At Lincoln University, we were all deeply affected by the attack on the Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre. We lost four people. I personally lost a marker, a young man who had just finished his PhD and had his whole life ahead of him.
The pitiful irony is the mass-murderer thought he was superior to someone who had just completed a PhD and was a good man in every sense of the word. It is invariably the case that those who claim white supremacy are the ones who least fit that description.
The first day of lectures after the attack, I had to address what had happened. About fifteen percent of my class are Islamic and I know that many of the kiwi students would also be upset. So, I began by addressing the issue of white supremacy.
I told the class that, if we were to look at the world in the year 1930, we might get the impression that white people were superior. There is no doubt that the white people were the richest, the most educated and the most powerful. The British, by themselves ruled a quarter of the world.
However, I told my students if we went back 800 years, we would get a very different picture. If we were to judge in the year 1200, who were the superior people, it would not be those from Europe. It would be the Chinese and those in the Islamic world.
If we were racially superior, we would expect white people to consistently be the leading nation. But in reality, we only took the lead after the enlightenment and Industrial revolution. When we study the history of the world and the changing position of nations, it is hard to sustain a view of racial superiority. It is culture that makes the difference, not race.
At the end of the thirteenth century, Marco Polo visited China and confirm their supremacy in every facet of life. He records his amazement in his book The Travels.
Similarly, the Islamic people were far more advanced than the Europeans. In fact, it was interaction with the Islamic world that helped pull us out of the dark ages. In every sphere, the Islamic world was more advanced, from mathematics and chemistry to commerce. We can see this in the words we use today which have an Arabic origin.
In maths we gained the words algebra, algorithm, degree (daraja) and cube (ka’ab)
In chemistry, we gained alkali and alchemy from which we also get our word chemistry.
In music, we get lute and guitar (kithara).
In business, we get the words tariff, hazard and ream, and new products such as alcohol, sugar, cotton and coffee.
It is no coincidence that the richest places in Europe were those that traded with the Islamic world, that is the cities of Venice and Genoa. This was a time in which Europe progressed through contact with the Islamic world.
And of course, it was the time of the crusades. Hence, I was surprised to hear so many people saying the Crusader rugby team must change their name because of the mosque attacks. For a start, the rugby team had nothing to do with the attacks, but secondly, the calls show a very simple knowledge of what happened 800 years ago.
The crusades are being presented as something painful for Islamic people and yes, the Crusaders of old caused much pain. Their leaders lacked the sophistication of the Islamic leader Saladin who comfortably defeated the crusaders, but herein lies a vital point. The crusades were a period that symbolised Islamic supremacy. Not only that, the crusades represent an Islamic victory over white people.
But to the media conducting their own campaign against a rugby team, the crusades have a much narrower meaning. They ignore the superiority of the Islamic world that the crusades represented, so let me spell this out… we lost! They won!
It is a common human trait that when we experience events we cannot control, we focus on things we can control regardless of whether those things have any bearing on the events. Hence, the media were attempting to address the mosque shootings the best way they could; through a rugby team, but what will it achieve?
A mass murderer from Australia, dressed in combat clothes, takes a semi-automatic and shoots hundreds of people. Our Islamic people now have serious issues that will stay with them for the rest of their lives, but what do our media focus on, the name of a rugby team.
There are times when I get very embarrassed by the quality of journalism in New Zealand. They have an inability to identify what is truly affecting the lives of Islamic people in Canterbury, and they genuinely think changing the name of a rugby team will improve their welfare.
To add some perspective, consider the following - there are some relatives of victims who are not legal migrants but they want to stay in the country. It seems the name of our rugby team hasn’t deterred them. If we said to them ‘you can only stay in the country if you let us keep the Crusaders name’, what do you think they would answer?
Do you think it would be a tough decision for them?
Let me pose another question – if Hollywood made a movie on Richard the Lionheart and the Crusades, would we ban it from our theatres because it would upset Islamic people? The same principle is at play here.
