New Zealand's immediate response to the Christchurch mosque attacks was great - but now it's time to do more

Justin Wong

Only real action, not empty words of solidarity, can help make New Zealand a better place for minorities

Justin Wong |

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The attacks on two mosques in Christchurch shocked many New Zealanders.

There was an outpouring of support for Kiwi Muslims immediately after the Christchurch mosque attacks, regardless of political ideology, race, or religion.

In just three days, NZ$6 million (HK$32 million) was raised to help the families of the 50 victims who died in that horrible massacre more than two weeks ago.

I hoped this tragedy would force New Zealanders, who pretend racism against people of colour does not exist, to see the real picture and to begin to help make their home a better place for refugees and ethnic minorities.

But apart from the first few days, which included many people changing their Facebook profile pictures to include words of solidarity, no one seems to be committed to making fundamental changes to solve the problem.

The Muslims’ call to prayer was broadcast live on TV during a vigil seven days after the attacks, and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern wore a headscarf to the event. Afterwards, comments on news articles were posted online that read: “Become a New Zealander … take them [headscarves] off”; and “I’ve got loads of empathy, but this is ridiculous and it’s gone too far.”

Last week, after social media companies announced that they would begin banning white supremacist posts, there was this comment: “Without free speech we are nothing, New Zealand.”

And under stories about survivors or opinion pieces discussing the attacks you can find anything along the lines of: “Do you have any new stories?”

The wounds of the survivors will heal, and the dead will rest in peace, but the rhetoric that allowed this to happen still remains in the foundations of this country. Although I haven’t personally experienced verbal racism in New Zealand, others have. Despite this, when those – many of them born in New Zealand – on the receiving end of it speak about their ordeals, they are often ridiculed or dismissed.

This ongoing situation is not helped by the number of far-right speakers that plan their meetings in New Zealand. Last year, for example, two far-right activists from Canada were granted visas to visit New Zealand for public speaking events.

Many turned a blind eye towards the nature of the events. Others vilified those opposed to the meetings as “wreckers of free speech”, even though the speeches themselves incited hatred and might have potentially radicalised people to wage violence against minority groups.

Empty words of solidarity will not make this attack “not a part of us”. Only real action can.

Otherwise, the horrors of Al Noor and Linwood mosques can and will happen in other parts of the world, not just in New Zealand.

“Kia kaha, kia kotahi ra. As-salaam alaikum.” Our strength is our unity. Peace be with you.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne

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