The Christchurch massacre has challenged New Zealanders’ self-image

Mar 21, 2019

“THIS ISN’T New Zealand” has become a national refrain. After a white supremacist’s attack on mosques in Christchurch, a shocked country is mourning the 50 worshippers he killed. Condolences are scrawled in chalk on pavements. White New Zealanders pull Muslim immigrants aside to apologise and Maoris dance hakas for the dead. Thousands have gathered for vigils. Florists have run out of stock. As for the prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, she has displayed leadership and compassion. Wearing a Muslim headscarf, she stresses that the whole country is on the side of the victims (many immigrants, some refugees) and their families. “They,” she says, “are us.” The perpetrator of the violence most assuredly is not.

For under attack too was New Zealand’s own image as a uniquely open and tolerant place. To many Kiwis it came as a relief that the alleged assailant grew up in that raw-edged place across the Tasman Sea, Australia. Ms Ardern has suggested that New Zealand was a target precisely because of its inclusiveness.

This image matters hugely to New Zealanders, and many newcomers quickly adopt it. One of the survivors in Christchurch was Yasif Hussein, who immigrated from Fiji four years ago. He describes lying on the ground, looking straight up into the assailant’s face and thinking his end had come. Yet, having somehow survived...


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