The power of the megaphone, the call to prayer

Flower tributes mosque Auckland New Zealand Christchurch shooting
Neighbours laying flowers at Imam Reza Mosque, New Lynn, Auckland the day after the massacre at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand (Image by Nick Thompson)

Above all, the people we should listen to after a terrorist attack are the victims. So, before I get into my mediocre white man reckons relating to the March 15 mosque shootings in Christchurch, here are a few examples of Muslims having their voices aired in NZ’s media:

One Family’s Story of Survival and Loss in New Zealand (The Daily podcast, The New York Times)
We warned you. We begged. We pleaded. And now we demand accountability (The Spinoff)
The people we lost (
Hear their words: Muslim voices on the Christchurch attacks (The Spinoff)

Our media have done very well to boost these voices. It’s been exciting, and a little sobering in retrospect (why is this not normal), to suddenly have so much easily available to read and listen to from groups of people who lack power in our society. For me, it’s prompted a lot of thinking about the intersection of power and speech: who has power, and how do they wield it in their words and actions? Who should have our attention right now, and what are those that do have our attention using it to say?

The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, has gained an enormous amount of national and international attention for her response to the shootings: not just the quick mobilisation of her government to outlaw the kinds of weapons used in the attack, but the uncommon sensitivity and caring she has shown to the victims. This constant examining of her actions has led to plenty of debate. For example, her wearing of a headscarf, which some insist is a symbol of oppression, has been a hot topic for both the white New Zealanders and the Hindu Indians on my Twitter timeline.

Whether or not you agree with how the Prime Minister has conducted herself, she is the most powerful person in the country and the figurehead of our grief. It’s therefore right that her response has been subjected to such scrutiny. I was uneasy about how she was centered in the days after the attacks, particularly in the mass sharing and printing of photos in which she hugged strangers and displayed emotion. It seemed to me that those images should be of victims’ families, or of Muslim adherents left shattered by the targeting of their community. But it’s complex: they didn’t sign up to be part of anything like this, or to be relentlessly photographed, or to play a central role in a crisis. The Prime Minister did, opting into the front pages in the best and worst of times. It’d be strange if she wasn’t there now.

And I got another perspective a few days after the attacks. A Muslim friend in India sent me a one-line email expressing sympathy, and attached four of the more widely shared images of the Prime Minister with her headscarf proudly in place. If her symbolic representation of everyone else’s love and support meant something to a Muslim on the other side of the world, that’s good enough for me.

At the very least, the Prime Minister seems to be aware of her effect on the social landscape. She has led with a view to consciously establishing new norms that are inclusive and hopeful. Get behind me, she seems to say, and we’ll make things better together. That’s more than can be said for various commentators in the American political media, who of course have had plenty to say about Christchurch. Ben Shapiro, who hosts a very popular conservative news podcast, uses up a fair amount of oxygen sharing his views on everything from universities as liberal indoctrination centres, climate change belief as religion, and the anti-Semitism of anyone who supports the idea of Palestininan statehood. Naturally, he was quick to comment on Christchurch, particularly to rebut the idea that white supremacist violence has anything to do with prominent critics of Islam such as himself, Bill Maher, Sam Harris, and indeed President Donald Trump.

Okay, but no. A cursory look at the repeated phrases used in comment threads and social media profiles – #MAGA and its derivatives, Trump Supporter, Not Politically Correct – reveal a collective that is very openly a collective. They just happen to speak the language of individualism. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It’s freedom of speech. Not my choice to get offended, buddy. Broader civic discourse has extended the reach of this type of language with phrases like ‘lone wolf’ – a phrase used often to describe the Christchurch attacker, who professed an admiration for Trump and Norwegian terrorist Anders Bering Breivik in his manifesto. The ideologues set the tone and establish communities, and every individual is then empowered to act alone against the Other. (You could say the exact same thing against fundamentalist Islam, which is to say that neither extremity lacks a coherent movement to back them up.)

