From the bottom of my heart, “Thank you” to the people of New Zealand

Like many people around the world, I am deeply moved by the display of humanity by New Zealanders in reaction to the terrorist attack that happened recently in Christchurch.

That city had already been hit hard in February 2011 when a 6.3-magnitude earthquake struck. 185 people were killed, 6000 injured and around 170,000 buildings were damaged. Till today the country’s earthquake commission is dealing with thousands of claims from that earthquake.

Almost two weeks ago on 15 March, Christchurch suffered another tragedy when a 28-year-old Australian terrorist and white supremacist, wearing military-style clothing and bearing semi-automatic weapons and shotguns, attacked worshippers during Friday Prayers at Al Noor Mosque. He then drove away to Linwood Islamic Centre located five kilometres away to carry out another attack. 50 people died and another 50 injured. Police stopped and arrested the gunman before he could move on to a third location to continue his killing spree.

The rest of the world is just as shocked as New Zealanders themselves that this has happened in their country, long considered a very safe one. Prior to this, the worst public shooting was in 1990 in the seaside township of Aramoana where a verbal dispute between neighbours ended up with one of them fatally shooting 13 people. However, experts say that right-wing extremism has been growing in New Zealand in recent years.

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I keep reading in the news about the action from the New Zealanders in response to this horrific tragedy. I feel it’s truly exemplary how they have come together, how even in their shock and grief they still express so much compassion and unity, and that the rest of the world can learn so much from this.

We have to remember always that when terrorists attack us, (them and the war-mongering powers-that-be that sponsor and support them including politicians, and journalists, social media activists, and others who benefit from chaos) whether they call themselves Muslims or Christians or whatever, that the purpose of their cowardly attacks is to divide us. To ultimately bring fear and suspicion and hatred so that we turn against each other. They are such a tiny minority and they need many more supporters if they are to further their agendas, and so they continue to kill the innocent to continue trying to sow hatred to try get more people to their side.

Unfortunately there will always be people, a few we might even know, and who are supposed to be educated but who are still stupid enough to fall for the con of the terrorists. These people claim to hate terrorists but are actually serving the objectives of the terrorists by making disdainful remarks about an entire religion or community. Of course, there are also people who already hate certain religions and communities and are using terrorist attacks as excuses to further the spread of their hate. It’s encouraging therefore that they are in the minority. It’s encouraging that with every terrorist attack there are more expressions of support to both victims and the community being put in a bad light because the terrorist is said to belong to it. Nobody with a shred of common sense and decency is going to let these terrorists win by succumbing to the hate they are trying to create.

New Zealand however has taken the response to deny terrorists their objective to a whole new level, and with action as well, not just thoughts and prayers. The world is watching their leaders especially their Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern with admiration for her exemplary and firm leadership, as well as regular Kiwi folks who have displayed so much strength and solidarity.

Even Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been heavily criticised for showing at his political rallies parts of a video the terrorist took during his attack, made an effort to single out Ms Ardern for praise. (At least 3 Turkish citizens were among the wounded in the attacks. On top of that, in the hate-filled manifesto the terrorist had written, he had called for the assassination of Mr Erdogan along with others such as Sadiq Khan the mayor of London, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.)

In an opinion piece for The Washington Post, Mr Erdogan wrote that:

all Western leaders must learn from the courage, leadership and sincerity of New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, to embrace Muslims living in their respective countries.”

I think the Jordanian Prince El Hassan bin Talal, who was in New Zealand and visited Christchurch (two Jordanians were among those killed) expressed it best in an interview with Radio New Zealand when he said:

“It is simply impossible not to take heed of the goodness, of the kotahitanga, of New Zealanders.”

“And I think that a world at war with itself can only find serenity in the example of the compassion and the love that New Zealanders have shown.”

A quick online check of what kotahitanga means turned up unity and solidarity in Māori, the language of the indigenous population of New Zealand, also called Māori.

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There are so many instances of how the New Zealanders, leaders and the public alike, acted so admirably in response to the tragedy. I can’t possibly list them all but here are some of the ones that have particularly stayed with me:

ORDINARY FOLKS EXPRESSING SUPPORT

Linked above, CNN World reported how various communities were helping others, including the Te Atatū Baptist Church in Auckland which announced on Facebook that it was opening its doors to Muslims because mosques had been closed.

