This blog was sadly inspired by the tragic mass shooting at two New Zealand mosques in Christchurch (15th March, 2019) which killed 50 people (as of the date of writing) and injured many others. This was not the first in recent times (Sandy Hook, Parkland, Las Vegas, Peshawar, Garissa, being the more recent ones in memory) but was perhaps the deadliest in New Zealand’s history. So why write now? It is the stark contrast in reactions of the established government and its leaders (in New Zealand vs the USA), to similar tragedies, that forced me to write.
Gun violence by civilians (as opposed to, by militaries or established terrorist organisations) is all the more tragic because you would think common sense dictate that civilians are not supposed to be carrying around weapons that could kill. But yet they do, in many developed countries, justified and rights-asserted, by their possessors. Here was a Prime Minister of the small nation of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, reacting in the most logical and sensible manner, to a senseless and barbaric killing of innocents…with genuine empathy, respect for the victims and their surviving families, unafraid to call out who did it (white supremacist) and call for decisive action in the form of sensible gun control laws that have teeth in them (left to be seen if they actually pass them into laws). In sharp contrast, look at the US where gun violence (suicides and homicides) claims 30-40,000 innocent lives every year, year after year. Every time lives of groups of children, worshippers or just ordinary folks enjoying a concert, are snatched away by deranged civilian gunmen, the leaders and politicians of the country can barely whimper out anything beyond ‘thoughts and prayers’. And within days of such an incident, they come out swinging with their logic of how to prevent such incidents in future…’good people with more guns can beat bad people with guns, so bring on more guns!’, an effete and simplistic solution, with stupidity as its core guiding principle. Stats bear out the efficacy of this solution.
Port Arthur and Dunblane mass shootings, both in 1996, forced the leaders of Australia (John Howard) and UK (John Major & Tony Blair) to decisively change the direction of their countries’ gun control laws (banning or restricting semi-automatic/automatic weapons/high volume magazines and solid background checks), for the better. And gun violence has since dipped to negligible numbers in these countries. It’s unfortunate that it took a mass murder for these countries to act, but at least they acted, unlike the US. This early 2019 mass shooting in New Zealand, might just be the ‘John Howard’ moment for Jacinda Ardern.
Now coming to the Christchurch incident itself…this was perpetrated by a ‘white supremacist’ and openly racist individual who had apparently no criminal background before this outburst, against muslims. Someone whose hatred of ‘outsiders’ evolved over years of self-indoctrination carried out in the dark corridors of social media with kindered spirits spreading hate & frustration across the globe. Where the potent cocktail of white/racial superiority complex, religious animosity, anti-immigrant (us vs them and them taking our jobs) feelings, were being actively mixed and served. Truth be told, these negative sentiments have been there among humans, since the beginning…the fear and suspicion of outsiders and extreme intolerance of views and beliefs (especially religious) different from theirs. And my personal opinion is, these will remain in humans, in the darkest corners of their hearts. But does that mean we give up our hands and do nothing? No. We can at least, as we evolve, teach our kids and inculcate beliefs (in ourselves as in them) that kind of slowly suppress those evil base instincts, and over time, perhaps make those dangerous tendencies so insignificant that they are no longer a threat to people we interact with, strangers or otherwise. But that is an ongoing slow and deep process that any society needs to go through. And parents, friends and teachers, inarguably, stand on the frontlines of such behavioural change…the value of life, tolerance and above all empathy, the quality in least supply in society. Add to that the responsibilities of the governments of countries accepting refugees and immigrants (and vice versa, of immigrants actively trying to assimilate themselves into their adopted countries’ culture and belief systems and respecting them) to take out racial bias from policies and actions, so the feelings of us vs them doesn’t get a chance to sprout. In terms of assimilating outsiders into their countries, the US actually has done a much better job than Europe (where ghettoisation has reached extreme proportions). In order to assimilate people you either follow the US model of ‘Americanisation’ of arriving folks or follow the Singapore model of forcing diversity and actively dissuading ghettoisation in public housing and benefits, or celebration of festivals, or limits on free speech (US is a disaster in this particular aspect) that disallow the seeds of discord and hatred to smoulder under the surface.
The more immediate and effective steps should be what Australia, the UK and now New Zealand, have undertaken (or going to undertake), policy-wise. When a series of fires breaks out in a dry forest near a town, you don’t go out and start meticulously analysing the causes of the fire and the underlying minor details. You go out with a big hose pipe of water and fire-retardants and try to contain or eliminate the fire. That’s immediate policy moves, like changes in gun control laws, actively monitoring social media and engaging with the community that has borne the brunt of the attack. Once a country has those elements under some degree of control, then the deeper and more lasting of changes need to be introduced and tackled.
Here’s hoping, the frequency of such incidents comes down soon and the world is a better and safer place to live…where innocent people do not live in fear. Peace to the souls of the victims of all such occurrences and strength to those they left behind. And most importantly, let the politicians and grown-ups of countries (you know who!) cultivate some common sense and bring some common sense laws into action, for the sake of their citizens.