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Anzac discomfort after Christchurch



For years now, my experience of Anzac Day has been fraught. On one level, it has offered an experience of intimacy with the grandfather I never met, who fought in World War Two and died of a war-related injury. On another, the glorification of war has made me increasingly uncomfortable.

New Zealand soldiers walk away from abandoned guns. Cartoon by Chris JohnstonWe honour the service of those killed as if they were serving something good and just, as if they knew what they were doing, and as if they had any say in the matter. We also remember the lives of some, while wilfully forgetting others.

This year, as I wait to be reunited with my fiancée from Afghanistan, my discomfort is heightened by New Zealand's compromising involvement in her country, and our government's compromising response to the bombing of Afghan civilians. It is further heightened by an awareness of her sense of persecution, as a Muslim, after the Christchurch massacres. As a result, I do not feel able to partake in any Anzac celebration that resembles a traditional service, as if nothing has changed.

The Christchurch massacres mark the end of an era in Aotearoa New Zealand. Previously, we would never have seen our police on the streets with assault rifles. Large gatherings would never have been subject to heavy gate control or rigorous bag checks. Terrorism was never thought (by the majority) to be something that could threaten, let alone characterise, our society. Aotearoa New Zealand was lauded as a safe and inclusive nation, ranking number two on the Global Peace Index.

But that perception has been shattered. That era, that semblance of peace, has ended. Now, we are forced to face the reality that peace is more than the apparent absence of violence.

The state of our nation now hangs in the balance as we grapple with this reality, and as we struggle with the demands of genuine peace, and the degree of personal and collective responsibility that it entails. We have failed our sisters and brothers of Islam, who were unable to gather safely in our midst. We failed to respond to racism and the threat of white supremacy, or to the repeated pleas and warnings from those who were threatened.

The short-term response to the massacres has been one of large-scale public support and solidarity. Large numbers attended mosques across the country, and gathered at civic vigils to offer prayers and support, and to commemorate those killed. The press dedicated significant airtime to the stories of the victims and their families, and to our Muslim communities.


"Now, we are forced to face the reality that peace is more than the apparent absence of violence."


Words of intended support and solidarity have also been widespread. 'They are us' and 'This is not us' have become catch cries for those seeking to express their shock and disbelief, in solidarity with the victims. However, these words reflect the extent to which 'we' consider ourselves the arbiters of identity and justice, and as separate from the atrocities of racism and white supremacy.

As we approach Anzac Day, plans to incorporate a Muslim prayer into a local commemoration service have engendered strong and violent opposition. A former serviceman of the New Zealand Airforce says, 'A terrible tragedy has just happened and I feel for the people that died, but Anzac Day is not a day for them, it is a day for our guys.' Evidently, when we say 'They are us', we mean that our common identity is dictated by a particular (white) norm; that 'they' are only 'us' when we say so, and to the extent that they conform; that sameness is more important than difference, and that some lives are more important than others.

Muslim servicemen fought as members of the New Zealand and Australian forces, and every year the predominantly Muslim people of Turkey open their arms to the families of our veterans, to commemorate the atrocities of Gallipoli. Furthermore, while those atrocities saw the loss of 58,000 allied troops, including 11,000 New Zealand and Australian troops, they also saw the loss of 78,000 Ottoman Turkish (Muslim) troops.

So, at the going down of the sun and in the morning, who is it that we will remember? If only 'our guys', then who are they? Another line of the same poem, 'For the Fallen', by Laurence Binyon says, 'To the innermost heart of their own land they are known.' And yet here in Aotearoa New Zealand, while we honour those who lost their lives abroad, we forget the Maori lives lost while defending their own land against the Crown. This social amnesia, as Moana Jackson calls it, enables us to forget the past, to forget the history of colonisation and the violent alienation of Maori land, and to say in response to the Christchurch massacres, 'This is not us'.

