Something is infinitely wrong in the picture, a juxtaposition of polar opposites: New Zealand, a country of unfailingly courteous and kind people, and an extremist terrorist killing 50 Muslims at prayer. Of course, modern guns made it possible, a hate-filled extremist of Australian origin set the stage, and a country not familiar with such violence — thus an easy target. All together they broke the proverbial camel’s back.
My own experience of New Zealand — visiting universities and delivering the occasional lecture as academics do — was uniformly pleasant. It was as if a piece of 1950s England had been sliced off and transported to the Pacific, down to the egg, sausage, bacon and tomato breakfast. The numerous small kindnesses of the people one met left a warm glow.
I was therefore, quite unprepared for Australia, the only country where I have been taken aside into a room to be grilled by an immigration official for what seemed an eternity. People are people: The hotel receptionist was welcoming and helpful.
At the Sydney Opera House, Joan Sutherland was appearing in The Daughter of the Regiment to a sold-out first night. As luck would have it, a ticket return was my ticket in . Quenching a thirst during intermission, the withering looks of fashionably-dressed matrons is now an aide-memoire. Otherwise, I might have forgotten, as I have, for example, the performance at Schloss Schonbrunn outside Vienna.
Universities are different of course, and students and professors tend not to harbor such prejudices or exhibit them within the ivory towers. The conference was much like others. Australians in person seem friendly, unselfconscious and lacking the class prejudice common in England. I must add that I have counted quite a few as friends and academic colleagues over the years.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s outburst at New Zealand following the shooting was a trifle premature. Of Turkish origin, 40-year old Gorkmen Tanis opened fire inside a tram in Utrecht, Netherlands killing 3 and wounding 3 others. Hate and more hate in a world of conflicting values and customs, coming into sharper focus as people travel outside their own countries (and comfort space) in quest of greater economic reward. Necessity or greed, opportunism or adventure, each individual has his own motivation for leaving home.
The situation is not improved by jingoist politicians exploiting it during elections or otherwise (Modi in India or Trump in the US) trying to boost standing with their base support.
Calamities other than from the barrel of a gun but perhaps not unaided by human hand gave us an historic deluge mid-March, flooding almost the whole state of Nebraska. Rich countries have the resources to limit deaths in these catastrophes but not the devastation and the ruined lives of those who have to start all over again. In Mozambique, however, President Felipe Nyusi fears the death toll will be far higher than the present 200 estimate in the aftermath of cyclone Idai which hit the port city of Beira. We are told it is possibly the worst storm ever to hit the southern hemisphere; its path of destruction enveloped Zimbabwe, Malawi and of course Mozambique. In addition to the deaths in the latter, another 150 at least have perished in the other two countries, and thousands injured. The inundation and loss of crops are expected to impact the lives of more than 2.6 million people.
Calamities engineered by man or by nature aided by man are the story this week. Can we change?
Dr Arshad M Khan (http://ofthisandthat.org/index.html) is a former Professor based in the U.S. whose comments over several decades have appeared in a wide-ranging array of print and internet media. His work has been quoted in the U.S. Congress and published in the Congressional Record.