In case you’re somehow unaware, my home country of New Zealand suffered its worst ever mass murder event on Friday. A white supremacist, assisted in some way by accomplices, stormed two mosques and indiscriminately shot those inside, killing 50 men, women and children, and wounding as many more.
First, let me offer support in the only way I can think of – free coaching for anyone traumatised by the event, particularly anyone directly affected or supporting someone who was. Contact me firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help getting through this, either with me or I can discretely guide you to other support services.
While this post will be somewhat challenging NZ culture, I want to first commend our response. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern put other world leaders to shame with her genuinely heartfelt and unmoderated support. There can be no doubt in the Muslim community that she sees them as part of the NZ family.
Police responded within minutes to what was an extremely unusual situation, as quick as humanly possible, and even managed to arrest the guy so he can face justice. Most mass murderers are killed or commit suicide during their attacks, so NZ Police have given the victims some small chance at closure perhaps.
And the public in general was overwhelmingly supportive, compassionate and loving in their response. From social media through to public displays of welcome and condolences, most of the NZ public made it clear that we feel absolutely devastated in empathy with the victims and their families.
I was flying back to my new home in Czech Republic when the news came through. After a career working with sex offenders and murderers I guess I would have expected myself to be emotionally unaffected by something like this. But this time it hit me hard.
Perhaps it was just the sheer numbers of lives destroyed in such a short period of time. Or perhaps it’s because over the last few years running BROJO has led me to form many friendships with Muslims, and they have without exception treated me with kindness, humour and love. Maybe I’m simply embarrassed by entitled bitch-ass white power losers who can’t handle anything different to themselves.
I’m not someone you’d ever accuse of being pro-religion, but I am definitely pro-people. I’ve always welcomed friends into my life regardless of their beliefs, culture or race. I might argue and debate with them, but my love for them is unaffected by our differences in opinion on these matters. Terrorism is not an argument for/against faith – it is just a ruthlessly narcissistic bid for fame and glory; an outlet for blind hatred – a thinly veiled excuse to be a selfish c*nt.
Like many others, I guess I also was shocked because I had some sort of false-assumption about New Zealand being exempt from terrorism and horrible shit like this. Since living in Europe I’ve seen it happening nearby and have always seen New Zealand as my safe bolt-hole should everything elsewhere go to shit. This event forced me to reassess my beliefs, and made me quickly realise something that’s been in front of me for many years.
Lesson #1: New Zealand’s predjudices
Social media posts have been clear – “This man does not represent New Zealanders. Everyone is welcome here.”
On one hand, I appreciate this sentiment being broadcasted to reassure the Muslim community that this country does not condone such insane violence or the “reasons” behind it. I’m even more impressed by the small acts of love, like people dropping off flowers at their local mosque.
On the other hand, while I believe the people posting this message of support believe it, they are not speaking for some others who are staying quiet right now. This man was not really a lone wolf, he had accomplices and support, and the brutal truth we need to face is that he does in fact represent some of us. It’s only been a few days and already the people who support the gunman’s actions and motives are quietly crawling out of whatever hate-cave they’d been hiding in.
Since moving away from New Zealand and being able to observe from a distance, I’ve noticed a lack of self-awareness (other ex-pats I’ve spoken to have also noticed it). We seem to see ourselves as this clean, green, happy, multi-cultural, laid back and welcoming country. And yes, many of our people are like this. But, as clearly shown this week, some of us are not.
Anyone who went to school in West Auckland knows, like I do, how racist we can be towards anyone non-white, even native Maori. How harshly we bully homosexuals. How quickly we escalate to violence to solve even minor disputes. How easily we join gangs. How often we resort to suicide. How we manage our emotions with alcohol, drugs and risk-taking behaviour instead of talking.
We call Samoans and Tongans “Fobs” (fresh off the boat), highlighting our disgust with their immigration more than any other trait, yet we’re happy to include them in our All Blacks. We complain loudly of Asians buying NZ housing from overseas (and make almost no mention of the white ethnic groups doing the same thing), yet we’re happy to use Chinese-made electronics on a daily basis. We’re less likely to trust Indians with a loan than we are with Europeans, forgetting they fought beside us in Gallipoli and give us premium cricket competition.
