I have been reflecting a good deal about the shootings in Christchurch, the city where I lived until three weeks before the massacre. I have watched all sorts of responses on different levels and wonder what my response is. I am surprised about how quiet I have been. I don’t want to jump to my first reaction.
The responses I have seen have been genuine responses, I think, but my major disquiet has been that the issue is just not simple. All about me I see people taking sides. This issue is not actually black and white, and I want to make sure as best I can to respond in a way that acknowledges the complexity of the events that have happened. That is going to make what I say sound contradictory and paradoxical at times, and I am sure I will get some of it wrong.
There has been an enormous out pouring of support for Muslims, struggling to cope with a most horrific event. It has been an extraordinarily emotional time. Many victims came to New Zealand as a safe haven, fleeing their homes because of the risk to their lives, only to be gunned down mercilessly here. It is very important that the Muslim community is supported, accepted and acknowledged as a part of “us”. We must act to create healing.
Our Prime Minister, Jacinta Adern, has won international acclaim for how she has responded to these attacks. Her compassionate, culturally sensitive approaches to the Muslim community have had an enormous healing effect. Her immediate banning of semi-automatic and automatic weapons was a positive move. Paying for the funeral costs will help relieve a great burden off many families and shows solidarity from the people of New Zealand. Her words rallied us together through times of unspeakable grief.
Our Prime Minister made the clear point that those who were killed are a part of “us”, while the killer was not. I absolutely understand and respect that statement. It was a clear statement of what is considered right and wrong. It was what the nation needed to hear. She does not want to give the killer any notoriety or acknowledgement and certainly does not want this to feed other people who might have similar ideologies.
I believe she was, however, wrong in this. As much as we hate it and want to deny it and turn the killer into our enemy, and whether he is Australian or not, he is “us”. He is a human being like you or me. He breathes, talks, laughs and cries like you and me. In rejecting the killer as a human being, we are denying our own capacity for evil. That which we deny then dwells in the darkened caverns of our unconscious mind, sabotaging our actions, perpetuating the hate we so despise. Whatever you and I deny in ourselves lingers within and we bequeath their vile consequences to haunt coming generations.
I believe we all do the best that we can with the capabilities that we have in that particular moment. The killer was shaped by his previous experiences. There are reasons why the killer in that moment thought that killing as many Muslims as he could, was the best thing he could do. I have spent a lot of time working in prisons with people who have committed heinous crimes and I often wonder what horrific trauma led to such actions. That is not to excuse or lessen his responsibility, but it creates space for compassion.
A part of the killer’s motivation was a reaction to the insanity of the neo-liberal philosophies that have the world in its grip. It creates poverty, oppression, isolation and disconnection. Facebook enabled the killer to only see content that reinforced his distorted world and drew him into more and more extreme groups and views that seemed more and more real and justified. The killer found solace in a belief system of hate.
As much as you or I may oppose neo-liberal policies and their impact, they have become a part of who we are. Profit has become more important than people or the planet. We have had decades of programming to unconsciously incorporate the principles of neo-liberalism into our lives. I purposely used the word “incorporated”. The neo-liberal agenda works because it has become a part of our body and being. Our brain circuits have changed, the ways we use our bodies, and the ways we treat each other and the environment have been so unconsciously undermined, so that we do not notice what has happened. While I have changed some behaviours, I still drive my car, use plastic, get pulled into the negative aspects of Facebook, and buy things I don’t need.
The killer is a part of me and who I am. We share a humanity. We share far more than I would like to admit. For all my desire to avoid racism, sexism and all the other ways in which we separate ourselves from each other, if I look, I see them active within me every day.
As a nation New Zealand has come together in unity as a response to the catastrophic calamity that has befallen us. As genuine as that response has been, it is superficial, and it is up to us to grapple with the deeper issues being stirred up in the mud. Some people refused to pray to Allah and others claim that Jacinda Ahern wearing the hijab reinforces the Islamic rape culture and suppression of women. It reveals the fact that we cannot iron over our differences that easily.
Maori people remind us of the acts of terror perpetrated by the NZ Government and people through our history, while others seek petitions to stop Maori tribes from having undue influence in our regions. Others remind us that people die every day so we can keep buying mobile phones and other technology. The issues are not simple and simplistic solutions perpetuate the problems.
New Zealand is a small nation set apart from the rest of the world by great oceans. We tend to see ourselves as separate and be distrusting of anything that is different or might affect our way of being. As human beings we are hard-wired to be suspicious and cautious of the outsider. We do not understand foreigners as we understand those who are like us.
Muslims are different from us. Just as white people have not always acted in the best way possible, neither have Muslims, Maori, Jews or whatever social and cultural group we may choose to examine. We are all human. That is not said to justify anything, but to acknowledge all the shades of grey in our world that we need to work with for a better world.
New Zealand has become a mutli-cultural nation and so we must face the challenge of living with our differences in ways that enhance and build us and not ways that tear us apart. Einstein said, “We cannot solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.” We must move beyond culture differences and the polarities created when cultures interact to find a resolution.
Much thinking in today’s world tends to be based on the thought that reality is constructed by discourse and thus all behaviour is socially mediated. Then all we need to do is change attitudes and social structures and we will solve our problems. I think it goes deeper than that. The role of our body and genetics though evolution that forms the foundation of our universal human nature tends to be down-played. Violence has evolved as an indispensable and highly effective behavioural pattern for living creatures, our ancestors, to use to stay alive for at least 99.9999% of the time that life has existed on earth. Our propensity for violence is embodied in our being. We all have a limit, perhaps when our safety and that of our family is truly under threat and we feel we have no alternative, that violence becomes a viable alternative. As much as I see violence as abhorrent, if I was really put to the test, I don’t know how I would react. It seems to me that we can change attitudes all we like, but it will never eradicate our suspicion of the stranger, and our willingness to use violence when under a perceived serious threat, which all evolved for good, solid evolutionary reasons at the time. That worked well on the Savannah, but not so well on Colombo Street.
Maybe in some ways, life is like the movie – “As good as it gets”. Maybe we are left with traits we do not like that much. They don’t go away, but we can learn how to live with them. It is by accepting the fullness of what we are, the good and the bad, the sweet and the bitter, and not falling short to take sides, that I see a pathway to a better, brave new world.