From Christchurch must come compassion

Like many of us I’ve spent the days since Friday’s massacre in New Zealand reading endless news articles, watching politicians of all party persuasions have their say. I’ve seen journalists interviewing eye witnesses, survivors and other journalists. I guess what I’ve been doing is trying to comprehend what to me is incomprehensible.

I saw politicians and wondered how their tongues didn’t turn black and shrivel up with hypocrisy as they denounced the terrible events in Christchurch, given their support, explicit or implicit, of Australian’s refugee and immigration policies which have accompanied the vilification of Muslims here in Australia.

I listened with appreciation and amazement to New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who, while roundly condemning the shootings, took the opportunity to firmly remind New Zealand, and indeed all of us, of the absolute need for composure, for compassion, for strength, for kindness, for coming together rather than falling apart, for the need to unite not divide.

I watched with not-so-secret joy as a teenager smacked an egg into Australian Senator Fraser Anning’s head after the Senator had espoused far-right vitriol and drivel soon after the shootings. I watched with shock as the Senator thought an appropriate reaction to a teenager with an egg would be to punch the teenager in the head. Twice.

I read the stories of ordinary New Zealanders who had been caught in the attacks and had risked their own lives to save others. I was heartened. I wondered what I would have done in a similar situation. I wasn’t sure if I had such bravery in me.

I felt helpless and inadequate, here in regional Queensland, far from Christchurch, living in a regional town, represented by conservative politicians at all levels of government, not particularly well known for much more than toeing the party line.

Sure, I’ve shared some social media posts, reposted a few really thoughtful articles, texted with a few friends sharing our despair at the tragedy and our admiration for Ardern. Still I sat and wondered what I could actually do to make any sense of yet another insensible and confounding act of terrorism in the world, this one so geographically close to us in Australia.

So far the only conclusion I’ve come to is this. I can and must use my voice. It’s my responsibility, as well as my gift, for being fortunate enough to live in a democracy. Apathy and laziness in the face of racism, bigotry and religious intolerance breeds further apathy and laziness and hate flourishes.

On Friday, young people all over the world gathered together to urge governments to take action for their future. Here was a lesson for the jaded adults among us who have almost given up on our elected leaders. Paint them as idealistic teenagers who want to skive off school for a day if you like. But they reminded us of key questions about the kind of society we want to live in. One where we have a say. One of respect.

Like those school students, indeed like PM Ardern, we must be brave enough to speak up and out. Against words and actions of hate, whether they are directed at individuals or groups. We must speak with compassion. Act with compassion. Speak with the intention of kindness. Act with the intention of kindness. Act for the common good.

If Friday in Christchurch teaches us one thing it’s that if we become apathetic, if we remain apathetic and think that we cannot change the current narrative around race and religion then of course nothing will change.

It might get worse. In fact it did.

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