Ten days ago, during Friday prayers, a man entered the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch and began shooting. There are two mosques in Christchurch, so after a time he drove across town and did it all again. By the time he’d finished, 50 worshippers were dead, and 50 were injured.
The first I knew about this was a message from my son: ‘Is everyone okay? There’s been a shooting!’
From time to time, mass-shootings happen. Some idiot goes on a rampage, kills a few random unfortunates. Horrifying, and sad. But this felt different. It was hate-filled; targeted. At first, no-one knew there was only one person. Could there be more men with guns? Were there bombs? And my family lives in Christchurch.
Messages began flooding in. ‘We’re fine. We’re at the hospital…We’re at school … We’re okay, we’re okay, we’re okay.’ We are used to urgent communications, in Christchurch. After the earthquakes.
The police put the city on lock-down. No-one was to leave their house, no children were to leave their schools. The injured were ferried to Christchurch Hospital. The hospital was surrounded by police with guns, because perhaps the hospital was another target.
What about Dad, we thought. Could he have been near the mosque?
Two policeman decided to see if they could find the shooter. Surely, he’d try and get out of town, so they drove along the main exit roads, trying to spot him. Their hunch proved correct. They rammed their vehicle into his car. The man carried bombs and ammo: they took a calculated risk. Afterwards they rang their boss. Sorry about the car.
In Christchurch, parents returned home; kids were let out of schools. Slowly, information emerged.
Turned out, there was one shooter. A white Australian living in Dunedin. Probably, he’d originally planned to target the Dunedin site. But there’s only one small mosque in Dunedin, and I guess he wanted to make a statement. So he tooled himself up and drove the four hours north to Christchurch. I wonder what that drive was like?
The shooter lived not far from me. I may have met him, at the supermarket, or the post-office. On the beach.
Local and Global
I know folk who go to Friday prayers at Dunedin mosque. I’m grateful they were spared. Like Mohammad, the owner of the pharmacy up the hill, who tells me about his Mum and how she’s doing after her stroke. Hafife, who runs cooking classes and sells incredible baklava, and helps integrate Syrian refugees into their new lives.
My sister’s Moslem friend had an anxious wait because her daughter was supposed to be at the mosque in Christchurch. (Fortunately, she’d skipped prayers that day).
There are only five million people in the whole of New Zealand, and a lot less in Dunedin and Christchurch. We all know someone directly affected by the shootings. We feel a collective guilt; a collective responsibility. How could this have happened? How could someone shoot children, old men, people at prayers? These worshippers, they have names; they are people. They are our people. Our friends, our colleagues, our schoolmates.
Diversity: A New Buzzword?
Diversity is the new buzzword. A black hero? How wonderful! A female superhero, how profound. A Korean heroine? Yes
But as soon as we label someone as disabled or black or Asian or whatever, we label them as ‘other’. To paraphrase Martin Luther King: It’s not the colour of their skin that matters; it’s their character that’s important.
How do I write diverse characters? (Oh, a mixed race heroine, how clever. A character in a wheelchair, how brave!) Well, here’s a tip: I try to write about people. And guess what, people come in all shapes and sizes and colour and religions.
Some kids are too scared to go to the mosque for prayers. So the last two Fridays I, and many
So now, in Dunedin, if anyone wants to take a pot shot at the worshippers inside the mosque, they’ll have to shoot a lot more folk outside first.
Why Diversity Matters.
Hate speech turns people into groups; and labels that group as other.
Such words are dangerous. Why? Because it is easy to fear the ‘other’. The other becomes shunned; the other is not
“Carefully watch your thoughts, for they become your words.
Manage and watch your words, for they will become your actions.
Consider and judge your actions, for they have become your habits.
Acknowledge and watch your habits, for they shall become your values.
Understand and embrace your values, for they become your destiny.”Mahatma Gandhi
But we belong not to one group, but to many. We are school friends, colleagues, members of sports teams, church groups. Citizens; friends. In truth, there is no ‘other,’ only a collective ‘us’.
We each have unique names, faces, stories. This uniqueness is as varied and diverse as the colors of a rainbow.
Diversity is about valuing differences; about seeing the beauty in the variation. About treating people as people.Embed from Getty Images
This image, from Getty Images, is of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, visiting Wellington’s Kilbirnie Mosque after the attacks.