But to Shapiro and his ilk, it is insane to suggest Trump’s forceful anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim views have anything to do with the Christchurch shooter, let alone any of Shapiro’s own diatribes about Muslim Congresswoman Ilhan Omar or Bill Maher’s panel discussions about the dangers of moderate Islam. Every event happens in isolation, in a Randian vacuum, caused only by the free will of the actors involved. It works the other way, too: if you want to stop climate change, give up meat and take the bus, never mind the staggering emissions from multinational corporates and the lack of political will to actually use power for change.

This is the thinking that dominates our society nowadays. The Christchurch massacre seems to have prompted a closer look at what we as individuals say and do, and how we can collectively mitigate the threat of extremism. If only the likes of Shapiro – and hey, Trump, as if that would ever happen – were able to reflect on the communities they have created; how their words are transformed from mere opinions into calls to action when expressed from a megaphone. That’s the kind of individual responsibility we need right now. And there’s a model for it in Jacinda Ardern.

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Christchurch Earthquake: “the relief as people start checking in”

Dave Jackson is a university student from Hamilton whom I discovered on Twitter, somewhere in the lifetime of the #eqnz hashtag (which has become Twitter shorthand for everything Christchurch has been through over the past year and a half). He was in Christchurch until before Christmas 2011, studying at Canterbury University (where I also studied). He thus experienced both the first September 2010 quake and the big one a year ago today.

Dave was kind enough to let me cross-post a few words from his blog. The full entry is here; his words below are about getting home at the end of the day.


I sat down at the computer and the full extent of what had happened hit me, the checking in of people being OK and telling friends that you were fine. Then bed, snatched grasps of sleep between aftershocks. The booze and the sleeping pills looking tempting as hell, but you want to make sure you’ve got all your faculties about you if you need them.

Emotionally it was a frantic day. The initial panic of the quake, followed up by a sense of relief. Then the unease as you hear what happened, about the destruction and deaths. Then there’s the panic as you haven’t heard from people, the relief as people start checking in, and then as you get home to find power is back on you take a break, because you know that tomorrow is going to throw some challenges at you you never thought you’d face.

Christchurch Earthquake: “sirens and news helicopters”

Mel and I worked in the same store in Christchurch. I last saw Mel in Japan four years ago, when we walked around Shinto and Buddhist temples in Kamakura. (A lot of my connections to Christchurch are also connections to Japan.)  She now lives in Christchurch again and has been a regular participant in the volunteer silt-shovelling that follows each bad aftershock.


I was meant to be in High Street around the time of the quake to tutor a Japanese student but ended up changing my plans at the last minute to travel to Hanmer to see a friend from overseas. So I wasn’t in the thick of it as such, instead felt the quake while I was driving around Amberley somewhere.

What was a negative emotion you felt on Feb 22?

I felt a mixture of shock and fear. My friend and I arrived in Hanmer at her family’s bach and got told by her parents (who happened to be there for time out) that there’d been a major earthquake in Christchurch. I also felt extremely worried when I finally managed to speak to my mum, dad and sister on the phone. In the aftermath, I felt scared and confused due to various things, most notably lack of running water, electricity, the presence of the army and police, continual aftershocks, liquefaction in the flat I was living in and the constant sounds of sirens and news helicopters.

What about a positive emotion on that day, or over the course of the following week?

The only positive emotion on that day was gratitude for the fact that I’d changed my tutoring plans at the last minute and may have missed the unthinkable (although, who knows?) and that my friend’s parents let me stay the night at their bach as it was meant to be a day trip only. During the course of the week afterwards, I felt touched at the amount of caring and attention shown towards the people of Christchurch.

Christchurch Earthquake: “We all knew.”

I met Neil Purkiss on Twitter this week. Neil was living with his family in Christchurch on Feb 22 and, a few months later, wrote this detailed blog post reporting his and his family’s experience of the earthquake and its aftermath. He says that writing that post was “very therapeutic!”