Our hypocrisy must be addressed.
While many people showed their support after these attacks, many immigrants I’ve spoken with report to have experienced direct racism and prejudice regularly, and often feel like they’re seen as a lower class of people by “native” New Zealanders.
We’ve got to get over the idea that we’re somehow “better” than other countries, because this naivety allows men like Brenton Tarrant to exist, without shame and without detection.
Lesson #2: Our dark secrets
When I started working for Corrections, I came face to face with the harsh reality of the real New Zealand that lives beneath the clean green surface image.
We have some of the worst statistics for domestic violence, gang membership, imprisonment per capita, and suicide rates in the OECD.
Christchurch is known far and wide as a hotbed for white power beliefs, gangs and sympathizers. It’s just common knowledge, like knowing it’s always sunny in Nelson or that people from Invercargill are weird. I’ve personally witnessed guys in Christchurch walking around wearing Nazi symbols in public without seeming to fear any reprisals (I now regret not speaking up), and until now an insulation company blatantly supporting Nazi symbolism conducted business in peace.
Make no mistake: I’m not saying this murderer was a product of the Christchurch or New Zealand culture. Tarrant is almost certainly a psychopath (though not necessarily) – it’s unusual for cold-blooded mass-murder at this level to be committed by someone capable of empathy. Guys like that tend to be ticking time bombs from a early age, just waiting to be activated, and already the stereotypical “He kept to himself” story from neighbours is starting to emerge.
His “cause” is irrelevant – he’s likely to be a man who’s wanted to kill people for some time, and get famous, and he found himself a passable justification and strategy to make this happen. He’s probably no more complicated than that – just evil in its rawest form. People like this have always existed and there’s little to nothing we can do to prevent them – we can barely even identify them until it’s too late. (We can, however, make it more difficult for them to thrive, which I’ll discuss at the end.)
But perhaps Tarrant was able to thrive and build up towards this event by living in an environment that was naïve to his risk and in denial of his potential. NZ is, in fact, a perfect place for a psychopath like Tarrant to thrive and build a following of angry supporters. PM Ardern suggested that Tarrant took advantage of our safe, loving and free society, but I believe what he really took advantage of was our blind spot, created by our misguided pride.
NZ has a lot of rage and hate bubbling beneath the surface – as shown by the high imprisonment, suicide, domestic violence, and alcohol/drug abuse stats – it was only a matter of time before a monster used this to his advantage, and the next one might already be in the works as we speak.
We must face up to the bleak truth that New Zealand is not the safe-haven paradise we make it out to be, even if it is “safer” in comparison to other countries. Humans are humans wherever you go, NZ is just another place for them to live.
[That being said, we can see some of New Zealand’s cultural strengths in comparison with USA and Australia. Trump denies the seriousness of white nationalism while we acknowledge their existence. That racist Aussie senator smacked the egg-boi teen in the head and yet remains a senator – in NZ he would have lost his job overnight. New Zealand’s response to this tragedy – ranging from mass love and support to unequivocal promises to ban semi-automatic weapons – shows a lot of love, compassion and acceptance. This country is full of good people.]
Lesson #3: The threat of Nationalism
The trouble with us taking pride in being New Zealanders is that a) it’s unjustified given our horrible statistics and b) country pride is the breeding ground for the only religion that is partly responsible the harm caused by Tarrant: nationalism.
The irony in this tragedy is that white supremacy as a belief system is no less flawed than any religion. This guy murdered innocent people supposedly based on their religious beliefs, yet Nationalism and white power are nothing more than a religious belief system (with white people or native citizens as Gods and Mein Kampf as the bible), and a rather violent one at that.
The idea that there are “countries” that are “owned” by the people born there is a complete delusion. We drew lines on a map but that doesn’t make them real. There are no objective countries, and we don’t own anything or have any objective rights. The idea that skin-colour contributes at all to any form of value has never ever been credited with even a small piece of evidence. There isn’t even evidence that religious beliefs make you more violent, which is ironically the commonly held argument against Islam by nationalists. While I’m am essentially anti-religion, I don’t pretend that the average Muslim is more likely to be violent than any other person.
