How many times have we heard since March 15, 'He will not win?' He being the gunman who murdered 50 people in Christchurch.
How many times have we heard that hate will not win, that love trumps hate, that this sort of atrocity is totally foreign to our way of life?
How many times have we heard that New Zealand is an inclusive, tolerant society, where all who live here, whatever their ethnicity or faith, are welcome, and are entitled to feel safe? The right to feel safe goes without saying, although we now know that we, way down here in the south-west corner of the Pacific, are not immune from the horrors that are so regularly inflicted elsewhere around the world, but the assertion that we are an inclusive, tolerant people is more aspirational than factual.
The response from authorities to March 15 is understandable, to a degree. Certainly one would have expected a heightened sense of insecurity in Christchurch, where the evil was perpetrated and where violence involving firearms is less of a rarity than elsewhere in this country. But if we wish to deny the gunman victory, we must try much harder to restore normality.
Two Sundays ago the Department of Internal Affairs decreed that local authorities around the country would stage remembrance services, including the live streaming of the national service in Christchurch. The department rightly noted that the atrocity had affected New Zealanders everywhere, and all citizens of this country should have the opportunity to express their grief.
Far North District Council heeded that call. That Sunday it began organising services at 17 places around the district. A day or two later that number reduced to seven.
On the DIA's instruction, the council bought roses and candles for each of those who lost their lives on March 15, and two more for women who reportedly suffered fatal heart attacks in the days following. It heard no more from the DIA, and it was not until Thursday that it was advised by police that six of the services could not take place because they were unable to provide the armed presence each would require.
Perhaps it is easy to become a little blase here in the Far North, almost as removed from Christchurch as we as a nation once believed we were from terrorism, but requiring an armed police presence at every remembrance service was an alarming over-reaction. There is no law of nature saying such attacks cannot happen here, but we are entitled to believe that the threat is so small as to be irrelevant.
If we are to believe that a crowd cannot assemble at Te Ahu on a Friday morning without armed police protection, the gunman has won. He has succeeded in instilling within this community an almost unprecedented level of fear. Almost unprecedented because there was genuine, and not unrealistic, fear of a Japanese invasion during World War II, where Far North coastal communities were ordered to observe a nocturnal blackout, and to be prepared for evacuation at any moment.
Whatever it is that is happening — an exaggerated but well-intended commitment to ensuring the safety of New Zealanders or a ridiculous display of political and bureaucratic authority — it has to stop. If we mean what we say when we declare that the gunman who attempted to instil fear within this country will not win, then we must act accordingly. We must feel free to go about our daily lives without trepidation, without allowing ourselves to be consumed by dread that another terrorist will strike again, perhaps this time in our community.
Then we will be able to say quite truthfully that the gunman has not won. That he has not changed our society forever by making us cower in fear. We will never forget the awful events of March 15, 2019, and nor should we. We must and hopefully will have learned lessons, and committed ourselves to doing all that we can to make claims that this is an inclusive, tolerant society actually mean something, but we should not expect to live the rest of our lives waiting for another attack.
Expert advice re helping traumatised children in the days after the mosque attacks was to restore their normal daily routines, including going to school, as quickly as possible, to hasten their healing and to minimise emotional damage. That was good advice, which applies not only to frightened children but to us all. We are in danger of wallowing in a calamity that was not of our making, and from which we must recover, as quickly as possible. Otherwise the gunman wins. Hands down.
American governments have made a habit over many years of inviting the people they govern to concede just a little of their liberty, and a few of their rights, in exchange for security. The most obvious manifestation of that is probably the security processes that now apply to everyone who boards an aeroplane to, from or within that country. And to some extent even here.
Some security measures are, of course, sensible, but we must be wary of assurances that politicians and bureaucrats can keep us safe, if we are prepared to ignore the advice of Benjamin Franklin that 'Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.'
There must be limits to our willingness to be spied upon, to be observed by authorities as we go about our lives, as we communicate with others, as we enunciate what we believe. At the end of the day there is only so much that politicians and bureaucrats can do to keep us safe, and any suggestion that they can protect us, if we are prepared to co-operate, is illusory.
Banning military-style semi-automatic and assault firearms is a sensible and welcome response to March 15. In all but a few circumstances it is difficult to imagine why anyone would want to possess such weapons, even if they have no intention of using them to harm others, and this will not be a poorer country because they are banned. Actually ridding ourselves of them will not be easy, or perhaps even possible, however. And banning them will not inherently make this a safer place to live.
Those who would do harm, even on a March 15 scale, will find a way, ban or no ban. There are no simple answers when it comes to restoring our once understandable if naive faith that we are immune from the hatred and evil that plague our planet, and we should not allow ourselves to believe otherwise. And we should ask if armed police and increased levels of surveillance are too high a price to pay for an illusion.
What we are really doing is talking tough and acting weak. It might be too soon to say that we are prepared to allow our rights and freedoms to be eroded in exchange for our safety, but we must resist any attempt, from any quarter, to make us fearful.
And we must be aware that the murders in Christchurch are already being used to promote a range of agendas. This country, right now, is ripe for what might be described as benign oppression, in our own best interests, of course.
Let us never forget what happened in Christchurch, but let us use that moment in our history to remind us that we all have a part to play in making this a better place. And let's get back to business as usual. Do not let the gunman win.