Bill Ralston: The keyword is tolerance – even of those we disagree with

by Bill Ralston / 22 March, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Bill Ralston Christchurch

Illustration/Getty Images

Neither evasive nor hate-filled words are needed in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque killings.

We were on our way north to sunny Tutukaka last Friday, listening to RNZ National, when we heard host Jesse Mulligan falter and say he had breaking news. There had been a critical incident in Christchurch. As time went on there came, at first slowly, then in an avalanche of information, the appalling facts.

A mass shooting in a mosque in the city. Then two mosques. Many dead or wounded.

Mulligan sounded as bewildered and stunned as we were. This does not happen in our New Zealand. Paris, New York, London maybe. Not here.

RNZ is to be commended for its speed of response in providing coverage of the atrocity. By the time we reached the gentle bush of Sandy Bay, we had much of the story.

The gunman had been arrested by police. In the US or Europe, with police assistance, he would have ended his rampage as a bullet-riddled corpse. In New Zealand, he is taken into custody.

On Sunday, back in Auckland, we walked along Ponsonby Rd to buy flowers to take to the local mosque, just 100m from our flat. Jairam’s Dairy and Flower Shop, usually festooned with floral arrangements, was bare. A little further up the road we found another shop with just a couple of bunches of roses left. We bought them and wandered back to Vermont St.

A police officer in body armour carrying what appeared to be a Bushmaster rifle was on duty across the road from the mosque. Its street frontage was piled with bouquets like ours. As we left our small offering, a tide of people came out of a church on the opposite side of the street, silently crossed the road and entered the mosque grounds in a show of interfaith support, commiseration and grief.

Media coverage of the massacre – there is no other word for the killing and wounding with a semi-automatic rifle and shotgun of so many unarmed people at worship – was generally decent, respectful and, thankfully, largely lacking in hyperbole.

Yet the wording of many of the stories carried evasive phrases. The alleged perpetrator (yes, I must use delicate wording myself) was referred to in the context of “white nationalism”. Why not use the clearer descriptor of “racism”? Far right was another term in use – why not cut to the chase and say “fascist”?

On social media, there was also a perverse response to events. People were posting that various conservative or right-wing media figures should be banned from journalism and purveying opinion pieces because they were somehow complicit in the act. Names that kept coming up included talkback host Sean Plunket, Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking and the AM Show’s Duncan Garner and his sidekick Mark Richardson.

The critical, ranting posts oozed the kind of hatred and intolerance that marked the loathsome online statements of the alleged killer.

The keyword here is tolerance. New Zealanders should tolerate the opinions of those they disagree with. By all means call them dickheads or something worse, but they have a right to voice their opinions, however disagreeable they may be to you. Hate speech, of course, is different and we have laws and editorial codes that should prevent and punish that.

If nothing else, the cataclysm of March 15 must teach us to respect each other, tolerate our differences and live together in – apologies for this often-misused word – love.

This article was first published in the March 30, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

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