Column: New Zealand is a lesson America hasn’t learned

Melissa Wells, opinion editor

For Muslims around the world, Jumu’ah, also known as Friday Prayer, is the most sacred time of the week — the most important part of Friday. But for Muslims in New Zealand, Friday, March 15 became a nightmare.

With a camera fashioned into headgear, an individual who remains nameless was greeted at the front doors of Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand at 1:40 p.m.

Daud Nabi, a 71-year-old former Afghan refugee, beckoned him from the doors of the mosque he helped found with a cheerful, “Hello, brother!” The man raised his gun and fired, killing the first of 50 victims and injuring many others.

The two consecutive terrorist attacks shocked communities around the world and left New Zealand reeling. However, unlike the United States, New Zealand did not falter in taking action.

It took less than a day for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to rightfully condemn white supremacy, which the gunman used as justification for violence. And it took less than a day for our president’s responding commentary to dismiss it.

It took one day for New Zealand to decide that it must ensure the safety of its people against gun violence. It took six days for New Zealand to legislate action against the instruments used to facilitate mass murder. All in all, it took one week for New Zealand, a nation in grief, to do better than the United States ever has in protecting the livelihood of its people against the epidemic of gun violence and rising white extremism worldwide.

How New Zealand, a country at peace, confronted this violence and the subsequent tragedy is telling of both its people and its government. What is more telling, however, is how the United States responded to three key things: the role of guns, white supremacy and the xenophobic aspect of this attack on the Muslim community and its faith.

In the wake of what Ardern called “an extraordinary and unprecedented act of violence,” Trump was asked whether he thought white nationalism was a growing threat around the world. He said, “I don’t really. I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems.”

The thing about a serious problem like white supremacy, other than the fact that it is not nor has it ever been “a small group of people,” is that it does not manifest in a vacuum. Islamophobia, homophobia, racism — that kind of hate doesn’t just happen, it is emboldened by bigotry normalized in political discourse. The hate that permeates this violence is staggering and on the rise despite those unwilling to acknowledge that truth.

The Center for Strategic and International Studies, or CSIS, conducted a study examining the rise of right-wing terrorism, which is commonly referred to as “the use or threat of violence by sub-national or non-state entities whose goals may include racial, ethnic, or religious supremacy …” It found that the number of terrorist attacks perpetrated by far-right extremists quadrupled in the United States between 2016 and 2017 and in Europe, far-right attacks rose 43 percent over the same time span. The increase in attacks perpetrated by white supremacists and anti-government extremists is “of particular concern,” according to the CSIS.

The subject of white supremacy merits a discussion concerning not only what is wrong with this racist belief system, but how the global community can unite against the rise of white extremism internationally. A good start would be following in New Zealand’s footsteps.

The United States has much to learn from New Zealand. The multitude of ways they have displayed their solidarity with Muslims members of their community has brought New Zealanders together in a time when violence tried to divide them.

New Zealand’s government responded to the deadliest mass shooting in its history by taking the necessary measures to learn from it. It serves as a lesson for us — and highlights a failure on our part — that steps can be taken to combat such problems. The United States has chosen to confront neither the growing issue of gun violence nor the rise of white supremacy, and the danger both pose.

It can take a single day, a day like March 15, for our faith in humanity to be shaken. Or, like the peaceful worshippers in attendance at the two mosques attacked, for that faith to be targeted. It can also take a day like March 15 for that faith, in the face of tragedy, to be strengthened by the very humanity that connects us to one another.

As Hasan Minhaj said, “Our faith should never matter more than our humanity.”