Op-ed: What we can learn from New Zealand's response

Opinion: Kate Roff is the founding editor of Peace News Network. She studied her Master's in Political Science at the University of Canterbury, in Christchurch, where she lived and worked for many years. Here, she reflects on how the New Zealand city is reacting to the recent attacks, and what the world can learn from the response.

It is with a sad heart that we have been following the news out of Christchurch, New Zealand, this past week. The attack on two mosques that claimed the lives of 50 people has shocked the world, and is felt deeply here at Peace News Network – a news agency that began in the same beautiful, earthquake-damaged city.

From mainstream media we receive horrific details of how the day unfolded, and extensive coverage about the perpetrator’s life and ideology. You could be forgiven for believing the world to be a very dark place, divided by a kind of hate that de-humanizes people. But what gives us hope is the way in which the people of New Zealand have responded to the violence.

At an official level, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was swift to condemn the horror as an act of terrorism but also went on to explain that New Zealand is, and will continue to be, a country that values diversity.

“We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages,” Ardern said, “and amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place the currency on right now—and tonight—is our compassion.”

I feel, however, that the most encouraging signs of that compassion have come from a more local level. Friends of mine who live in the South Island have brought flowers to their local mosque, Haka dances (a traditional Maori display) have been performed to honor the victims, and social media has been inundated with messages of solidarity for grieving communities. The country’s national newspaper published a photo of a couple who took a moment on their wedding day to lay their bouquets at a memorial.

One of the more heart-warming twitter threads was started when a Muslim gaming developer called for people to post mundane observations about their local mosque. It appeared a strange request at first but what developed was an enormous outpouring of anecdotes and insights into the every-day of Islamic life. As one contributor noted: “Reading this I laughed, I teared up, I learned, I healed and, to be fully honest, now I think this is the only #Christchurch thread we all must read.”

It’s what we need more of—the humanizing of the “other” and the realization that we have more in common than not. This is, essentially, what lies at the heart of Peace News Network—an ambition to bring the stories of people who are building peace, not in grand sweeping gestures but quietly, locally, powerfully, and often in the face of the worst atrocities.

Today we are proud of Christchurch, and of our Kiwi friends. Let’s learn from their example.