What was a negative emotion you felt during Feb 22?

I had a feeling straight away that Christchurch was doomed.

I was in Caxton Press, Victoria St. I tried to drive home to Brighton and it was chaos. We left in June and live in Melbourne.

Thinking about it, the sense of doom maybe crept up on me in the next week. You could see it was bad on people’s faces. We all knew.

What was a positive emotion you felt during Feb 22?

Just when all family was together.

Christchurch Earthquake: “Fear. nothing else.”

I worked with Yuko in Christchurch. Our old workplace was right the middle of the city, on one side of Cathedral Square, and it no longer exists due to the damage suffered by the building.

Yuko was pretty much always the level-headed one at work, always calm and with quick wits. This may be partly a result of her Aikido training, in which she has earned a black belt. Still, the earthquake had a powerful effect.


Well, almost a year from the day, I still clearly remember what happened to me at that moment. Even though a lot of memories and my emotions after the event are now slowly fading away in my mind, or at least not really strongly impacted on me, I still can’t forget the moment.

What was a negative emotion you felt on Feb 22, and is there a specific experience/moment you associate with that?

Fear. nothing else. Fear Fear and Fear.

When the first big aftershock hit, I was at home, just finishing hanging up washing inside my flat. I was crouching to hang small stuff on the lowest line on a clothes rack. Then I grabbed a basket and noticed that I couldn’t stand up. ??? why? I think I had a completely blank moment for at least a couple of seconds. Sounds like a short moment but it wasn’t. It was a long moment to realize that a massive EQ was hitting us. And like a flashback, I suddenly heard myself screaming like hell. Also I heard massive mixed noises from things smashed, house rumbling , kids also screaming from a nearby school…

I had no courage to get out of my flat – or more to say, I had no idea what to do. I was panicked a bit because I couldn’t get out from a french door which we normally use as the entry, because the door was locked. My partner Kerry always locks the door after him when he goes out for work. And that morning, I was supposed to go to a friend of mine and help his business. But I had a funny headache in the morning so I canceled the plan and slept in. So the door was still locked and I had no idea where I left my key.

I noticed that I could get out from the laundry door behind the kitchen. Rushed to the kitchen and was shocked at the mess EQ made. Smashed glass and dishes everywhere, oil on the floor, the mess blocked me from getting to the laundry door because I was in bare feet. I rushed back to get a pair of shoes and another shock hit.

I rushed out to the street and saw neighbors also out, some crying, some looking absent-minded. I saw the dog next door also out in the street as the fence fell down and he wasn’t leashed. I saw dust and smoke from the direction of city and also Sumner. Neighbors talked with each other and tried to comfort each other. Still hearing massive screams from school at every aftershock hit.

Kerry managed to come back from work (His work is just two or three minutes’ drive from home) in a lady’s car. He said he couldn’t drive through the bridge because of a massive crack and the height difference between the street and the bridge, so he left his car and walked across the bridge. The lady, who knows Kerry, spotted him and offered him a ride.

Kerry quickly shot off with my car to check his mum who lives nearby and bring her to our home. She was so shaky. We tried to call to friends and family to see if they were safe. Thanks we still have old Telecom phone!! While we really struggle to find information on what was happening from radio, slowly info came from friends and family who are living in the west side of town or out of town with text messages. Kerry’s Telecom was still working. My Vodafone was crapped out.

Couldn’t believe what they were telling us; there sounds to be some casualty, the cathedral seemed to have collapsed, CTV building collapsed and burning by fire… no water, no power everywhere…….

Night was coming and we had to prepare while still in shock. I had an emergency pack prepared before September EQ and also built up more food and equipment after the September, so had no worry to spend a couple of days or more without water and power. However, I didn’t prepare myself when I suffered a disaster. Fear everywhere in my mind, constant aftershock expanding the worry.