Nationality is all an invented fiction we use to help organise ourselves into manageable communities. While it’s helpful to do so, it’s important that we not lose sight of the fact that it’s all made up. We are just a clever-ish breed of territorial primates battling over a piece of earth that doesn’t even know we exist.
To kill people for nationalism is no less psychotic than extremists flying a plane into a building. And the fact that this Tarrant wimp handed himself over to police – rather than go out in a blazing suicide-by-cop – shows he’s probably just in this for the personal glory and not some political or religious cause (psychopaths prioritise self-preservation). As one victim pointed out; the irony is that according to Islam, Tarrant has martyred the people he killed and guaranteed them a spot in paradise, showing he lacks understanding and real interest in the religion he chose to attack.
Pride in your country is no less delusional than pointing to the sky and saying, “That cloud belongs to me, no one else can have it… and it’s the best cloud.” It’s this overall lack of adherence to truth and humanism in NZ and elsewhere that breeds the groups where extremists like Tarrant can thrive and be encouraged to act. Make no mistake, there are plenty of NZders who side with Tarrant and secretly toast his actions.
There’s no denying that we are lucky to live in New Zealand. It’s a beautiful piece of land. To be born here is a fluke, an immeasurable stroke of good fortune. To not want to share this good luck is selfish, misguided and immaturely entitled, like a toddler claiming a toy at daycare and refusing to let other kids play with it. Immigration is no simple matter, but it’s a problem to be solved not a hatred to be stirred.
To the nationalists out there – anyone who’s proud of their country and believes it belongs to a select group of people – let me ask you this: if you and your family were born and raised in a barren, war-torn shithole run by a ruthless military regime, and you had a chance to escape to a paradise of freedom, would you take that opportunity? And would you hope that those currently in that paradise would make a little space for you? Or would you say “Nope, it’s unfair to the citizens of that paradise, my family and I will just have to die here.”
You didn’t choose your life circumstances, skin colour, or your country; you were lucky. Try to find some kindness in your heart for those who weren’t.
All you can do is brighten up your small corner of the world
Thoughts and prayers do nothing – let’s try something real. If we’re going to pride ourselves on anything, let’s pride ourselves on humility and courage in actively facing our darkness, and by working to counteract the influences of evil in the world.
Laying flowers at the mosque is a great start. Why do we need to wait for a tragedy to do such a kindness? While many of us are making an effort to put goodness out into the world, others, while not evil, are too focused on serving their own needs and insecurities to contribute to anything more than their own short-term goals.
“We must always fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil that we must fear the most, and that is the indifference of good men.” -From the movie Boondock Saints
How often do you consciously engage in random acts of kindness? What efforts have you made to reduce the number of New Zealanders that go to prison, or use drugs to cope with life, or use violence to solve their problems? How do you react when you walk past someone who’s homeless, or overhear someone saying some racist shit, or see someone with no-one to talk to at the party?
When did you last reach out to someone who was new to our country who perhaps felt overwhelmed or unwelcomed? Do you look for these opportunities every day? Because they’re all around you, just waiting for 5 minutes of your time.
One of the greatest discoveries of my life was finding out how simple and easy it is to improve your small corner of the world.
Find someone needing help who you’d usually ignore and try to make their day just a little less painful. If you hate racism, instead of complaining about it on social media, go interact with people from different countries and connect with them. Create friendships and give your support – not out of some patronising reverse-racism pity, but out of genuine interest to learn about people who came from somewhere different to what you’re used to.
Trust me, you’d be amazed at what Hell some immigrants and refugees have escaped from – go listen to their stories. Maybe after that you’ll feel a little less numb about them being slaughtered like livestock.
Let’s SHOW people they are welcome. Let’s create an environment where a psychopathic racist murderer would feel unwelcomed and unsafe to reveal himself, rather than one where he can easily enlist supporters.