Joseph Sabino Mistick: Lessons from New Zealand |
Joseph Sabino Mistick, Columnist

Joseph Sabino Mistick: Lessons from New Zealand

A message card is placed at a collection of flowers left at the Botanical Gardens in Christchurch, New Zealand, March 16, 2019.

With 5 million residents, New Zealand is large enough to have some big problems but small enough to handle them sensibly. When a new national anthem was proposed — an issue that would polarize most nations — the new anthem was added without dropping the old one, a decision less likely to offend either side. Now it is one of two sovereign nations with two national anthems.

And when faced with a surprisingly large number of world maps on which New Zealand does not appear — from the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History to the United Nations seal to board games — New Zealanders made sense again. They now have a humorous tourism campaign with the hash tag #getnzonthemap.

Being forgotten must have some advantages, because New Zealand is ranked eighth out of 156 countries in the annual World Happiness Report. And being forgotten is always better than being remembered for a bad thing. But even those bad things will not take a people down if they respond with compassion and common sense.

On March 15, when a heavily armed white supremacist stormed two mosques in Christchurch, murdering 50 Muslim worshipers and wounding dozens more, New Zealand received the kind of attention that no country wants. But New Zealanders will be remembered more for their response than for the hateful acts of one man or even a movement.

Within six days of the terrorist attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a ban on military-style semiautomatic weapons, with more reform to come. There were no ridiculous claims that it was too soon after the tragedy to talk about reform, no stupid suggestions that the gun reform debate should be delayed out of respect for the victims.

“Every semiautomatic weapon used in the terrorist attack on Friday will be banned,” Ardern said.

And there will be an immediate moratorium on the purchase of the banned weapons, which will prevent a rush to acquire them while formal legislation is pending. All of these measures received immediate support from the opposition party as well.

Ardern also denied the terrorist his most powerful weapon: publicity. Without public recognition, the reach of terror is limited. Ardern urged all New Zealanders to join her in this as well.

“I implore you: Speak the names of those who were lost, rather than the name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”

And Ardern went after the social media platforms that allow terrorists to spread their hate on the internet. The Christchurch terrorist live-streamed the murders on Facebook, and the social media platform was unable to stop it.

“We cannot simply sit back and accept that these platforms just exist and that what is said on them is not the responsibility of the place where they are published,” she said. “They are the publisher, not just the postman. There cannot be a case of all profit, no responsibility.”

When it comes to protecting its citizens, New Zealand has accomplished more in a few days than American lawmakers have achieved in decades. And this alone should put New Zealand on the map.

Joseph Sabino Mistick is a Pittsburgh lawyer. Reach him at [email protected].

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