Showing posts with label extremism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label extremism. Show all posts

Friday, 29 March 2019

When Hatred Explodes into Love


On the afternoon of the 15th of March 2019, I was in the small provincial town of Nowra about two hours south of Sydney, when a Whatsapp message pinged in on my phone. It was from my mother. It read; 'Everything is ok with all of us so please don't worry. Will ring you when I get home. Am out at the moment.'
At first, I thought it might have been mistakenly sent to me while intended for someone else. So I responded, 'Did you send that message to me accidentally?'

The reply came quickly. 'No! Am at a friends place, we are all holding together here.'

Then an earthquake alarm which I had installed on my phone after the Christchurch quakes, now many years ago, went 'ding ding' right at that moment so I immediately thought; 'oh no... there must have been a big earthquake.

As a New Zealander growing up in a subduction zone on the 'Ring of Fire,' I am very much aware of quakes and as most of my family members are now living in Christchurch I keep the alerts on my phone in case one strikes. It was uncanny timing because my alert is set at Richter 6.5 which does not go off very often. I looked quickly at where it was registering and it said Indonesia, so was immediately baffled as to what mum was referring. As I was soon to discover however, this was an 'earthquake' of a different kind...

Next moment another message came through from her. 'Listen to the news.' 'Massacre at a mosque near Hagley. It's chaotic here at the moment and the crisis on-going.'

During the entire duration of my journey back to Gerringong on the train, while clinging to my cycle in the hallway and as the compartment swayed back and forth I was riveted to my tiny phone screen consumed with news of the unfolding situation. A few tears rolled involuntarily down my cheeks as I tried to comprehend what was going on. The unfolding situation along with disbelief and horror was particularly poignant because it was happening in the vicinity of people I love and places I know. Whenever I am visiting my family in Christchurch I stay with my mother who lives quite near Hagley Park and my feet have pounded the pathways around the park many times over and at every opportunity.

Hagley Park is the 'jewel' and heart of Christchurch in many respects.

The news of this event is of course, by now, history...

One man with several loaded semi-automatic machine guns and a mind consumed by hatred and extremist views walked into a mosque near Hagley Park and unloaded his weapons into a temple filled with praying devotees both young and old.

At the same time, thousands of children were been gathering in Christchurch Square in order to protest about climate change. After the gunman's attempt to commit another massacre at a second mosque was foiled by the intervention of one of the worshippers present, he had taken to driving through the streets and shooting at people randomly. This caused widespread chaos and many people were caught up in the effects of the pandemonium which ensued.



It was not long before I was home and able to call my mother, as were many others who had family ties in the city and were connected either directly or indirectly to what was unfolding and yet far away.

Not being in New Zealand while all of this was taking place I could only listen from afar to the experiences of personal family members but nevertheless, they really touched a spot. What arose from this horrific incident appears to be so significant. From the fear and hatred which motivated the unbridled killing of innocents, rose up a tidal wave of empathy, love and compassion.


A few days after the event, my mother along with one of my sisters took their offering of flowers to add them to the makeshift shrine that had been erected outside Hagley Park.  Several streets before the park the flowers and tributes and notes and candles began to appear. By the time they came near the park itself, there was an ocean of flowers as far as the eye could see.

Both felt deeply moved by the scene, in fact, they had never seen anything quite like it. They quietly walked along arm in arm occasionally stooping to read a note or some card or look at a photo of a loved one lost. After moving along the wall of flowers for some time in this way, they lingered a while to take it all in and became aware of an Imam kneeling on the grass reading through some of the notes. My mother had noticed him before at some time, somewhere but had never spoken with him. He pulled himself up from the grass and the flowers, the messages and the tributes and turning around he was directly in front of my mother and their eyes met.

Without thinking at that moment something made her suddenly reach out and extend her arms towards him, he acceded to being held by a complete stranger in a warm and loving embrace. My sister soon joined in and the three of them stood there silently holding each other. Within a moment the Imam was sobbing uncontrollably in their arms. No one could speak, what could they say? The flow of empathy between them was complete and in that moment they were united.

Many many people around the city of Christchurch during that time had their own stories and experiences to share. It quite literally unleashed a tidal wave of empathy and compassion.

Exactly a week after the massacre I got another message from my mother. She told me she was all dressed and ready to go to the park for the 'Call to Prayer' which was to honour the victims and show support to the Muslim community. She had, only weeks before undergone a knee replacement and being well into her eighties, was naturally baulking at the idea of making this journey alone. Normally this would never have been the case as either a neighbour or a friend or one of my two sisters would have most certainly accompanied her.

However, on this particular morning, everyone appeared to be busy. Even the neighbours whom she had approached. A sad little message appeared on my phone. 'Lyse,  I so want to go to the park and be part of the ceremony but it looks as though I will not be able to.' I could certainly understand her dilemma, but on this occasion, I felt it was too important to follow her heart and the inner pull which she was so obviously feeling and that somehow everything would be ok.  I immediately encouraged her to drive as near to Hagley as possible and then take a bus from there. It was all she needed. Just a wee nudge of encouragement and she was on her way in her little bright-red Honda making a beeline for the park.

She drove to Hagley, found a park for her car and began walking slowly with the help of her crutches and a determination to make it to the main shrine area. It was a fair distance but before long someone approached her and asked if she needed help. She replied gratefully that she could manage. They reached forward and embraced her and went on their way. This happened several times until a lady in her mid-fifties suddenly took mum by the arm. She stayed with her throughout the whole ensuing ceremony and even accompanied her right back to the car afterwards.

The flow of grace and the spirit of generosity and empathy were palpable. Mother made it to the makeshift shrine, she was even able to find a seat, probably only one of a handful in the whole area. Being present and able to partake of this momentous event which had shattered so many people's lives and then exploded into a huge outpouring of love was really quite unprecedented. Everyone present could feel the empathy.

Of course, things will slip back into the usual day to day flow when it all begins to fade and the old routines kick back in and yet something completely out of the ordinary has taken place. Hatred has given way to love, it has opened people's hearts and minds. Such an outcome could not have been further from the perpetrator's mind and intentions and yet this is the beauty, this is the hope...

One cannot write about these events without mentioning Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand's currently elected Prime Minister. She is a strong young woman with a heart which is alive. A woman with the courage to stand by her humanity. Perhaps, because of its very isolated geographic location, in New Zealand, such an outpouring can happen more easily but I feel it is also an indicator of our times and amid the hatred and the greed we all need to see this quality blooming and taking hold. Our societies have become hotbeds of disconnection, dysfunction and profound unbalance.

She caught the imagination of the world by taking a devastating and traumatising event with which the perpetrator sought to isolate and terrorise one small group and she transformed it into a deeply unifying expression of the only thing that can heal such madness; love.

This is and must be an emerging sign of our times.

Kia Kaha is a deeply significant Maori phrase widely used around New Zealand, meaning 'stay strong.' ' Stay firm.'  Do not waver in the face of hatred and adversity. Remain united and as One.