As a Muslim I am heartened and thankful the article also mentioned that Muslims have shown heart to others as well, for example raising funds for their Jewish brothers and sisters after the terrorist attack on the Tree of Life Synagogue in the U.S. last October.

I read on Mothership website of the two New Zealanders, remarkably beautiful souls, who separately visited two different mosques to express their support and sympathy on Saturday 16 March, just a day after the attack. Both the mosques have posted about the visits on their Facebook pages.

On Al-Huda Mosque’s page, its chairman Azman Kassim posted that a New Zealander lady named Mrs Kim Forrester, visited the mosque and apologised on behalf of her countrymen for what happened and prayed for the Muslim community. Mr Azman said she need not have apologised and expressed his gratitude for her gesture.

The second New Zealander is an unnamed gentleman. He is pictured below in the Facebook post by Masjid Al-Falah, with flowers he had brought and a note in the bouquet. The mosque said in the post that the gentleman offered his condolences and thoughts, and that he was deeply affected by the tragedy and wanted to express his support for the victims.

The story on Mothership featured the note in the bouquet. It was in both Māori and English and read:

“Kia Raha, Ria toa, Ri a manawanui

Be strong, be brave, be steadfast

E Ihowa Atua, Te aroha noa,

O Lord God, care for us”

Buzzfeed News wrote how just three days after the attack, on the first day school reopened since the attack, thousands of students from various schools in Christchurch gathered at Hagley Park, near one of the two mosques where the shootings took place. They went there after school, bearing candles and flowers for a vigil to pay their respects to the dead and to share how the event had impacted them.

One of the students at the vigil named Heneli remarked:

I’ve never seen so much support from outside of communities. I just love it, to see that everyone’s here, showing their respect.”

And another named Vitorina said that:

“Even though we’re different ethnicities, different cultures, different religions, we care. As one, we all came here, we showed that we cared for Muslims.”

Later that week on 22 March, thousands of the public gathered at Hagley Park to show solidarity with the Muslims. Radio New Zealand’s website wrote that:

Men in suits, women wearing headscarves – some for the first time – patched gang members, toddlers in pushchairs, and hundreds in the traditional dress of a culture less familiar.”

At that same gathering that took place on a Friday one week since the terror attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said to the attendees:

According to Muslim faith, the Prophet Muhammad, sallahu alaihi wasallam (peace be upon him) said, ‘The believers in their mutual kindness, compassion and sympathy are just like one body. When any part of the body suffers, the whole body feels pain.”

“New Zealand mourns with you. We are one.”

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VOLUNTARY GIVING UP OF GUNS

Even before the ban on semi-automatic weapons announcement that came on 21 March, the terrorist attack in Christchurch had moved some Kiwi gun owners to give up their weapons of their own accord such as the following two:

Both persons above have had to put up with pro-gun critics and trolls on their Twitter accounts regarding their decision, but there are also many people supporting and thanking them.

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GUN LAWS

Impressively, it took Ms Ardern just six days since the attack to announce a ban on semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles, announcing as well that a buyback programme will be launched to take existing weapons out of circulation. This ban was also supported by the country’s opposition party whose leader, Simon Bridges, said that it is in the national interest to keep New Zealanders safe.

This action was stunningly decisive and firm enough to draw praise from two American politicians who lamented that this is the kind of leadership the U.S. needs to protect its people, including schoolchildren. Bernie Sanders, a Senator and presidential candidate tweeted:

While Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Congresswoman for New York, made reference to the horrific December 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting where 20 children and 6 adult staff were fatally shot:

New Zealand is said to have an estimated 1.2 million guns registered to civilians. With a population of about 4.8 million people, the ownership works out to about 1 gun for every 4 people, or about 26.3 firearms per 100 people. In comparison, this is far better than the U.S. which is said to have more guns than people with about 120 firearms per 100 people. However, Australia fares better than New Zealand with almost half the number of firearms per capita with about 14.5 firearms per 100 people.

