We must not change

In conversation among the 1,000 people gathered outside the Al Huda mosque in Clyde St on Friday I suggested that we must not be changed by recent events. If our way of life is changed then evil has a victory.

My Muslim neighbour suggested we are changed - for the better.

I wasn't about to challenge his perception if that is what he experienced. And we cannot be unaffected by the pain and sadness of those who have lost loved ones and community members. That is what brought 1,000 of us to the mosque on Friday and 18,000 to the stadium, to grieve with and to support those dealing with loss and ongoing anguish.

But I'm thinking of a broader picture.

When I was a student, long before my young Muslim friend was born, we stood alongside and we marched here in Dunedin for the people of South Africa facing the brutality of apartheid.

And for the people of the Pacific facing the poisonous testing of nuclear weapons in their home. We stood against an unjust colonial war in Vietnam. Those things are ended.

We stood with those struggling for recognition of the Treaty of Waitangi and honouring of commitments and righting of colonial wrongs. Many times we stood with people we did not know and who had beliefs and backgrounds different to our own.

Our parents and grandparents stood with Europe and Asia against fascism. That too was turned back.

For hundreds of years the community of these islands have welcomed and embraced newcomers and worked to turn away the path of violence, injustice and oppression favoured by some.

The defiant stand in 1881 of the people of Parihaka and the peaceful persistence of Kai Tahu, Waitaha, Kati Mamoe, and Moriori inspired much of Gandhi's non-violent struggle for Indian independence.

So we now stand with our Muslim friends and neighbours in the face of cowardly attack. Our children stand up for action to turn back the attacks on our climate and environment.

For some standing against injustice, welcoming and standing together with strangers of different origins, faiths, and cultures may involve a change of thinking.

In Dunedin and for most in this nation this is not new.

We are not changed.

This is us.

There are things still to challenge and resolve. There are those among us who cling to bigotry and foster division. We can all always benefit from reflecting on our assumptions and prejudices.

But let's not lose sight of what has been done behind anxiety over what remains to do. Sustained improvement comes more often from evolution than revolution. Jacinda Ardern is being hailed internationally as an exemplar of humanity and leadership. She is not an aberration in this community. She is a product of it.

We as a nation and community must not respond to one event as if it requires a change to who we are, or to our way of life.

Those who call for extension of the surveillance state or other changes to civil rights - the arrest of people wearing tee shirts some find offensive - are surrendering to fear and giving victory to the agents of terror.

We have something special because many people have worked to build it that way. We will only keep it by quelling our urge to act from outrage or fear, and holding to long-proven values in the face of challenge.

Let us remain us - not from complacency but from determination.

Kia kaha. Kia kaha. Kia kaha.

 - Allan Baddock