Aotearoa/New Zealand has experienced a tragedy in the Christchurch Massacre: 50 lives stolen, dozens more directly harmed, and the conscience of a political community shocked, perhaps awakened from slumber. What comes next?
In situations like this, one thing that commonly happens is the wide and public restatement of values. There are benefits to this: these sorts of statements can serve to address the question “is this normal?”, or “should we expect this to happen?”. In making public restatements of values, community members can reassure living victims, their families, and other community members of what they can reasonably expect from each other. When representatives of government make these statements, they serve to clarify what community members can reasonably expect from government. Having these expectations reaffirmed helps us to go about our daily lives instead of worrying as much about when the next attack might happen.
A second way to interpret these restatements of value is as reassertions of identity and belonging. Kiwis have come face-to-face with the harsh reality that the community membership identifier “we” is comprised of all members of the political community, and when one of the members of the community – even if not originally from here – does something, it is difficult to say that “they” are not “us”. Natalia Bogado Hernandez dives deeper into the identity-shaping or community-establishing function of political messaging in the wake of tragedy, comparing Prime Minister Ardern’s response to those of other political leaders in similar situations.
Another thing that often happens in the wake of tragedy is a community-wide questioning of the conditions that made the tragedy possible. In the case of the Christchurch Massacre, it has been easy to identify the role that some forms of semi-automatic rifles played, as well as current laws regarding firearms licensing and availability. Difficult political questions about liberty and tyranny arise when we believe we have identified conditions of the political environment that enable tragedy. Andrew Lim addresses the importance of being long-sighted but decisive when taking on these difficult questions, and balancing concern for the victims with responsible stewardship of our political community, keeping in mind the potential dangers of legal precedence.
Ultimately, what happens next here is up to Kiwis. It is impossible to say whether this is or will truly be a watershed moment for New Zealand politics until we have the benefit of retrospect. For example, mass shootings are relatively rampant in the United States, where there have been plenty of opportunities for policy and history to turn sharply, yet Americans have simply failed to turn. Right now, all signs point toward New Zealand making significant changes that show respect for the lives lost and permanently affected. Government’s efforts at restating the fact that Muslim Kiwis are Kiwis have been well-placed, as have their efforts to be clear that the views grounding the tragedy of 15 March 2019 have no rightful place in our shared world. The actions and inactions that are chosen in response to the Christchurch Massacre will have lasting impact on the people and politics of New Zealand, and so care should be taken such that we do not, in fear of future tragedy, set the grounds for future tyranny.
The editors of The Pacific Outlier wish to express our deepest condolences and heartfelt support to the victims and those affected by the Christchurch Massacre. We encourage readers to share their thoughts with us as they relate to the issues discussed here or by our contributing authors.
Featured image originally found here.