Since that fateful day in Christchurch, when 50 people were so needlessly killed by a lone gunman, New Zealanders have rallied around the families of the victims to share their love and support. Our Prime Minister has received national and international praise for her handling of the tragedy, and for reaching out to reassure the Muslim community that they are an important part of New Zealand.
But the leadership of a nation operates on many levels. While the PM has been focused on the suffering of the victims, in her desire to reassure New Zealanders that they are safe — and to look strong and decisive on the world stage — she has unleashed measures that have the capacity to turn our wonderful country into a totalitarian state.
Her actions are in sharp contrast to the response of the Norwegian government following the murder of 77 mainly young people by Anders Breivik in 2011. They decided they would not allow the attack to harm their democracy. They said the proper answer to the violence was more democracy and more openness.
Firstly, under the Prime Minister's watch, heavy-handed state censorship has banned Brenton Tarrant's video of the shooting and his 'manifesto,' with draconian penalties of up to 14 years in prison or a $10,000 fine. While the censorship of the killer's video is something that most New Zealanders can understand, the ban of the 'manifesto' is a different matter. It sheds light on why the atrocity occurred and could help people to better understand how something similar could be prevented from happening in the future.
The fact that the manifesto was banned almost a week after the video also raises concerns about whether there was real or implied political pressure.
Secondly, in spite of knowing the Australian gunman acted alone, and that any further threat was minimal — especially since the Order in Council that was passed just days after the shooting had already outlawed the guns used in the attack — the Prime Minister used the tragedy to rush into law extraordinarily repressive gun controls, denying some 250,000 law-abiding New Zealanders their democratic right to have a say in a proper Parliamentary submission process.
Even though the dreadful crimes in Christchurch were committed by an Australian visitor acting alone, it is New Zealanders who are now paying the price. Not content with restricting our freedom and democratic rights, through censorship and rushed law changes, the Prime Minister also appears intent on limiting free speech.
Under the shadow of the Christchurch tragedy, radical opportunists are calling for hate speech laws to silence anyone speaking out against their agenda. In particular, Māori sovereignty activists are now labelling those who disagree with them as not only racists, but white supremacists and purveyors of hate speech as well.
Writing in the NZ Herald just four days after the attack, Dame Anne Salmond said: "White supremacy is a part of us, a dark power in the land. In its soft version, it looks bland and reasonable. In its hard version, it's violent and hateful, spewing out curses, incarcerating young Māori in large numbers, denying them a decent education, homes and jobs, telling them they have no future, and are better off dead."
Journalist Karl du Fresne is concerned about the exploitation of the Christchurch tragedy by prominent people furthering their ideological agenda:
"By this I mean people like the Green MPs Golruz Ghahraman and Marama Davidson. In Parliament, Ghahraman blamed unnamed fellow MPs and breakfast radio 'shock jocks' for the 'hate speech' that she claims led to the killings.
"Ghahraman was in such a rush to apportion blame that she wasn't prepared to wait before making a considered response based on facts and evidence rather than supposition, assumption and prejudice. And why should she, when it was so much easier to make sweeping, unsubstantiated and emotive assertions about the killings being caused by 'hate speech', 'white supremacy' and 'gratuitous racism'?
"Davidson, meanwhile, took advantage of a vigil in honour of the shooting victims to unleash a barrage of denunciation. '…This land we are standing on is land we were violently removed from to uphold the same agenda that killed the people in the mosques yesterday.'
"This was not about honouring or mourning the dead. It was about finding someone to blame and settling old ideological scores.
"I find people like Ghahraman and Davidson almost as frightening as terrorists. They don't kill anyone, but their power to change society is greater. They use the institutions of a liberal democracy to whittle away at the open society. They are, in their way, as totalitarian and intolerant of difference as any gun-toting fascist or jihadist. They virtuously embrace ethnic and religious difference (except when it comes to Christianity, which is seen as part of the white power structure), but are aggressively intolerant of political difference and free speech."
Calls for restrictions on free speech by radical Government MPs should raise the alarm about our future. While the Bill of Rights protects our freedom of thought, expression, and association, as we have already seen through the Censor's bans, these rights are fragile and can easily be taken away.
New Zealanders who value the freedom and liberty that underpins our society should strongly oppose new laws to ban 'hate'. Such laws, that would enable the police to act against anyone expressing ideas contrary to those deemed acceptable by the government, have proven to be a disaster in countries where they have been introduced, over-criminalising the population and allowing vexatious complainants to destroy lives. Furthermore, there are major concerns that preventing those with unacceptable views from airing them openly drives them 'underground', where they are likely to become even more extreme.
For the sake of our future, we must not let the radicals succeed in forcing through law changes to criminalise opposing voices, otherwise, under Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand really will become a totalitarian state.