What a gentle, mindful and ultimately stronger country we became over the weekend in the face of unspeakable tragedy in Christchurch.
Every new count of dead and injured Kiwi Muslims, every clip of almost incomprehensible courage, each skein of heartbreak for the Muslim community and the already broken city wrenched us out of ourselves.
It was death in the family, where the family was all of us.
On the island, it seemed as if we were all talking carefully, mindfully with each other and a kinder and more generous future had already opened up when the prime minister, ashen-faced but with the innate grace and quiet inner steel which is becoming her trademark around the world, declared a future where “you are us”.
Jacinda Ardern has called for kindness right from her first speech as prime minister and the gigantic outpouring of aroha was made safe by her leadership this week that acknowledged and kept ahead of the inevitable pattern of fears with decisive action and clear information.
It was hard not to fear that the narcissistic posturing of smirking Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivit could be repeated to insult this collective grief further in the courts but the prime minister has made a personal stand to never use the accused man’s name again and I hope we adopt a similar stance personally, including when it comes to court hearings.
In the face of such terrible bloodshed, the realisation struck many of us that there is no need in urban society for semi-automatic weapons and only a very few specific applications in farming.
It had also escaped our collective attention that – after years of political narrative that gun law changes were too difficult to bring about – authorities have no idea where or how many weapons are floating round New Zealand.
In this, we have repeatedly failed to follow overseas moves to ban semi-automatic weapons or to track weapons at all. Including the precursor modifications that were so easily accumulated by the alleged shooter in Christchurch.
A fiendish number of guns including semi-automatics flood into our country every year and an email that hit my inbox early this week from the editor of a hunting and outdoor magazine excoriated the prime minister for using the crisis to crash through gun law changes.
I decided not to publish the letter, and probably the writer has modified his views since then because, yep, we’re all watching and the prime minister has signalled we will move quicker even than Australia did to bring ourselves into line on weapons that can be used to such deadly effect against innocent citizens.
Similarly, as we get real about the world of nascent white supremacist ideology that can play out its vitriol in even the smallest and remotest of cities, the country’s big brand companies are fleeing Facebook and Google advertising bases for their lack of any duty of care when it comes to modulating hate-mongering, online propaganda and brutal footage.
The politics of exclusion and hate are pretty much out in the open now and we can also expect some soul-searching about our risk assessment processes as we curve ourselves around our refugee and immigrant communities, take action on their fears and begin the healing.
It will be the heroism that many of us remember most. I find my defining image is the moment when footage showed the perpetrator’s car, its front wheel still spinning. Two out-of-town policemen, acting on a shrewd hunch, had rammed the vehicle precisely into the curb and were hauling the driver, who had been still shooting, from the vehicle while aware of probable incendiary devices on the back seat.
We will always now recognise Naeem Rashid, originally from Pakistan, who died after rushing at the terrorist and trying to wrestle the gun from him and Abdul Aziz, originally from Afghanistan, who confronted and faced down the armed terrorist, decoying him away from the Linwood Avenue mosque and finally hurling the gunman’s spent weapon at his windscreen.
With school students – including our own – uniting in more than 100 countries to demand real action against climate change factors, I was always expecting last Friday to be a day in the history of the world. In all the horror and courage and world attention of the last week, it seems that both events will cast long and powerful shadows. • Liz Waters