe they can resolve their own insecurities by blaming others and then destroying their lives.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2019