Still, I made a straight face for Kerry’s mum and tried to comfort her as she had an angina condition triggered by September EQ and I wouldn’t like to have the same situation. She looked OK and said she was. But at 1AM at night, she suddenly said ‘I need to go to hospital’. Called 111 and asked for an ambulance, fearing we had no quick service or no quick treatment available for her. After an hour wait, a massive army ambulance arrived and took her to hospital. The driver was from out of Christchurch and didn’t know the quickest way to get a hospital. No GPS in the army truck. Kerry and the driver took a Christchurch map out and guessed which way was safe and quick to get to a hospital. He told us they took mum to St George’s Hospital.

We called to St George’s next morning and found she wasn’t there. They suggested that she might be in St Margaret Hospital. Gave them a call and also found no record of her. The reception suggested Christchurch City Hospital. Bingo!! she was in her old ward, the same room when she was in September….

Sorry for the long story. But what I want to say is the emotion while I had these events unfolding in front of me, if you ask me what the negative emotion I experienced was: fear, nothing else. Always fear about when the next big aftershock will hit, maybe this moment? maybe a minute later? maybe while I was preparing tea for us and friends who didn’t have a BBQ and didn’t have any food? Fear can’t be controlled. it’s seeping into my mind. Still does actually.

What about a positive emotion on that day, or over the course of the following week?

Positive emotion is appreciation. I appreciated Kerry was safe, Mum was safe, his whole family and friends were safe.
Neighbors were safe, not many injuries around us, some neighbors who had a well in their garden opened the gate and offered free water, made sure everyone was safe and OK with each other…… suddenly a close-knit community built up…. I was living on this street for around three years but didn’t know much about my neighbors. That was quite a warm feeling, getting to know them.

I also appreciated that help arrived so quickly and efficiently. The initial help arrived so quickly, I felt. That gave us some power to get through the though time, I believe.

I don’t know if what I wrote is help for you. I just wanted to write, maybe, just before the memorial day come.

Christchurch Earthquake: Listen.

It’s February 22, one year since the major earthquake in Christchurch that resulted in 185 deaths.

One thing I notice is that in many of the blog posts and news reports about Christchurch since that day, very little context is provided or needed. Virtually every New Zealander knows about the earthquake and its aftermath in incredible detail. We’ve read, seen and, for about ten percent of us, experienced the disaster over and over again, with fresh perspectives adding new layers of clarity every day. It’s for this reason that sentences like the first one in this post are practically redundant. Everyone knows.

It’s for this reason also that I questioned putting anything on my blog to mark the first anniversary of the biggest #eqnz. What could I add to the stack of reports that hasn’t already been said? I used to live in Christchurch, for five years; I watched in horror from my house in India as the TV reports rolled in, scouring Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other previously unseen corners of the Internet for new information, especially about the welfare of people I knew. But does the world need my detailed perspective, too?

I contacted some people who were in Christchurch that day, as well as spoke to others who had strong ties to Christchurch but were elsewhere on February 22. A few indicated that they had things to say. I figure that while the world (or New Zealand) may not need more words about the earthquake, some people affected by it might value a space for self-expression.

So, that’s what my blog is today and for the next few days. I’ve asked some just to write about a negative and a positive emotion linked to the earthquake and the days that followed; others have come up with something different. (If you’re reading this and want to contribute something, get in touch via Twitter or Facebook.)

I hope everyone who suffered through the big earthquake a year ago, and who continues to suffer through aftershocks and trauma, is able to mark the occasion on their own terms. Kia kaha.

Music, An Anchor for Memory

Right now I’m listening to ‘Province’ by TV on the Radio and it’s hot and humid, but the feeling inside and around my body is bitterly cold. The sounds of music and exploding crackers are pretty much constant outside from the three separate temple festivals going on near my house in this little tourist town in rural India, but through these headphones, the song takes me back to an inner silence deeper than most I’ve known.

Return to Cookie Mountain, TV on the Radio’s second album, came out in 2006 and I bought it the same weekend it was released. It was the middle of winter and I was living in Christchurch – yeah, that place that got hit by a big earthquake a month ago, but not as big as the one in Japan, but still pretty big.

