If the Christchurch gunman isn't a day of reckoning for Australia, what is?

If the Christchurch gunman isn’t a day of reckoning for Australia, what will be?

It is the worst of times. There aren’t words to describe the massacre of 50 innocent worshippers, men, women and children, on Friday in Christchurch, in the solitude of prayers in their place of worship.

It is sickening. Atrocious. Terrifying. Heartbreaking. Wretched. Despicable.

The faces and the stories and the unrelenting horror of it all is almost too much to bear. But as tempting as it is to look away and cover our eyes there are 50 human beings whose dignity requires us to keep our eyes fixed. They couldn’t look away from the horror and neither should we.

There are hundreds and hundreds more whose wounds – physical and psychological – from the brutal attack may never heal. There are people who have survived but are forever changed. They will never be the same. New Zealand will never be the same.

It is the worst of times.

In it, as in any unbearable tragedy, there are stories that confirm humanity at its finest. There are heroes, like Abdul Aziz, who was at the Mosque on Friday with his four children, who chased the gunman away without a weapon. There is Zulfirman Syah, who threw himself in front of his toddler son Averroes and a wave of bullets, to save him.

There is New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern who has not just led her nation through its darkest days with extraordinary compassion but has given the world a lesson in true leadership.

“We, New Zealand, we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we’re an enclave for extremism, we were chosen for the very fact that we are none of these things, because we represent diversity, kindness, compassion, a home for those that share our values, a refuge for those who need it. And those values, I can assure you, will not and cannot be shaken by this attack.

We are a proud nation of more than 200 ethnicities, 160 languages, and amongst that diversity we share common values. And the one that we place currency on right now is our compassion and the support for the community of those directly affected by this tragedy and secondly, the strongest possible condemnation of the ideology of the people that did this.

You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

But, here, in Australia, the truth is we haven’t seen humanity at its finest. Not even close. We have seen the usual suspects respond in the usual way and it has never been so utterly inadequate.

From Fraser Anning’s despicable press release in the hours after the attack, to the inevitable and painfully predictable infighting about who or what is to blame that has emerged.

The lone gunman, alleged to have killed 50 innocent human beings on Friday, is Australian.

If these insufferable actions don’t amount to a reckoning that something is seriously awry in this nation, in this moment, what will?

If we pretend, as it seems some are inclined to do, that he was just a bad apple who made a contemptible decision, that the seeds of hatred that led to his violence were merely planted by accident, we cannot be surprised when the next ‘bad apple’ strikes.

If we don’t recognise that and work to change the hateful discourse that is being too readily peddled we cannot be surprised the next time something like this happens.

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