This is us, and we will not be one until we acknowledge it and embrace, rather than eliminate, difference. We can no longer presume to know who 'we' are, or what defines 'us'. Genuine and enduring peace requires trust and relationships of understanding that recognise and rectify injustice, prevent the perpetuation of hatred, and ensure an outcome that values the lives and identities of all.



Daniel KleinsmanDaniel Kleinsman is a lawyer and activist currently based in Wellington, New Zealand. He graduated in law in 2014, and then spent two years in the Marist seminary, before returning to postgraduate studies in international human rights law. He is currently working as a lawyer specialising in Treaty of Waitangi claims and public law.

Topic tags: Daniel Kleinsman, Anzac Day, Christchurch attacks, New Zealand



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Existing comments

Anzac Day is to remember the activities of New Zealand and Australian troups in Wars in the past. No one else .

David Perry | 24 April 2019  

Thanks for this thoughtful, insightful, inclusive response on the issues confronting a multicultural society beyond the lived experience of NZ society in 1915. As the son of an NZ soldier who fought at Gallipoli and one whose prejudices would be unacceptable in 2019, like Daniel, I wonder how he would respond to my Chinese wife and my sisters Nigerian husband. I agree - time to move on and be relevant.

Steve Jorgensen | 25 April 2019  

David I beg to differ as approximately 15,000 Indians fought side by side with the Australians, British and New Zealand troops at Gallipoli. Approx 14 % of these troops were Muslim soldiers and there was no religious divide. 1400 died and 3500 were injured and were it not for the Indian Mule transport regiment, the ANZACS would have had little or no supply facilities for food, munitions, water blankets, tents and the myriad of other necessities required to keep the campaign running. No disrespect but your statement ignores the sacrifice of the British, the Gurkhas, the Indians and the 87,000 Turkish troops who died defending their homeland as well.

Francis Armstrong | 25 April 2019  

Daniel, there was an Anzac Day Service held at St Pauls Cathedral in Melbourne this morning with an emphasis on Peace, whilst also remembering those who've died in war. Perhaps this is another approach that offers hope ... and not glory in our remembrance of conflict.

Mary Tehan | 25 April 2019  

"Genuine and enduring peace" advocated in the last sentence of this article has not existed on this planet since Mankind came into being. Not only has such utopia not existed between nations but neither has it existed between blood-related kinsmen, chosen life partners, formal spouses or in any other human relationship. Unhappily things are not going to suddenly change. Christ himself, despite sacrificing his life so that human beings might have a new life, failed to change the situation with less than 2 in 5 human beings accepting his massage of love , acceptance, understanding and justice for all men. On Good Friday we have just remembered Christ's sacrifice of his own life, made that we who followed might have life. On Anzac Day we remember the sacrifice of their lives by the Anzacs, made that we who followed them might have life. While many Muslims might well feel a sense of persecution in the wake of the NZ atrocity, many, like my Muslim gardener, are appalled by the atrocities, numerically far outweighing the recent NZ atrocity perpetrated by fundamentalist Muslims on both fellow Muslims and Christians, in greater numbers against their own than against Christians. Clearly, both the self sacrifice of Christ and of the Anzacs, both the most ennobling act that Man can offer, mean little to the majority of human beings. The plea for the great Christian essence expressed in the last paragraph of this article will fall on deaf ears and is sadly naïve. To abandon and ignore the great sacrifice of the Anzacs, totally unrelated to the atrocity in Christchurch, is equally naive rather than a catalyst for renewal. My Muslim gardener tells me he would advocate renewal beginning with the fundamental Islamists. He realises the Christian Crusades, unlike fundamental Islam, passed into oblivion centuries ago.

anon | 25 April 2019  

I do not agree with Daniel’s views. ANZAC Day is to honour and remember those, past and living, who have fought for and defended our values and principles. It is ‘ours’ to uphold, no one else. We should not feel guilty or ashamed that it does not represent other ‘groups’. Christchurch gunman was a ‘lone wolf’..... against Islam. Sri Lanka Church bombings were from organised and known organisation who have claimed responsibility!

Gerard O’Dwyer | 25 April 2019  

Thanks, Daniel. Most helpfully insightful.

