COMMENT:

A reader emailed me a stern rebuke for last week's column.

"Yes these Christchurch murders were an appalling act of evil," the message began. "But your once-over-lightly emoting doesn't even start to look at what's happened to this country, the imbalance in immigration and what the very concerning reaction is pretty well always going to be when people feel completely sidelined from government decisions."

It concluded, "... the media are very largely now part of the problem, and so are you with this sort of writing".

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It was signed "J.G.". He or she is not wrong. A whole section of public opinion has been disenfranchised for a long time. It is not published in newspapers or reflected on television and none of New Zealand's political parties expresses it. Even the disenfranchised are afraid to say what they're really thinking ("imbalance of immigration"?) and dare not state their names.

They are not mass murderers but last week they heard and read suggestions they were at least partly to blame for the atrocity in Christchurch.

I have never known a week quite like the last. I was raised a Catholic and remember the week before Easter, called "holy week", when services each day commemorate the events leading to the crucifixion. It used to feel like there was grace in the air.

Last week felt like that. All over New Zealand there was grace in the air.
Jacinda Ardern set the tone right after the mosque massacres, telling the world and ourselves, "This is not us". What a pity other voices on her side of the political fence could not extend the spirit of love and understanding to those who fear immigration.

Auckland's mayor, Phil Goff, wrote in the Herald, "We need to speak out against New Zealanders who peddle bigotry, prejudice and racism. They create the environment in which the killer in Christchurch felt vindicated in what he did."

We have no shortage of voices in the media speaking out against those things. Some writers do almost nothing else but condemn bigotry, prejudice, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and the rest of the canon.

Their values have become so dominant that it has been tempting to suppose most people are comfortable with the scale and diversity of immigration in recent years. Then the English are given a vote on Brexit and a fool runs for President of the United States.

There is a serious disconnect now between what people can say in the mass media and what many of them talk about when they chat across a table or connect online.

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I don't know what the accused killer in Christchurch posted online and I don't want to know. He forfeited his right to be heard when he resorted to firearms. But if he is an extremist as reported, he probably subscribes to the whole gamut of insecurities and resentments heard from life's losers.

Among those typically is a hatred of capitalism, business and the comfortable middle class. Should we blame socialists for their part in creating "the environment in which he might have felt vindicated in what he did"? Of course not, but I worry that we are now going to proscribe all criticism of immigration because a potential murderer might agree with it.

Personally, it would not be a problem. I like diverse immigration for the cosmopolitan character it gives our cities and the connections it forges with the world. Some cultural concerns I had evaporated last week. The most interesting comment I read came from the girls who were abused for wearing hijab. For them, wearing these garments was an expression of pride in who they are and where they come from.

I had once thought Islamic women were forced to wear them, based on the pressure a young Egyptian woman described to me in the early 1990s when the religious revival in the Middle East was gathering force. Possibly she wears a hijab proudly now. She was a secular academic but loved the Arabic language and Islamic culture in most respects.

The past week has been informative for all of us, I suspect, and immensely uplifting. It should be possible to extend this spirit to the fears and attitudes labelled "white nationalism", or "white supremacy" if you must.

These people are deeply mistaken, I believe, in thinking European culture is becoming less dominant here because Māori culture is being promoted and immigrant cultures encouraged. It must be personal insecurities that make some Pākehā blind to the entrenched strength of their culture in this country.

They need to be helped to see that a dominant culture is dignified when it makes room for others to prosper here.