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CWA # 108, 13 April 2019

Christchurch Massacre
Responses and Inspiring Lessons

  Seetha Lakshmi Dinesh Iyer

The Jacinda government has taken significant efforts in setting a standard to the battle against Islamophobia and the alt-right. That said, what does the New Zealand model convey?

Research Associate, ISSSP, NIAS

New Zealand’s response to the brutal 15th March twin mosque massacre at Christchurch has been rather tremendous and inspiring. In the past two weeks, from embracing the victims and criminalizing attempts to view the live-streamed atrocity to amending gun laws and pledging to hold the highest level of inquiry, the New Zealand leadership and its compassionate people have put the world in awe.

The Jacinda government has taken significant efforts in setting a standard to the battle against Islamophobia and the alt-right. That said, what does the New Zealand model convey?

 

“They are New Zealanders. They are us”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s message at the wake of the massacre is a result of graceful compassion and solidarity. She stands as an exceptional leader in that part of the world where White supremacism and Islamophobia are there to exist. People tend to remain sensitive to politicians. Jacinda has used this very aspect to remind and sensitize her nation towards embracing inclusiveness especially when the gesture where she covers her head to show respect to the sufferers and evokes her secular credentials while calling out the victims saying “They are New Zealanders. They are us.”

The young leader has been lauded for her swift response in banning assault weapons even while uniting people and mourning the victims. Some have even been suggesting her name for a Nobel. By replacing the rhetoric of revenge with emotions of love and compassion, she has shown an authentic response to a traumatic incident.

 

Lessons from Christchurch

In most of Europe, such patterns of attack have almost normalized islamophobia in their struggle to cope with immigration. Far-right sentiments have remained mainstream well-across the European land, especially in countries like France which has been vocally uneasy over visible symbols of Islam in everyday life. This has forced many into viewing the presence of non-white or Islam people as a sign of intrusion and not diversity. The New Zealand attack could have possibly only put further pressure on Europe’s anti-immigrant discourse albeit its portrayal of solidarity and inclusiveness.

 

As for the US, it is worthy to note that the United States has had more attacks from radical right nationalists than from Islamist groups in recent years. Mass shootings have always created a great hassle and no action in the US. Taking the New Zealand road on banning the sales of dangerous weapons is the only way to reduce gun violence and such incidents. Though in the fore, unlike New Zealand, there has never been widespread consensus from popular institutions like the National Rifles Association and other lobbies in the American federation about the idea of banning the use of assault weapon. Thus, pushing the country back to the hands of minority interests.

 

Even while condemning the massacre as a “horrible act which killed innocent people senselessly”, the American President Donald Trump’s response to the massacre has been wary. He had reportedly rejected the surge of white supremacism as an issue to do with a very small section of people with serious illness. Not to forget that this comes from a President who himself views immigrants and the Muslim population as a problem to the US. Something which the Christchurch attacker had lauded in his manifesto by describing Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity.” On the other hand, closer home, in Australia, where the attacker was born and raised, it seems like the State is still rambling over its role in the attack. The Christchurch attack has by far exposed the divisions which prevail within Australia’s seemingly multicultural environment. As far as the leadership goes, just a few hours post-attack, a conservative senator had taken to social media to blame Muslim immigration as a primary reason for the Christchurch violence. In 2018, the same leader had called for a combined action against Australia’s “immigration issue.”

 

Filling the voids

Clearly, these attacks are not one-time isolated incidents rather they are part of a broader pattern. As per the perpetrator’s account, the twin mosque attack was directly inspired from the 2011 lone-wolf strike in Norway which claimed more than 70 lives. Hence, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that similar to Islamist movements, white terrorists could also be organizing across the globe trying to draw motivation from each other. Efforts on par with countering terrorism could possibly help in curbing the spread of such ideas to an extent. A staunch leadership is sometimes what it takes to curb such cultural discrepancies tied down to history leaving aside personal ideological inclinations. The New Zealand model is possibly the simplest road to take. The solidarity shown from people of other ideologies has not just reduced the trauma such situations can take to but has shown the kind of strong message a gentle display of empathy can convey. Furthermore, this massacre will stay to remind far-right advocates and leaders that the result of public hailing of the Islamophobia rhetoric is deadly violence.

 

 

 

 

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