Empathetic response blends the collective spirit of tolerance

Empathetic response blends the collective spirit of tolerance

But the Christchurch Massacre pierces the Nation’s heart

Priyanca Radhakrishnan

Friday, March 15, 2019 will forever be a day etched in our collective memories.

On this day, a terrorist stormed two Mosques in Christchurch, took 50 lives, left 50 others injured and broke our hearts across Aotearoa.

It was a targeted attack against our Muslim community and we cannot let it divide us.

Heartening response

In the face of this horrific attack, our response as a nation has been heartening.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been lauded domestically and internationally for her empathetic response to the victims of the attacks and her swift action on gun law reform.

The government responded quickly with direct support to the victims and families who have lost loved ones; there are countless stories of the bravery of those who were attacked and our first responders.

A majority of New Zealanders responded with empathy, love and solidarity.

Since the attack, I have attended a number of prayer services and vigils.

In addition to the vocal support for the Prime Minister and the wider Government, there has been a pervasive undercurrent of relief.

Relief that at a time when other world leaders have refused to denounce white supremacists and have blamed immigration policies for the attack, our leader stands strongly with people of colour and says, unafraid, that as a nation we will continue to welcome those who are of diverse ethnicities and languages; but that the door will close on those who espouse hate and extremist ideologies.

Freedom from racism

She acknowledged that safety doesn’t just refer to the absence of violence.

It also means being free from racism and hate.

The Prime Minister’s statement, ‘They are us,’ struck a chord simply because, for too long, people from ethnic minority communities haven’t felt like we truly belong.

Many, especially Muslim women who wear their faith visibly, have been told to go back home despite the fact that Islam has been in New Zealand since the 1850s and many are second or third generation Muslim New Zealanders who know no other home.

Many of us are asked where we’re really from – the assumption being if you have brown skin and a long name you can’t possibly be from New Zealand.

Our ethnic communities are woefully under-represented at every level of leadership in New Zealand.

We are a diverse society of over 200 ethnicities. Collectively, we speak over 160 languages.

Challenge of Change

Change of this magnitude is not without challenge. How do we ensure that people from our diverse communities have a voice as New Zealand continues to change?

How do we break down the barriers that continue to ‘Other’ certain communities?

Perhaps we also need to look inward, within our own communities and challenge our own biases and prejudices.

Let us examine at which voices deem to represent us as a whole and whose voices are excluded. Do we value the voices of our women and our younger generations?

If we truly value different perspectives and lived experiences, perhaps it is about time we made space for them to be heard.

The horrific act of terror that we suffered on March 15 is our call to action.

In the immediate aftermath, we have seen an outpouring of love and solidarity from a majority of New Zealanders, which has provided much-needed support and comfort.

Muslims praying at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch on March 22, 2019, a week after a terrorist killed 50 people (Photo by AFP and other Licensors)

Widespread Xenophobia

Unfortunately, we have also seen xenophobia, hate and fear raise its ugly head – and it is not confined to white supremacists. It is alive and well across all our communities.

Nobody has a monopoly on hate. We are all capable of it. We are also all capable of empathy, love and compassion.

I am reminded of a Native American parable: A Cherokee elder teaching his grandson says, “There is a terrible fight going on inside me. It a fight between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.”

He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

As we stand united in grief, we must stand united in strength to fight the hate that underpinned the attack.

Let us work together to ensure that our diversity is truly valued, that we are supported to maintain what makes us unique as New Zealanders – regardless of where we come from – and that we are able to participate in society in a meaningful way.

That would make us a truly multicultural society that values diversity.

Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a Member of Parliament on Labour List. Her Electorate Office is based in Maungakiekie (Level 1, Crighton House, 100 Neilson Street), Auckland.

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