The Chistchurch Islam slaughter

Words cannot convey the ranges of emotions and thoughts following the tragic mass shooting in Christchurch on 15/3/19. They will continue for some time before life returns to "normal" - which I suggest is actually sub-normal. There will be changes re gun laws, attempts to restrict "hate speech" and so on - all intended to stop this happening again in little old NZ - but dealing with underlying issues is much more difficult. Seeing the unity around the tragedy is encouraging, but core attitudes are deeply embedded.

In 1948 when Churchill said "Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it" he was paraphrasing George Santayana from earlier in the century, and sadly it seems so many today have little real understanding of the thoughts of men of a foregone era - they seem largely irrelevant to today's faster and "smarter" society, even though people are stil much the same and wisdom gained from their times would be useful now. It is interesting, given the role of Germany in the two world wars, two Germans stood (among many) against the evils of the time.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed just before the end of WWII for his part in an unsuccessful assassination plot against Hitler. He was against killing anyone - but after wrestling with the idea, decided killing Hitler was the lesser of two evils. Many of us could easily feel the same way about the Australian shooter. Yet he too is human - even though he clearly didn't hold the same views toward his victims.

The other is Martin Niemöller, perhaps most commonly known for this:

First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Two actions in the recent tragedy stand in contrast in my mind. The first is our Prime Minister. She did everything she could to lead the sharing of the grief of the Muslim community, and the wider Kiwi community. Yet her attitude to the killer was not to even mention his name. Compared with the wheelchair-bound Moslem talking about the loss of his wife, our PM's (and most Kiwi's including me) response seemed so inadequate. He had already forgiven the hate-filled man - recognising what he had lost to become so hate-filled.

It's ironic that his example stands in contrast with others who regard themselves as Islamic examples and hate those who are not like them - even at times different parts of Islam. Their hatred can lead to executions - often on a large scale. (Of course it works the other way - just recall Kosovo.) Even when it doesn't lead to death, it does involve loss of human rights - often among their own people, such as women.

People in our society have the right to live, free and unthreatened. Currently, we are discussing euthanasia - and people are genuinely fearful they may be encouraged to take this option. We've seen once a gate is opened, it is soon forced wider. We might consider modernising Niemöller's quote, starting with people whose lives were ended before birth - they've now been redefined as less than human, and the euthanasia debate is following a similar path.

This is not an anti-abortion or anti-euthanasia statement - it's much more than that. When I looked into proposals for drug legislation, I was struck by the example of Portugal. It wasn't their drug legislation that made such an impact - it was the efforts they made to bring people in from the edges of society. Should people be made as though they're not wanted in society, is that any different?

I recently came across a book on economics: Small is Beautiful - Economics as if People Mattered by E. F. Schumacher. He was an Oxford-trained economist and a colleague of Keynes but few people have heard of him. This book was called by Time magazine "An eco-bible") - long before ecology had become well known. This guy set out an economic vision that is so different from the one that rules the West today - the one that has led to massive waste and a formerly unimaginable gap between the richest and poorest that leads to poverty and violence.

The world doesn't have to be as it is. If you feel comfortable with that, we don't have to be as we are. When we saw a wheel-chair bound Moslem saying he forgave the gunman for the deaths of his wife and 49 others, surely we saw forgiveness and compassion as seldom seen in the world in which we currently live.

So many decisions are based on things being the way they are. In particular when someone says "it's not affordable", that's usually the end of the argument. Should it be? Is money the most important thing in the world? Because that's the way the world runs.

In case you don't know, I'm an accountant. I understand the role of money, and how important it is not to waste it. But it's only one factor. Much more important are people. Yet people - especially poor people - are marginalised. Helping the poor is not about giving money, and it's not about taking more from the rich, although they - especially the richest can give more, as long as it's done wisely. It primarily more about freeing ourselves from some of the things that count for nothing, and giving ourselves to those around us. Of course, if those around us are all like us, we need to widen our thinking. As Jacinda said of the Moslems in our midst, they are us.

 

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Last modified: 28 November 2020.