By now, news of the mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand has reached every corner of the globe. On Friday, March 15, 2019, an armed gunman targeted two mosques—Linwood Mosque and Al Noor Mosque—in Christchurch and unloaded high-power artillery, killing 50 worshippers and wounding dozens of others. Authorities believe that the violence was motivated by xenophobia and ethnonationalist sentiments. However horrific it may be, places of worship aren’t new battlegrounds to carry out violent acts based on race, religion, or ethnicity. In June 2015, 9 worshippers were killed during Sunday service in Charleston, South Carolina in what is now known as the Charleston Church Massacre. In May 2010, 94 worshippers were killed and over 100 more wounded in two attacks against the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Lahore, Pakistan while they carried out their Friday prayers. These are only a few examples among too many and as a global society, we continue to be shocked by the violence but no longer surprised. However, the recent Christchurch Massacre has moved the world to action in advocating for interfaith understanding, the acceptance of all people despite differences in culture, nationality, and ethnicity, and in supporting new solutions to the problem of guns and other weapons of destruction. These solutions can be found in the Declaration of Peace and Cessation of War, a draft resolution of 10 articles and 38 clauses outlining how to achieve and sustain international peace. Its principles can also be applied at the local and state level to reduce violence within state boundaries.

Peace Through Reducing Arms Potential and Repurposing Weapons

Common weapons of choice for large scale violence include high-artillery guns and bombs or other explosive devices.  Different states and countries have various laws regarding the usage of certain weapons and access to those weapons.  In New Zealand, for example, you can legally get licensed and own a gun at the age of 16, though registering weapons isn’t necessary under the country’s current gun laws.  After Friday’s tragedy, many are calling for reform in gun control in hopes to deter this from ever happening again. It was recently announced that New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has called for a ban on all assault rifles and military-style semiautomatics.  This decision to limit the kinds of arms allowed to be used by citizens of the state falls in line with Article 2 of the DPCW. Article 2 calls for the reduction of war potential and the repurposing of weapons to benefit humanity. In its purest sense, this article is about reforming the world’s armament laws.  It declares that states shouldn’t produce, assist in, or encourage the proliferation of arms and weapons of mass destruction; rather, they should ensure that these weapons and their respective manufacturing facilities be dismantled and repurposed into something beneficial to humanity. An example of this would be turning an old arms facility into a museum or greenspace.  With Article 2 in place and with the cooperation of the state, tragedies like Christchurch could be greatly reduced and even prevented. Once we as a society view weapons as largely unnecessary facets of life that harm more than heal, we can begin to move forward and place more value on the sanctity of human life, no matter how different that life is from our own.

Peace Through Religious Freedom and Peaceful Coexistence

Though New Zealand and many countries across the world practice religious freedom, not all individuals within a country are accepting of other religions. Article 8 of the DPCW urges states to actively participate in the enforcement of fundamental human rights through the respect of human life and diversity of religious beliefs. Religious freedom should be fostered by allowing members of religious communities to worship in peace and by also protecting houses of worship. On a local level, Article 8 can be implemented through the promotion of interfaith understanding. The Christchurch massacre brought members across religious communities together for the advocation of peace and justice; however, it shouldn’t take a heartbreak of this caliber to unite us. Actions we can take in the meantime include cross-cultural participation in religious activities and open dialogues between the different religions. Through this, the respect of other religions can blossom freely and will reduce instances of religious discrimination.

Furthermore, Article 9 of the DPCW calls for peaceful coexistence among religious and ethnic groups. The world is no stranger to religious and ethnic violence. This type of conflict persists all around the world today (see Myanmar, Ethiopia, India, various European countries, the US) due to rises in nationalist sentiment, xenophobia, and feelings of racial and ethnic superiority. These views are a threat to peace and oftentimes result in the defacement of property or places of worship, harassment, assault, and as we tragically saw in New Zealand, death. Religious and ethnic identity should never be used as the foundation for acts of violence or hatred against other groups.

What happened in New Zealand is not inevitable and it doesn’t have to ever happen again. Waves of support and calls for peace have flooded the Christchurch community and the world, but our calls to action shouldn’t stop there or quietly dissipate over time. We must continuously keep this momentum and show our solidarity across religious, ethnic, racial, and national lines. We need to be as strong as boulders and multiply our efforts so that peace can be achieved in our lifetime. The best way we can support each other and a safer world is through supporting the DPCW to become an internationally binding law. It covers every conflict area and provides solutions to rectify and reduce conflict. Furthermore, it also offers ways to spread a culture of peace by supporting groups and organizations that further peace as a global movement. Locally, citizens can band with grassroots peace and social justice groups and larger organizations such as HWPL, Amnesty International, UNICEF, and more to create an active community of peace workers and messengers. We can also advocate for peace education that will allow both youth and adults to value life in all of its forms and to take a sense of responsibility over ourselves and our environment through cultivating a mindset of peace. Though many lives were lost in Christchurch and other similar tragedies, what we’ve learned is that now really is the time to stand up for peace.

Mourners pray near the Linwood mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand

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