By Andrew Falloon
Friday evening for me, like you I’m sure, was spent glued to the television, watching the terrible events in Christchurch.
Each new image, new piece of footage, brought fresh heartbreak. If not for the familiar sights of Christchurch Hospital or Hagley Park, one could almost imagine it to be a movie, or at least something happening in another part of the world.
“But what we can’t let it do is divide us. Extremism thrives on mistrust and the unknown.”
It’s a horror that we are not used to, and nor do we ever want to be.
As hours since the attacks turn into days, we must look at the cause, and what we can do to ensure it doesn’t happen again.
I don’t profess to be an expert. I’ve been a member of Parliament for 18 months. But what’s clear to even a casual observer of global politics is that there is more extremism present today than perhaps 20 years ago.
Fringe politicians and self-created political commentators spouting hate and division command huge followings online.
Wherein past decades a disaffected or angry few might never meet, in a world today where everything and everyone can be connected so quickly, dark corners of the internet become breeding grounds for racism and violence.
Technology is not to blame, of course. The internet has been a tremendous force for good, not only for our day-to-day convenience, but for the democratisation of information.
It is the people who have used it for nefarious purposes, twisting truth, reporting lies, and placing the blame for all society’s ills at the feet of people of other colours or faiths.
And yet, in little old New Zealand, we somehow thought we might be immune. We watched on television, events in the Middle East, in London, in Boston and in Sydney. We shook our heads, and gasped at the awfulness of it all.
Now that horror is here. On our soil, on our doorstep. Nowhere was that more stark than at Caroline Bay on Sunday. Hundreds of people, Muslim, Christian, Atheist and Agnostic, hand-in-hand, crying, singing and praying together.
I don’t have all the answers. No magic wand to wave to take us back or ensure this doesn’t happen again.
But what we can’t let it do is divide us. Extremism thrives on mistrust and the unknown.
Our best chance is to knock down the walls that exist in our society.
To knock on the door of a new neighbour.
To become friends with someone new to our community.
To learn more about someone’s faith or culture.
For when those things aren’t scary, when they’re no longer in the realm of the unknown, those who seek to divide us lose their power.
You can contact the Timaru Newcomers Network on Facebook, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call (03) 687-7371.