Cecily McNeill | 25 April 2019  

Anzac Day is to commemorate those who suffered and died in past wars. Agreed. However, I don't know why this means a Myslim prayer can't be incorporated in the Anzac Day service. If Christian prayers, why not Muslim as well? And Jewish? The point of this article is that the 'we' of New Zealand includes Muslims. Why are they 'other' when it comes to commemorating the Fallen? Or is it a case, well known to Catholic women, of excluding by mock inclusion. "We're praying in the Christian manner, but don't worry - 'Christians' really includes 'Muslims' as well. We've decided that'.

Joan Seymour | 25 April 2019  

I was eleven years old when World War 2 finished and I vividly remember the overwhelming sense of joy and freedom on that day and the appreciation of the Australian people for the efforts of our Defence forces . Australian and New Zealand Military personnel have a well deserved reputation for Honour Valour and Duty We , Citizens of Australia, are proud to recognise that , respectfully, in our Anzac Day Ceremonies.

Margaret MacNamara | 25 April 2019  

O that we would heed the compassion of Kemal Ataturk "Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives… You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of ours…"

Joanna Elliott | 25 April 2019  

Well written Daniel; congratulations. David Perry’s comment is worryingly accurate. In Australia, at least, Anzac Day IS about remembering military activities. There is little sense of quiet mourning for 102,000 fellow citizens killed in uniform to further (in almost all conflicts) the political aims of our own or foreign governments, while adding to the profits of the industrial and media “masters of war”. We are sold a ridiculous myth of “winning nationhood” at Gallipoli. We are asked to treasure a War Memorial as a secular shrine. We are invited to see children wearing service-medals as a fine thing. Crazy stuff indicating a lack of national maturity. Patently anti-Christian thinking.

Gerard Hore | 25 April 2019  

Like all myths or legends, David, the Anzac myth and legend has been created, and recreated, by various people in various places at various times for various purposes. Some of those purposes have been honourable, others manipulative. The history of the Anzac tradition and the nature of the Anzac commemoration in NZ is quite different to that in Australia.

Ginger Meggs | 25 April 2019  

ANZAC Day should be in addition to the boozing and gambling, a day to reflect on the abomination which is war, its evil and futility. It is a further opportunity to reflect on the cowardly politicians who send our youth to certain carnage in wars which result from their failings to maintain peace. A nation at war is a failed nation! Damien Stapleton.

Damien Stapleton | 25 April 2019  

Daniel my family welcomes back into our spiritual midst our family members who fought in the wars we set aside who and what is to blame and ‘embrace’ them once again I have been to Gallipoli for Anzac Day just after the Turkish people celebrated their equivalent they remembered with their rituals and their religious customs they did not beat their breasts that somehow a Christian presence should be recognised and I respect that.

Maree Ganley | 25 April 2019  

As a Veteran myself, conscripted to serve in a war that we should never have been involved in, I take offense at the comments written by Daniel. Indeed I am totally fed up with the rubbish dished up by those who if they were not there can never understand .We call them armchair soldiers! We do not have any say in what we are ordered to do by the Government or our superiors , we just do our duty. Then sadly, we have to live with the consequences of our actions for a life time. While what happened in Christchurch was absolutely horrific, equally what has happened in Sri Lanka was also terrible. No two wrongs can make a right. I am close friends with Muslims and I respect their right to equality. If there were Muslims in the Units I served with, then I was not aware of their religion. As David observes ANZAC DAY is a day to remember our mates who paid or are paying the price of serving our country, please keep other completely unrelated issues right out of ANZAC Day. Thank you

Gavin O'Brien | 25 April 2019  

I really appreciate the insights, honesty and challenge of your reflection, Daniel. As you point out, Anzac day reminds all of us of the importance of trust in our search for truth. Unless I go beyond the 'activities of New Zealand and Australian troups in wars in the past' and recognise myself in both the best and worst of human actions, then it seems to me that racism and supremacist attitudes will continue, and reconciliation and peace will be nothing more than catch phrases in our ‘remembering’. In its responses to Christchurch, New Zealand has witnessed to new possibilities for reconciliation (far beyond the responses of other countries to atrocities like this). If we can build on these beginnings, then perhaps we can take next steps in acknowledging our talents for scapegoating, the gifts of difference, and the urgency of trust and truth in our search for peace and reconciliation. Many thanks for reminding us of this.

