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Anzac discomfort after Christchurch

  • 18 April 2019


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.

We 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