“This is not us…”

“This is not us” is the phrase many of us have used after the shock of the Christchurch Mosque massacres which claimed the lives of 50 Muslim worshippers. It may come as a surprise to Kiwis, but that sentiment is being challenged on a leading US website, Buzzfeed.

Australian  Buzzfeed reporter Hannah Ryan, found examples of Muslims who had been discriminated against or were the victims of hate speech – and actions. She quoted our Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as saying:

“We were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate,” Ardern said at a press conference hours after the shooting. “We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things. This is not who we are.”

But that view is now being challenged:”This is exactly who we are,” countered Khylee Quince, a Maori and criminal justice expert at Auckland University.

She told BuzzFeed News she had “absolutely no doubt” that the “this is not us” sentiment was well-meaning, but ultimately “misguided and naive”.

“You have not listened to minority peoples, to indigenous peoples, to immigrant peoples, who have been saying, in the case of Maori for more than 180 years, this is exactly who we are and you just don’t want to face that.”

While Quince is careful to point out that Maori and Muslim experiences are different, she says both groups have been “other-ised” by the New Zealand state. They share “the idea of surveillance, of being on watchlists, of having very negative interactions with the law and authorities.”

Quince’s response  misses Ardern’s  point.  When the PM said  ‘this is not us’, she didn’t mean discrimination or  the lasting impacts of colonialism  on Maori. She meant that we would never murder 50 innocents at prayer.

As for new immigrants,  well yes Quince is on to something.  Every wave, from Dalmatians, to the Dutch and the  five pound Poms have felt outsiders,  though they were white migrants.  Polynesians however felt the full force of the  state in the Dawn raids which targeted  them –  but not new Pakeha immigrants.

When Asians arrived en masse, the Auckland Star pre-dated Donald Trump’s border wall hysteria and described their  arrival as ‘The Asian Invasion’. Muslims and Indians also arrived in the early Noughties under our  open door immigration policy. And like every other  non-white migrant,  they were met  to some  degree, with  a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

In the past  30 years  the Maori renaissance brought us greater understanding of aspects of Maoridom; structural change through decisions of the Waitangi Tribunal and the Race Relations Office  also helped.  Now  Maori phrases are used routinely on air and quite casually in conversations, while hakas are performed everywhere.  However you can’t move from being largely monocultural to a more complex  multi-culturalism  society without feeling as if your  world has to some extent,  become unrecognisable.

Yet  through it all  and until March 15 this year, we remained relatively fair-minded.  Insular and discriminatory at times, but  consider this:

What were all  the anti-Apartheid protests  going back to the early 1960s about?  Racial equality. And the dramatic  gunboat  protest by our Government  over  French  nuclear testing at Mururoa? Peace  and  our environment.  And the anti-Vietnam war protests?  Pro-peace.  More recently, anti- TPPA marches? Pro-sovereignty.

Our   record  may have been   spotty at times, but it shows an ongoing quest  for social  justice.  That’s unquestionably who we are.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.