Jan Barnett | 26 April 2019  

I think Daniel’s suggestion to have a Muslim prayer during Anzac Day ceremonies would be very appropriate. Anzac Day, by now at least, should be a solemn remembrance of all those killed at Gallipoli. It was a ghastly slaughter for all involved, not least for the Turks whose losses were greater than ours and sustained while they were defending their country against our invading Anzacs. This gracious tribute by Turkish leader Attaturk’s to our fallen calls for a special recognition from us of the Turkish/Muslim dead. “Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives ... You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side here in this country of our’s ... You, the mothers who sent their sons from faraway countries, wipe away your tears , your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.” How else could we respond to such an extraordinary and eloquent homage to our troops?

Dennis | 26 April 2019  

With respect, David Perry, ‘ remembering the activities of Australian and New Zealand troops in wars of the past’ is a very limited and limiting purpose of ANZAC day. The day also provides us with scope to reflect on the follies of the human condition more broadly, and to search for, and to research the underlying reasons for war as a socially destructive mechanism to solve problems. ANZAC Day should encourage us to search for ways to promote better international relations, and the improve our understanding of others’ perspective so that the innocence of the WW1 diggers and the industrial slaughter they encountered and which so characterised all wars of the 20th century, do not occur again. ANZAC Day can also help us to be more aware of our present times and challenges, and the fact that armed conflicts in the 21st century, are typically such that civilian deaths greatly outnumber those of the military, and that this includes politically motivated acts of terrorism in public places such as churches and markets. And sadly, this is where the industrial slaughter of the First World War meets the massacres of peaceful civilian groups very recently in Christchurch, and then again in Columbo. Thus, ANZAC Day should cause us to reflect on the harm that the culture-blind ideologies promoted by totalitarian governments, quasi religious zealots or by other rabid militaristic groups now generate across the international stage. This important day of remembrance and reflection should give us pressing cause to search for action strategies that need to be taken at many levels, so as to encourage people from all places on our planet, to better understand each other and to develop counter-strategies that will foster peace both within nations and between them. Indeed, that is what many who have experiences the horrors of war and survived, have in many different ways have sought to do, in the past century. Thank you Daniel Kleinsman for your thoughtful and disturbing article. better understand

Michael Faulkner | 26 April 2019  

Beautiful article, Daniel. My life experience is very different from yours yet I believe the same about war, and about the simple ease of loving and caring about others no matter who they are.

Kate Sommerville | 26 April 2019  

Wars exist on all levels involving the entire spectrum from 2 people to multitudes from multiple nations and generate all manner of self-serving attitudes and justifications. Unlike as advocated by Kate Sommerville, I would not find it simple or easy to "love and care about" a violent invader of my home or invaders of my country who killed some of my family and many other innocents in the process. To do so would be irresponsible insanity and a load of tosh even though Christ might have suggested I should "turn the other cheek", let it happen and love the enemy. Such an attitude (man made perhaps?) does not compute when that same Christ allegedly responds to Man's transgressions against His will and teachings with eternal damnation and suffering. Beats the hell out of war!! At least wars, unlike an eternity in Hell, come to an end albeit with enduring loss and grieving. We would be a miserable lot if we were to ignore, dishonour and forget the sacrifices those who died protecting us or our way of life. Sadly we are indelibly flawed and fail to learn from past sacrifice by others (including Christ). I think I might have preferred to be a crimson rosella - I'm a funny old bird anyway!

john frawley | 26 April 2019  

Thank you, Daniel. You make a point which we often lose sight of - that who "us" is is perennially up for reconstruction. New Zealand's response to the Christchurch atrocity has, in my view, been the best I have seen to an act of terror. Nevertheless, as several responses to your article show, the temptation to restrict our empathy to those we can identify with most easily is never far from the surface. War is a horror for everyone and we can only prevent it by widening our empathy rather than narrowing it.