(On a side note, my mind is ALWAYS blown all over again EVERY. SINGLE. TIME I think of how much smaller the population of countries like New Zealand is compared to Singapore. We have 5.6 million people on our tiny island, so tiny we nicknamed it our ‘little red dot’, while New Zealand, the whole of New Zealand!, has only 4.8 million. These numbers make me feel even more confined and claustrophobic, not to mentioned annoyed, when I’m out amidst human congestion!)

(However, in the spirit of always having gratitude for the things to be grateful for, and this is a MAJOR one, we don’t have guns in the hands of the public. Phew!)

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THE NEXT STEP: WORKING TO PREVENT SIMILAR TRAGEDIES

And now Jacinda Ardern has also ordered a royal commission, the highest level of independent inquiry available under the country’s law to investigate how the tragedy could have happened, and whether the police and intelligence services could have done more to prevent it from happening. The formal inquiry is also to look into the issues of the accessibility of semi-automatic weapons and the role of social media in the attacks.

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Linked above is the full list of the 50 killed in the attack.

*Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’un*

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Fall at your feet by Crowded House

One of those days again, when I’ve been listening to the same song over and over again, because for some reason a tune drifts into my head and I just start to hum or sing it softly to myself. So I play it a few times. And then it still won’t leave my head.

Fall At Your Feet was released in 1991. Written by Neil Finn, the lead singer of Crowded House, it is from their third studio album Woodface, released the same year. The band was first formed in Australia in the mid eighties, and became well-known with their huge and memorable hit Don’t Dream It’s Over from their debut album. Although the band broke up a decade later in 1996, it reformed in 2007 albeit with some different members and is still active today.

It’s always fun to check into YouTube to enjoy again the music video of the songs I’m thinking of, and end up enjoying not only the song’s original release, but extra treats like live performances and accoustic versions, if I’m lucky to come across them. In addition to that, other versions by other artists as well.

I love the original:

I didn’t enjoy the 2010 version from Australian indie rock-folk band Boy and Bear as much. It’s a bit ‘over-produced’ to me. The first half was captivating and lush, and overall I enjoyed it, but at the same time I feel it’s a bit too grand a treatment for the quiet and intimate spirit of the song.

More my cup of tea is James Blunt‘s version below. I’m not normally a fan of his style of singing, which I find a tad over-dramatic to be honest, but I thought he did alright by this song.

After saying that I think Boy and Bear‘s version too grand and overdone for the ‘quiet and intimate’ song, it’s strange that I find the passionate and spirited flamenco style of Jesse Cook‘s version suits it stunningly well. I just like this one a lot more. It somehow clicks and fits snugly like a tight bear hug. Jesse is the guitarist in the vest in the video, by the way. I read in Wiki that he recorded the song with a singer called Danny Wilde, so I’m guessing that’s Danny singing in the video. An exhilarating performance by them both and the rest of the band! Song starts at 0:28.

And finally the version I love most of all, from the songwriter himself. Just a man and his guitar, his voice clear and sincere, and those haunting lyrics. Simple and unassuming, but cuts devastatingly deep. Just lovely.

 

 

 

Royals, covered by Puddles

When I first heard Royals by New Zealander singer-songwriter Lorde some weeks ago, it was, “Hmm, that’s nice.” I noted with surprise that she was only sixteen. She just turned seventeen a few days ago. The song has been atop the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for six weeks now.

Then recently I heard it again, and this time I really heard it properly. And the man who finally made me fall for the song is Puddles, the sad Clown from Puddles Pity Party.

It just totally blew me away. That incredible voice, the all-out passion he unleashed and the breathtaking melancholia, his voice, the gravitas he exuded. I was a bit disconcerted at being a bit turned on by a clown. That has never happened before and I don’t mind it never happening again. I mean, when he clutches his buttons in his intensity at 2:36, my breath caught, and my fingers wandered away from the keyboard to tweak my… oh, never mind.

No, please, no rabbit holes. I’d never recover and crawl my way out in one piece.

I love the two poker-faced ladies who sang backup too. The one on the right is named Robyn Adele Anderson and she sang a kick-ass vintage bluegrass version of Robin Thicke‘s Blurred Lines. Link to that video here.

The first video above is from the channel of Scott Bradlee, who arranged the song and also played the piano in the incredible performance, hidden behind the ladies. Puddles’s own channel is here. I love Puddles’ voice and the way he carried the song so much that suddenly I loved the song enough to want to note and ponder its lyrics. And now I appreciate Lorde’s songwriting. Royals was co-written with producer Joel Little. Love her voice too.

