It’s been a tough fortnight for the world. It’s been a tough fortnight for New Zealand. It’s been a tough fortnight for Christchurch. It’s been a tough fortnight for the Muslim communities in all of those places.
The sheer scale of the terror attacks on Friday 15 March in the Al Noor Mosque, next to Hagley Park, and then soon after at the Linwood Islamic Centre, has rocked the globe. Few people have been unaffected. A friend of mine lost family friends and another was shot and has so far had two surgeries. Crossing everything I have that he comes out of intensive care and makes a full recovery, at least in a physical sense. And he’s one of the lucky ones. 50 others weren’t so fortunate. And many more than 50 families have have been torn apart.
The response from the international community has been swift, as it should have been, and a photo of our prime minister Jacinda Ardern wearing a black hijab has come to represent all that is inclusive about NZ and its approach, in general, to the world and the various communities that make up our amazing planet. People have been impressed by her example of leadership.
I grew up in suburban Christchurch attending St Alban’s Primary School, a bilingual school that had a class for members of the local Māori community to learn the NZ curriculum in Māori. Later, at Burnside High School, I had friends from Australasia, Asia, Europe, Africa and America. I gravitated towards some of the international exchange students because I was fascinated with the world outside of NZ and what it had to offer. My parents gave me the travel bug when I was eight and I’ve never looked back.
When the first Afghani immigrants came to settle in NZ, my father was part of an organisation that helped them integrate into the local community and learn how to use public transport, where to find the library, supermarkets etc. He, along with mum, passed on their values of inclusivity, diversity and love for people from all walks of life to my brother and me.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Middle East, Northern Africa and the Mediterranean region ever since I began learning about Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece and Alexander the Great in Classics, with Mrs Fernandez and Mr Walker, in my final two years at high school.
The people who come from these parts of the globe and parts of Asia are like anyone you’ll meet. They have the same conversations about life, love, the world, and our place within it.
Some of them even decided to come to NZ and make it their home. For the most part, I like to think they’ve been welcomed as they’ve settled in to a new way of life a long way from where they grew up.
Horrifically, the land of the long white cloud has cruelly become a place no one ever imagined it could have. It’s still is hard to believe, sitting in my living room in Oxford watching everything unfold online, as it has for those not living in New Zealand, that something of this magnitude could have ever happened in Aotearoa.
Social media has been and will continue to be an incredible force for good. It’s enabled so many of us to connect to the world around us in a positive manner. I also think that, in the wake of this horror, it’s crucial that social media platforms – namely Facebook, YouTube, Reddit and Twitter – reconsider their position on how they choose to operate. One of their key revenue streams is from anyone being allowed to upload content that can then be monetised by advertising. I suspect 90%+ of the time this is probably legitimate content – I won’t debate the merits of cute kitten videos on this blog – but, sadly, there are times when hate-filled content is spread via algorithms designed to show viewers related content that they might enjoy. This can have a dangerous impact as was the case of the live streamed video of the shooter’s GoPro broadcast via Facebook Live and then shared and watched over a million times on YouTube, despite the best efforts of the tech giant to delete the content. It will be interesting to see what efforts will be made to ensure the wildfire spread of the footage of this hateful act can never happen again. Their legacy depends on this.
So, today (Friday in NZ) was an opportunity for NZ and the world to be together, as a national service for the terror victims was broadcast around the country from Christchurch. Many important dignitaries and special guests were in attendance. Cat Stevens, known as Yusuf since his conversion to Islam, performed and I think that’s pretty cool for a little old town such as Christchurch to have one of the most iconic singer songwriters of our lifetime perform and pay tribute to those 50 beautiful souls and those they’ve left behind.
So, as I head to bed, my heart aches for Christchurch and all those affected by the terrible tragedy that befell my hometown a fortnight ago. I pray for the victims and their whanaus and I can only hope that through the murkiness of war and hatred, peace and love will find their way.
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