Justin Glyn SJ | 26 April 2019  

Daniel reports "...the glorification of war has made me increasingly uncomfortable." This may well be true for many, if indeed war IS glorified by annual formal remembrances. We are told it is not; that it is about remembering our mates, brothers-in-arms, those who did not return with us. At the venues where some remembrance services take place, however, there are frequently stark reminders of the machinery of war on proud display. Muzzles of field guns point skyward from the genteel surrounds of RSL front lawns. Others - e.g. at Phillip Island - fair bristle with military hardware, adjacent to the public footpath at Cowes. It is hard to see these well-preserved artefacts as other than a glorification of their former use - or perhaps I have simply missed the point?

Richard Jupp | 26 April 2019  

'We can prevent war only by widening our empathy rather than narrowing it". Doubt that the militarily aggressive would be dissuaded from their ambitions if we were to widen our empathy, Justin. I think they would rub their hands together and relish the easy course that was opening up to them. We have to live in the real world. It is not a pretty one and we should not hand it over to the evil and aggressive without some form of resistance. Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Howard or Blair weren't seduced or dissuaded by the olive branch approach either and ignored widespread public protest against their deluded ambitions. The former two of this lot were even prepared to kill thousands of their own people to achieve their ambitions. The other three simply used lies to achieve theirs. Being Christlike maybe the way for you and me, Justin, but in practical terms it doesn't work in a world inhabited by a vast majority who pay no heed to Christ. I doubt that 'widening our empathy" would have dissuaded Hitler, Stalin, Bush, Howard or Blair from their warmongering and mass killings of innocents. I suppose the just war still exists in Catholic philosophy?

john frawley | 26 April 2019  

ANZAC Day itself was originally purely to remember those who fell at Gallipoli, the original Anzacs themselves, and has gone on to include all those since then who have fallen in military service for our country. The prayers and readings at the annual observances are always non-denominational. What these emphasise is that behind the age old clash between war and peace, Man's desire for Peace is universal. We are a multicultural nation - and indeed much of the world today has lost some of the sharp cultural detail definition it once had. Everyone's responses to war including feelings of loss and grief, are the same no matter who is involved in a conflict, and in that sense, everyone has coverage in the observances of a typical Anzac Day Service. On that ground, I do not believe any particular denomination's prayers need to be included.

ALISON SCHWABE | 28 April 2019  

As far as I am concerned no one has ever given a credible explanation for why the First World War was started and fought. The vindictive treatment of Germany, orchestrated by Clemenceau at Versailles after the Allied victory, played no small part in the rise of Hitler. The breakup of the Ottoman Empire, which was, I think, suffering terminal decline at that time, has led to a fragmented and extremely volatile Middle East. The Indian soldiers who fought in the First World War and most Indians were looking to be rewarded with independence. It did not come. The young Australians and New Zealanders who fought in the war cannot be blamed for any of this. Applying guilt by association here is a very sticky thing. At heart, leaving aside all the political posturing by those who have never seen action, Anzac Day is about survival. Should our two societies be more open and inclusive than they were in 1914? Do we need to do more about ATSI and Maori disadvantage? Of course and much is being done. Much more needs to be done. There are other places for this. Leave Anzac Day alone.

Edward Fido | 28 April 2019  

Alison Schwabe. You've hit the nail on the head!

john frawley | 28 April 2019  

It is good to read may different, sometimes with nearly opposite points of view, yet generally considerate, comments on Daniel's artice on what is clearly emotive subject matter. There is obviously no one right point of view, history teaches us how difficult it is to be universally and in perpetuity correct. It is likely though well that we can publicly disagree, even strongly, but to do so respectfully and continue to not take or make it personal and to carry on in such acceptance.

jaco jooste | 18 May 2019  

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