Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Guy Steward: On ANZAC Day

The timing of the terrible attacks in Christchurch made it virtually inevitable that there would be controversy and debate about how we honour ANZAC Day. What should or could be included as time goes on has now included the suggestion of a Muslim call to prayer.

 It’s fair to say that the traditions around ANZAC Day are overwhelmingly and predominantly steeped in New Zealand’s traditional religion—Christianity, which has formed our thinking for centuries. Case in point: it was not only community spirit that manifested itself, strong though that is in our small and beautiful country, but also—with the love, the prayers, the flowers, the sympathy, the tears, the hugs, the outpouring of collective compassion—reflection of a firm Christian heritage, This is a nation which has responded to past trials in similar manner. Many no longer identify with our past beliefs, but they are there, and have become infused, like it or not, into our worldview.

 So, while the responses were entirely human, there was something more to them, related I believe to a legacy which considers human life to be sacrosanct and of highest worth, and which is outraged at its violation.

Plans to give recent events precedence on this day, at least in the way suggested, elicits at first glance some pertinent questions, such as: Should we as a nation remember the 378 people who died on our roads last year—the worst in a decade? Or the 26 from last week. Or those from last years’ homicides, or deaths from other accidents, disasters or crimes? Those victims were also from diverse backgrounds and racial groups. An attack like that of last month of course is different in the sense that it is so offensively cruel and ideologically driven. But where do we start and where do we stop in what we include on this special day because any death from any crime is a tragedy and there are so many disasters and sad events to be remembered? The Christchurch earthquake is now remembered appropriately on its anniversary day. There’s a timing for everything.

ANZAC Day is held in reverence because of its focus on the ANZACs—the Army Corps of Australia and New Zealand, and that’s where it starts and stops in the first instance, with consideration for the sacrifices of the Australian and New Zealand armies in the First World War, the Second, and the various regional conflicts we have fought since that time. It is to honour the dead, the wounded, and all who risked their lives in the belief that it was—as it was in most cases—for the good and protection of our country. It includes also all who lived through those conflicts and returned in one piece, some with psychological damage which in turn was passed on in various ways to later generations. It remembers all who sacrificed at home to support the troops. And ANZAC is in our blood—Maori and European, who together formed the majority at the time.

By remembering these things, we work towards preventing further conflicts, and that includes helping to prevent incidents which might spark them such as the Christchurch shooting. It is respectful to remember and to mourn for the victims and it is appropriate and honourable on ANZAC Day to reflect on any recent tragedy, as was done around the country after the Christchurch earthquake. But some events—and arguably this one—deserve their own day, their own time and place for remembrance.

And it is also possible that attempts to merge them with ANZAC Day could become fraught with unforeseen difficulties.

Guy Steward is a teacher, a musician and a piper, and a writer.


Unknown said...
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We have a tension here between freedom of speed and supporting a violent authoritarian ideology. On the one hand, Muslims should be allowed to speak their minds and practice their religion peacefully, just like everyone else. On the other hand, if we wish to commemorate Muslims killed in terrorist attacks, we should also remember that the vast majority of those attacks were by other Muslims, ideologically driven. It would be utterly inappropriate for the government, or any official body, to *support* that ideology. The only compromise that I can see is that a Muslim present at an ANZAC Day or Waitangi Day or even Christmas Day should be allowed to give the Muslim call to prayer, but that this should not receive any official sanction or form part of any recognised programme.

Isn't there an International Victims of Terrorism day? Since the people who died in the Christchurch attacks *weren't* ANZACs but *were* victims of terrorism, isn't 21 August the right day to commemorate them?

Anonymous said...
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@Unknown Why would anyone suggest that there isn't harm in having a Muslim prayer at an an ANZAC parade when the real question is why there should be. Anzac day has nothing to do with the Muslim or Buddhist or any other than the Christian religion. People shouldn't forget that this is a christian based country with its accompanying standards and ideals no matter what some apologists may proclaim.

Anonymous said...
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We commemorate Anzac Day for the fallen men and woman who gave their lives in the 'war to end all wars'. Anzac Day is not explicitly a Christian ceremony, but its connection is understood. We dishonor their memory by eviscerating references to the Christianity which they adhered to and which they practiced.

Dennis said...
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Guy , you have put forward a well thought out and balanced piece of fine journalism that has me reflecting on my biases . I was deeply shocked and appalled at the Christchurch massacre but agree with you that it requires it's own mark of rememberance that does not impinge on the importance of ANZAC Legend