A year ago I was enjoying the scholarship, stimulation of thinking, friendship and hospitality of Westar at the annual meeting; we discussed the decolonial, we challenged established thinking, we raised new and difficult questions.
One year on, I sit here in Christchurch, New Zealand, in a broken city re-broken by hatred and intolerance; broken by an act of mass murder committed in the name of white privilege.
In a small city we are all only one or two degrees removed from the dead and wounded: a murdered class mate of my high school daughter; school parents and families dead and wounded; a murdered parent at my daughter’s primary school - and the list could continue.
Far too many people, far, far too many young people have seen the video of the Mosque shootings, have watched people being murdered. The long-term effects of this are showing already in the short-term. We do not know how to respond to the intolerable, we do not know how to respond to the collapse of human value.
And now we are numb, now we are exhausted. But I already see the hatred continuing in new ways: a lesbian postgraduate student and her friends have received social media stating they wish gay people had been murdered instead. One act of hatred, one act of prejudice gives way to another; the victimization of one group seems always to encourage the victimization of another.
Westar members who are non-white, non-straight, non-male do not need me to tell you this – but it is important for those of us who are not to hear this; to hear it again and again and again. The forsaken cry is an all too present reality for far too many…
I have often thought about Westar in the last few days, thinking of what we raised regarding the necessary challenge of the decolonial to white privilege; of the necessity to deconstruct and challenge beliefs and narratives that are taken as normative; of the necessity to be able to articulate hope; of the necessity to challenge Empire in all its forms: the Empire of whiteness, the Empire of power, the Empire of privilege, the Empire of hatred and intolerance.
I have also thought a great deal as to how central to Westar’s project is the challenging of myths and structures that seek and act to limit, to exclude, to privilege.
You will probably all have seen the images of the vast outpouring of grief and support that has occurred in Christchurch and throughout New Zealand. What you may not have seen is the beginnings of what I term a Westar-type project: the necessary, and so-very-important challenging, of our New Zealand myths around being a tolerant, accepting, non-racist society.
We are now hearing the voices of our non-white friends, colleagues, students and fellow citizens as to their daily experiences of explicit and implicit prejudice and racism. As a nation we are now, finally, having to acknowledge what daily life is like if you are not the majority. We are now reminded of our history and structures of exclusion, racism and the dismissal of human value. As a society we are now being made aware - as a necessary demand and challenge to our complacency - of just how much hatred and intolerance circulates in social media, in the mainstream media, in our political parties and their vote–chasing statements; and perhaps most importantly, what circulates in our daily acts and comments.
For as Baudrillard writes in The Spirit of Terrorism [Verso, 2002]: “terrorism merely crystallizes all the ingredients in suspension” (p.59).
These ingredients: of privilege, of hatred, of exclusion, of fear of the other, of othering itself, of racism and prejudice were – and sadly still are – in suspension in my society, in your society.
The reason I write is to state that what Westar aims for in my experience, in my hope, is the challenging of all those ingredients that terrorism seeks to crystalize.
I therefore wish you well in your discussions and debates, your conversations and your scholarship. What you do matters, what you offer is so very important.
Mike Grimshaw is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand. Prior to restructuring in 2010 he was programe coordinator of Religious Studies at University of Canterbury. His many research interests include the history of religion and culture, religion in New Zealand culture and society, secular and radical theology and secular studies, and post-colonialism. He is currently serving as an investigator for the New Zealand Attitudes and Values Study (NZAVS), which looks at the effects of religious and secular affiliation on personal well-being. He is the author of Bibles and Baedekers: Tourism, Travel, Exile and God (2008), a contributor to 11 volumes, and the editor of numerous collections, including The Lloyd Geering Reader: Prophet of Modernity (2007).
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