Some ridiculous claims have been made. For example, it has been said that the word ‘crusades’ is equivalent to the word ‘jihad’. That is not true. Contemporary extremist armies have been proclaiming jihads against westerners, but no Western army today wants to reclaim Jerusalem.
As a rugby brand, the Crusades has been successful because it builds on a dominant theme of the Canterbury area. In particular, they are representing a region with a city named Christ Church. The horsemen wearing the cross are a meaningful theme. But once again, this has been distorted with media claiming that these people are carrying weapons and represent attacks on Muslims. It does not represent this at all - The swords aren’t real, and the horsemen are not attacking Muslims. They simply ride around the park to the excitement of children. There is no hint of death anywhere.
In fact, the Crusaders were badly affected by the Mosque massacre. Assistant coach Ronan O’Gara expressed this on hearing of shootings in the city and that his children were in lock-down. It is something that no parent wants to hear.
The massacre left everyone in deep shock and, when the lock-down was released and cars log-jammed in the city, there was a sense that it was the earthquake all over again.
There has been too much suffering in this city. But one thing that gave the city pleasure was the Crusaders rugby team, and sure enough the media started attacking them.
This raises an important question ‘will the name change actually have a negative effect on any people?’ And the answer is ‘yes’. The Crusaders is something Cantabrians are proud of. They bring joy to people who have suffered two extreme disasters over the last eight years. The people of Canterbury have had much change thrust upon them at a time when they need continuity. The CBD has been wiped off the map, many have lost homes and, in some cases, whole neighbourhoods. The last thing they needed was a massacre.
In his light, the media have been immoral on turning on one thing that has given them joy. Unless, a name change dramatically increases security for Islamic people, it does not justify imposing any more change on the people of Canterbury.
So, let’s return to the question, what will a name change achieve? It will not provide any more security. Islamic people are intelligent enough to know that the rugby team had nothing to do with the attack.
This issue illustrates a deeper problem with New Zealand society and the media in particular. We cannot discuss issues of multi-culturalism in a critical and mature manner.
Consider the example I gave at the beginning of this article in which I referred to the Chinese and Islamic world in the year 1200 being superior to the West – no problems there. But now imagine if someone said Western culture is currently superior to Islamic or any other culture – different story.
There is no doubt that after the enlightenment, Western cultures developed a large number of advantages in their ability to provide welfare for their members. The advance of knowledge in science and technology helped to improve health, economy and material welfare. Advances in philosophical debate led to advances in freedom with less oppression and exploitation.
Consider the words of the biologist Robert Sapolsky who has spent much time researching African wildlife. In his book Behave he describes people he encountered …
“who believe that epileptics are possessed and that the organs of murdered albinos have healing powers, where beating of wives, children and animals is the norm, five year olds herd cattle and haul fire wood, pubescent girls are clitoridectomized and given to old men as third wives.”When we read such descriptions can we really say all culture are equal? Sapolsky is no racist. On the contrary, he is the last person you would accuse of that. He is merely noticing important aspects of the cultures he has worked within, and he goes on to note what he sees as the difference between these societies and those in the West:
“countries with minimal violence, extensive social safety nets, few child brides, numerous female legislators and sacrosanct civil liberties are usually direct descendants of the enlightenment.”Of course, the enlightenment isn’t the only influence on Western society. Perhaps the biggest was a belief system with many useful guides to social interaction. This belief system is symbolised by a cross which, notably, is warn by the horseman who ride around the park before the Crusaders play; the very same horsemen that the media want to get rid of.
If, as a consequence of multi-culturalism, New Zealanders are forced to change the things they love, it could lead to a backlash against multi-culturalism. With this in mind, the media need to act with maturity when dealing with cultural differences. Most important, they need to show our own culture more respect.
Dr Greg Clydesdale is an economics lecturer at Lincoln University. The ideas expressed in this article are his personal opinion - not those of the university.