Dear reader – hopefully your life is going along just as you would wish. Sunshine. . .blue skies. . .when it rains, a warm, refreshing shower. . .all good in every way!
Sadly, I can’t say the same for me, or for the country where I live, New Zealand. You will know, unless you have been living in a dark room with no source of information like a radio, or a television or computer, or someone to come to tell you, that a shooter entered two mosques in Christchurch last week and murdered 50 people, wounding a number more.
The shooter, an Australian, chose New Zealand for this country’s openness and laid back attitudes. In what seems to be a rambling manifesto that has also been claimed to be cunningly constructed, he has cited inspiration from the British fascist Oswald Mosley, from the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik and others. He even seems to have met Breivik and consorted with those who now support him.
There is more about this terrible crime that I won’t repeat. You probably know a lot already, and it’s sickening to write about as well as to read.
There is something you may not know that I’d like to share with you. Christchurch, where the murderer struck, is the place where Karl Popper wrote during WWII one of the most important testimonies to the importance of the kind of society New Zealand has become: The Open Society and its Enemies. I am not sure this qualifies as irony, or not, but it is important, at least to me. At a time when totalitarian racism and intolerance were fighting democratic regimes on a global scale, Popper was standing up for the messy, often chaotic, societies that freedom creates. This was more than a matter of principle – his argument was that progress, material and cultural, was bound up with this kind of freedom. What the shooter wanted was to close the door to the kind of country openness to the world makes possible.
Of course who am I? No one, that’s who. I nonetheless think Popper was right, and New Zealand’s response to the atrocity visited upon us by an outsider has shown the strength of our community. Yes, there are racists among us, people who believe not only that Muslims should be expelled, but are bigots about those of other races including the indigenous Maori, and of foreigners particularly Chinese people. Some of those holding these views are present in Parliament. New Zealand isn’t perfect.
But the country has grown, especially in the fifty or so years it has opened to immigration from other than European sources, and from European countries not part of the “northern” ethos consistent with British culture. I arrived here in 1972, and it has been exciting and fulfilling to be part of the progressive opening of the society to new influences and ideas.
This coming weekend in the nearest city to where I live, Palmerston North, is a previously scheduled “Festival of Cultures”, an annual event. Booths representing dozens of cultures will be on display along with entertainers galore. It’s a shame that armed police are deemed necessary. As our Prime Minister said in the wake of the Christchurch shootings, these people are “us”.
Thanks for reading.