I was living in the centre of town, in a building which apparently no longer exists, and working just a few minutes away next to the city’s main landmark: Christchurch Cathedral, and its Cathedral Square. I walked that 750 metres to work and back hundreds of times over a year and a half living in that flat, and while the brilliant blue skies and pleasant, dry and warm summers were wonderful, I’ll always remember Christchurch for its winter.

Christchurch winters aren’t desperately cold by global standards, hitting probably -5°C most nights in the July that Return to Cookie Mountain came out. This was cold enough for me, though, having grown up in the warmer North island, but luckily there was a trade-off: of the hundred bone-chilling nights of each year, one (or maybe two if we were very lucky) would be covered with real snow.

To warm that chill in my bones in the evenings, I’d take my CD player and listen to something as I walked. The walk to work was only a song’s worth, or half a song if I was listening to Orbital, and while I sometimes had my earphones in as I walked in the door of the souvenir shop I worked at, I usually felt like I was being a bit gratuitous. I mean, how hard could it be to walk five minutes without a personal soundtrack to occupy me, to handle the world outside my home without cutting out its sounds and replacing them with something which seemed more like part of me?

The walk to the video shop, however, was different. I would go to Alice in Videoland every Thursday evening to drop off last week’s rentals and pick up new ones. Wednesday and Thursday were my days off back then, my weekend, and I could hardly think of a better way to spend an hour than browsing the shelves at Alice’s. And being a full fifteen minutes away, I could fit in three songs, making the CD player a much more reasonable option – and for a good month or so, those three songs were the first three tracks of Return to Cookie Mountain.

I’d throw on my long black jacket, shove the CD player in the inside pocket, lock the flat behind me and press play as I got out into the street. Shuffling my gangly, poorly conditioned limbs along those gold-tinged, immaculately paved streets with TV on the Radio in my ears was pretty much perfect. I’d go into and through a near-empty Cathedral Square and as I came out the other side to cross Colombo St; a gust of icy wind from the Port Hills would throw my hair up and cool my face, and I’d wrap the front of my coat closed to ward off the cold.

Right about then, Province would start up. And I’d listen to it, Adebimpe, Malone and Bowie wailing about love in harmony as I walked on down High St Mall and then High St, past that cafe (whose name I’ve forgotten) I ate at with Ed and Rach, past Helen’s design studio, the song closing out just as I stepped off the street and into Alice’s – ah, heaters – the new releases there, as always, to greet me.

And I never forgot that feeling, somehow, without ever thinking about it. The music gave me an anchor on which to hang the cold, the coat, the flat and the paving stones, the cathedral and Alice’s, all those feelings enveloped by the sounds in my ears. On those 15-minute walks, ‘Province’ took on its own private meaning for me, one which I didn’t realise at the time: it would be the song that took me back to a certain time in my life, a particular feeling, the subtly indescribable emotion and physicality of it.

It’s simple, really. The memory is stronger than the song, but as an element of my life which remains constant however far I get from the memory, the song is what brings it all back. That’s to say, I can listen to ‘Province’ today in my hot house in India and it will still be the same ‘Province’ as it was four and a half years ago on the cold, dry, clean streets of Christchurch. The memories, dormant in this magnificent organ called a brain, come flooding back as clear as ever when I hear those simple chord progressions struck firmly on the piano.

It isn’t classical conditioning, but I’m sure there was something I concurrently studied in psychology classes that matches up. I see songs like ‘Province’ as an anchor on which I hang my memories, and it may have only been a flash of a millisecond back in 2006 where I felt the music, the cold, the city and everything else that stayed with me, but sometimes that’s enough to bring it all together and cohere into a memory that stays with you for the rest of your life.

Now, tell me your musical anchors.

(My brother wrote about this ages ago, so check out his post too. I give him the credit for getting the idea out first and for being an inspirational older brother who inadvertently plants ideas in my head.)