On Easter Sunday (April 21, 2019), in a series of coordinated bomb blasts in Churches and luxury Hotels across Sri Lanka, lives of about 250 people were taken and many hundred more were injured. It was yet another targeted, violent attack on people who were on holiday and at places of Worship on what was arguably the Holiest Day for Christians.
Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, issued a statement that condemned the violence and reiterated New Zealand’s strengthened resolve to reject terrorism after the attacks in Christchurch. She also emphasised the need for the global community to collectively find the will and answers to end such violence.
Reflecting on changes
As I attended vigils organised by members of Auckland’s Sri Lankan communities and heard them discuss what victims and their families would need in the coming weeks and months, I also reflected on the changes made in New Zealand over the last month.
Our government has moved swiftly in the wake of the Christchurch attacks.
Soon after the attacks, the PM announced that there would be a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the attacks – this level of formal inquiry is usually reserved for the most serious matters of public importance.
The Royal Commission will inquire into what relevant state sector agencies knew about the terrorist’s activities before the attack; what, if anything, they did with that information; what measures agencies could have taken to prevent this attack and what measures agencies should take to prevent such attacks in the future.
Gun Laws reformed
Less than a month after the deadliest shootings in New Zealand’s modern history, Parliament voted almost unanimously to reform our gun laws.
The Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines and parts) Amendment Bill (the Bill) that was passed on April 10, 2019, resulted in a ban on all semi-automatic and military-style weapons. All weapons used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks were banned.
I was in the Debating Chamber as the Bill was read for the third and final time and was passed almost unanimously. I felt proud to be supporting a government that acted swiftly and with compassion.
I felt sad that it took a massacre of this scale to prompt gun law reform when there have been so many failed attempts to do just that in recent years.
I also felt hope because when both sides of the House work together towards a common good we can achieve so much for the people who elected us.
There is so much more that can be achieved with collective global action.
Social Media Responsibility
In her statement in Parliament, just days after the Christchurch attacks Ms Ardern pledged to look at the role social media played and the steps that New Zealand could take, including on the global stage, to ensure that social media platforms took some responsibility in the fight against terrorism.
She said, “We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published. They are the publisher. Not just the postman.”
The Christchurch Call
Last week, she announced that New Zealand would work with France to bring together world leaders and tech companies to agree to a pledge called the ‘Christchurch Call’ to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.
She acknowledged the benefits of social media platforms in connecting people and emphasised that those aspects should continue. However, it is possible to also use those platforms to incite violence and to distribute images of that violence, as was the case during the Christchurch attacks.
While other countries like Australia, Germany and the United Kingdom have already begun to take action locally against social media platforms that distribute harmful content, an issue of this scale requires collective global action.
An inclusive society
We also need to take collective action to build a more inclusive society here in Aotearoa so that the hate and ‘othering’ that underpins extremist violence and terrorism are stamped out.
During the recent Easter weekend, I attended a community gathering organised by the Somali Education and Development Trust that was aimed at starting a conversation on some practical steps we could take to build a more peaceful, inclusive society.
There were many good speeches and suggestions, including a short but powerful one by Chinwe Akomah, President of the African Communities Forum who said that we should all make a conscious effort to step out of our comfort zones and speak to people who are different from us. They may belong to a different ethnic or religious community; they may come from a different walk of life or have different perspectives. Let’s all make it a point to seek them out and learn more about them.
That is one simple, tangible step that we can all take in an attempt to make our society a more inclusive one that celebrates and learns from our diversity.
Priyanca Radhakrishnan is a Member of Parliament on Labour List representing Maungakiekie, Auckland.
Officials inspect the damaged St Sebastian’s Church in Negombo, north of Colombo, which was another of the Churches attacked in the bombings on Easter Sunday. Photo: AFP/Chamila Karunarathne/Anadolu Agency