It’s been a week since the indescribable tragedy that took place in Christchurch, New Zealand. To say it’s a difficult thing to come to terms with is something of an understatement. I’ve been to Christchurch, about ten years ago, and I would never have imagined it could be the scene of such horrific violence. When I hear about a similar incident taking place in the United States, it’s devastating, yes—but with America’s seeming inability to respond appropriately to such violence, it feels sadly commonplace. But a country like New Zealand is not like that at all, which makes last Friday’s events even harder to fathom.
I’ve heard and read a lot of talk about how such a thing could happen. Something that struck me was the importance of understanding the Internet’s role in all of this. This discussion on PBS raises some interesting insights: https://www.pbs.org/video/shields-and-brooks-on-new-zealand-massacre-2020-democrats-1552690199/
Now obviously, there’s the issue of how the perpetrator tried to use online platforms to further his agenda and whether these platforms could have responded faster. But there’s also the separate problem of hateful people congregating online and reinforcing their dangerous beliefs. Bigots of all kinds. Misogynists. Racists. Homophobes. Anti-Semitics. Islamaphobes. White supremacists, usually male, who get angry about other people being afforded the same rights as them.
An interesting point is raised in the video. Before the advent of online communities, these types of people generally learned to keep their opinions to themselves as espousing such ideas in public was a sure way to become a social pariah. But through the Internet, these people can find other like-minded individuals. They encourage each other and reinforce each other’s beliefs, which emboldens them. And with the current climate in the US, they’re emboldened further still: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/03/18/trump-is-likely-emboldening-hate-groups-its-time-tougher-questions-about-this/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.697acc809ced
But exploring that side of the question can only get us so far. How people react to something like this is what matters most. Sadly, many react to such events in the wrong way. One example is the way news broadcasters and online sites respond to terrorists. In the manner in which they report their atrocities, too many unwittingly become free publicity outlets for these people, even distributing and airing their propaganda videos for them to deliver their messages. Whether it’s to promote fear or to recruit extremists, many news outlets seem all too willing to lend them a helping hand. And of course, we can always look to the United States for examples of how not to respond to such things, with the aftermath of the Charlottesville incident and the token ‘thoughts and prayers’ response to every mass shooting they have over there. Thoughts and prayers don’t prevent gun violence.
However, I’ve found some comfort and no small measure of hope in the response to the tragedy in New Zealand, particularly from the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. I have a lot of admiration for this remarkable leader and I can only imagine how my own country of Australia could be if our leaders could take a cue from her. Someone who is human, who cares for others and who actually exhibits the qualities of leadership.
This article sums up a lot of my feelings quite well and it’s worth a read:
In the wake of the event, Jacinda Ardern did not waste words. New Zealand is wounded and she’s working tirelessly to heal that wound. Her response was no token thoughts and prayers comment. She stated that action will be taken to amend New Zealand’s gun laws and in less than a week, this has taken place. Furthermore, her message to everyone not just New Zealanders, is one of embracing diversity and rejecting those who seek to take that gift away. That’s a message we should all take to heart. And throughout this whole ordeal, she has shown compassion and kindness for others. In this day and age of corporate governance, emerging totalitarian regimes and numerous bullies in positions of power, we need more Jacinda Arderns. She is a leader for our times and I can only hope others watch and learn.
How people respond to these events is crucial and what New Zealand does in the coming months will mold the country for years to follow. But what I’ve seen this past week gives me hope. I believe this tiny nation in the south Pacific will be an example for us all.