John Armstrong's opinion: Christchurch terror attack both a wake-up call and a national disgrace

Quite simply, the horror of the shootings at Christchurch’s two mosques and the shock and trauma which have inevitably followed in the wake of that slaughter add up to one of the most disturbing and troubling weeks in New Zealand’s history.

That verdict is not reached lightly. There have been episodes in the country’s past where National tragedy has brought out the best in New Zealanders.

There have been plenty of occasions when the inhabitants of this land of bounty have been called on to show resolve in the face of adversity.

But there has been nothing to compare with the 36-minute-long butchery of a religious minority while at prayer in the one place where members of the Muslim community had every right and expectation that they were safe.

The slaughter and mayhem wreaked by a lone gunman has left the country stunned —and for one reason which has barely rated a mention during the past few days of introspection and soul-searching.

The notion that New Zealand might be invaded from without has long been regarded as a bad joke.

The result has been that the country has too long treated its Defence Force as a joke.

The notion that the country might be invaded from within does not seem to have occurred to anyone.  

But that is exactly what has happened.

That it has taken the deaths of 50 people for that wake-up call to be made is a national disgrace. The big plus is that the magnitude of the Friday massacre is that it will never be forgotten.

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Today marks one week since the attack on two mosques that left 50 dead and dozens more injured. Source: 1 NEWS

Just as New Zealanders have never forgotten the 150 or so soldiers who died on the first day of the Gallipoli landing in 1915.

That was the worst week In New Zealand’s history. Outside of wartime, however, last week might well qualify as the worst. 

If you prefer to base your judgement of that on some simple, if grotesque numbers game, then the 50 deaths at the mosques falls far short of the toll clocked by other recent catastrophes.

Some 257 passengers and crew perished in the Erebus disaster. There were 185 deaths in the second Christchurch earthquake. That figure was by no means a record for a quake. More than 250 people met their deaths in the Hawke's Bay earthquake of 1931. No fewer than 151 people were fatalities in the Tangiwai rail disaster. More than 50 people died when the Wahine hit the rocks.

Disasters that are the result of human error or the forces of nature are part of the lottery of life, however. 

The mosque murders had one ingredient absent from those aforementioned calamities.

Moreover, the gunman who forced his way into the mosques possessed that ingredient in sickening quantum.

That ingredient was pure evil. It manifested itself in a brutality and barbarism reminiscent of Nazi Germany.

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Today saw unprecedented scenes as thousands gathered around the country to show solidarity and love. Source: Seven Sharp

The stomach-churning public display of the killings transmitted to a global audience via Facebook and YouTube rekindled memories of the throat-slitting executions carried out by ISIS when the forces of Islamic  State were creating havoc across large portions of Syria and Iraq.

What was on display in Christchurch was terrorism taken to another level.

The operation appeared to have been planned to the minute and in meticulous detail.

The shootings were carried out with factory-like efficiency and precision.

This incarnation of evil has set in train a rollercoaster of emotions, the principal ones being shock, sadness, disbelief, anger and — not least —fear.

As to where that journey will take the country, nobody knows. Not even Jacinda Ardern. Her impeccable handling of a crisis which has rocked the nation to its very core will —once the dust has settled — see her name carved on the honours board listing New Zealand’s greatest prime ministers.

Yet, so far she has done the easy stuff — such as borrowing a ready-made and tried-and-tested model for overhauling the loophole-infested and outdated muddle which until now have passed for the country’s gun control laws.

From here on, the challenge of pulling the country out of the despondency into which it has been plunged will just get harder and harder.

Without answers to the ever increasing number of questions which a Royal Commission of Inquiry will have to address — and the inquiry must be accorded that status — then healing what will be deep psychological wounds cannot really begin.

The declarations of unity and solidarity expressed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, the vigils, the nationwide two-minute silence and ever-expanding shrine of flowers along the perimeter wall of Christchurch’s Botanic Gardens have made a vast contribution in making what was an awful week slightly less awful.

As she has unfailing done during recent days, Ardern hit the nail squarely on the head in answering a question from a student from a local high school asking her how she felt.

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The Prime Minister spoke to students who lost two classmates in the Christchurch terror attacks. Source: 1 NEWS

Ardern simply said she was sad. For many — no doubt including Ardern — the sadness extends beyond sorrow for both the dead and the living left with picking up the pieces of lives left in ruins.

There is sadness at Paradise Lost; that everything has changed forever. 

The one thing that numbness must never engender is paralysis.

That is why Thursday’s confirmation of the banning of military-style semi-automatic firearms and all assault rifles is of huge significance.

The overhaul of the country’s gun laws will have been greeted with much relief.

The Prime Minister’s announcement addressed what quickly became a fundamental bottom line amidst the tumult.

That bottom line is that what happened must never happen again. The first step has been taken to ensuring there is no repeat of the atrocities of a week ago. Much more needs to be done. The public is demanding a united front be displayed by the country’s politicians. But will they get one - and for how long?

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Military style semi-automatics and assault rifles will be banned in New Zealand under stronger new gun laws announced today, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says. Source: 1 NEWS