I visited the city of Christchurch on May 23, 2018, as part of a larger speaking tour in New Zealand that also took me to Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.
New Zealand is an exceptional country, different from other countries that are often lumped under the generalized designation of the “western world.” Almost immediately after my arrival to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most populous city, I was struck by the overt friendliness, hospitality and diversity.
This is not to downgrade the ongoing struggles in the country, lead among them being the campaign for land rights as championed by the Maori people, the original inhabitants of New Zealand; but, indeed, there was something refreshingly different about New Zealanders.
Just the fact that the Maori language, “Te Reo”, is one of the three official languages in the country, the others being English and Sign Language, immediately sets New Zealand apart from other colonized spaces, where indigenous peoples, cultures, languages and rights are, to various extents, inconsequential.
It is due to the empowered position of the indigenous Maori culture, that New Zealand is, compared to other countries, more inclusive and more accepting of refugees and immigrants. And that is likely why New Zealand – and Christchurch, in particular – was chosen as a target for the terrorist attacks carried out by an Australian national on March 15.
The Australian terrorist – whose name will not be mentioned here in honor of a call made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, as not to celebrate the infamy of the senseless murderer – wanted to send a message that immigrants, particularly Muslims, are not safe, not even in New Zealand.
But his attempt backfired. Not only will he live “the rest of his life in isolation in prison”, as promised by New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, who was speaking at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) emergency conference in Turkey on March 22, but the horrific crime has brought New Zealanders even closer together.
There is something sorrowful, yet beautiful, about Christchurch. This small, welcoming city, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, was devastated on February 22, 2011 by a massive earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed much of the town.
Last May, I spoke at Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral, an innovative structure that was built as a temporary replacement to the Anglican Cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake.
In my talk, I commended the people for their beautiful church, and for their own resilience in the face of hardship. The diversity, openness and solidarity of the audience reflected the larger reality throughout the city, in fact, throughout the country. For me, Christchurch was not a place of tragedy, but a source of hope.
My audience, which also included members of the Muslim community, some coming from Al Noor Mosque – the main target of the recent…