Thirty-nine more days to The Hobbit

Martin Freeman Bilbo Baggins The Hobbit

Image from comingsoon.net. Click to go there.

Just read the latest entry in Sir Ian McKellen’s Hobbit blog, where he wrote that the publicity for the film has started and that he’s been busy talking to journalists. Got my mouth watering even more; I just cannot wait for The Hobbit to be released! Just a bit over a month more to go. It will be showing in Singapore on 13th December.

There will always be a special place in my heart for The Lord of the Rings. I’m looking forward to having The Hobbit cozying up in there too. But it’s just that the first cut is always the deepest, isn’t it.

It’s just that I know as I sit in the theatre watching The Hobbit, I’ll be enjoying it but I will also be thinking of and missing terribly the likes of Liv Tyler, as ethereal Arwen. And the Aragorn that is Viggo Mortensen. And the quartet of hobbits that are Frodo, Sam, Merry and Pippin, all together. Especially the special connection between Frodo and Sam, played to aching perfection by Elijah Wood and Sean Astin.

Image from adorkable me. Click to go there.

But even if the newer movies don’t speak to me the same way, that’s okay, they will still make superb companions in the series. Looking forward most to Sir McKellen and Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins. I like the latter a lot as well, as Dr. Watson in Sherlock.

Sibling rivalry gone bizarre

When it comes to rivalries between nations in anything, I think it’s usually deeper and more tense (and hilarious) when it’s between next-door neighbours, like Singapore and Malaysia. I like to call it ‘sibling rivalry’. It can be petty and silly to downright nasty, and naturally it’s most scathing online in the form of comments made by blissfully anonymous users.

But I don’t remember coming across anything so unbelievably childish, so blatantly mean-spirited as this: Australia’s Channel 9, their official broadcaster of the London Olympics, had reportedly wiped their neighbour New Zealand off their top 10 Olympic medal table on national television. This happened days ago when New Zealand held the tenth spot on the medal ranking.

I read about it in this article published last Saturday 4th August. Excerpt:

“Can’t believe Channel 9 only showed top 9 in medal tally plus Australia, then admitted we didn’t want to be reminded NZ were 10th,” Sydney Morning Herald journalist Brad Walter tweeted.

The two gold medals won by rowers, double scullers Hamish Bond and Eric Murray, and single sculler Mahe Drysdale lifted New Zealand, albeit briefly, above Australia in the race for overall Olympic glory.

New Zealand’s three golds and two bronze medals is now good enough for 11th on medal table while Australia is languishing in 18th position with one gold, eight silvers and four bronzes.

And then earlier today I was stupefied again to see the photo below, where an Australian newspaper had apparently put New Zealand and Australia in the same box, combining their medals and calling the combo ‘Aus Zealand’. Now that is so hilarious and bizarre that it has got to be a joke. A cheeky take on solidarity.

Source: Twitter, Jess Maher. Via tvnz.co.nz. Click to go to site.

Maybe Aussies and Kiwis just have a really wicked and rough-and-tumble sense of humour that I just don’t get, or something? Or something.

Somebody that I used to know, by Gotye feat. Kimbra

I came across the delightful song a few days ago. I heard it first on the radio, which was funny because I don’t usually listen to the radio. I can’t stand the deejays because I think they yak so much, like they’re so in love with their voices or something.

I was clearing some shelves and came across an old CD player that also features radio and a cassette player. I was checking if anything still works before I throw it away. When I fiddled with the knob for the radio, this song came up and I immediately loved it, and rushed to get pen and paper to scribble something, anything, from the lyrics that I could catch. For that actually works, I found. I did it a few times before. Typed a line or two from a song or poem in Google or some other search, and eventually the title I was looking for would come up.

When I heard the chorus I really thought it was Sting, and then later I thought the song features Katy Perry as well. Wrong on both counts. But well I discovered two new singers.

Not crazy about the video. It’s alright I guess.

And the song: I love it but must be careful not to listen to it too often. I can see it getting on my nerves, in a ‘Lemon Tree‘ sort of way. Thank goodness I don’t listen to radio heh.