Comment: NZ response to violence must go beyond security

Kieran Ford
Kieran Ford
The illusion that New Zealand is immune from the horrors and violence of global politics has been shattered.

New Zealanders, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, have been shocked by the horrific violence inflicted on Christchurch's Muslim community.

From the manifesto of one of the attackers, it is clear that this attack was politically motivated, and designed to send shockwaves of fear throughout New Zealand society. It was, in short, an act of terrorism.

As we learn more of what happened, and why, it is only natural that attention should turn to how to make sure that this horrific event does not happen again. Yet, global responses to politically motivated violence over the past 20 years have demonstrably failed. New Zealand must not make the same mistakes as its neighbours and allies.

Countries such as the UK or France have focused their responses on security, actively ignoring the wider political issues that allow for political violence to occur. As the country reels from the shock of the attack, New Zealand has a chance to demonstrate to the world a different way to respond to hate.

Many may argue that this attack shows we must permanently arm all police, a debate that has recently taken place in Christchurch itself. This response will fail. Arming more police, rather than making us all safer, instead normalises the presence of violence in society. Patrols by the Belgian military did not stop further attacks from taking place in Brussels.

When potential criminals know that police will be armed, they will be more likely to look to arm themselves, increasing levels of violence. As demonstrated in Christchurch, armed response units offer a measured security response. What this attack does demonstrate is the need for greater gun control in New Zealand, and in particular, of semi-automatic weapons, reducing the ability of potential attackers to carry out their plans.

Moreover, we must acknowledge that Islamophobia is rife within global society.

Racially motivated hate crimes, in New Zealand as well as further afield, are far more common than we would like to admit. Leaders of New Zealand Muslim communities have been outspoken in recent years of the threats they face.

In the UK, the Conservative Party is now embroiled in a scandal regarding the level of Islamophobia within the party. The vote for Brexit was motivated by anti-immigration rhetoric, with fear swept up regarding refugees from the Middle East. After the Brexit vote, hate crimes skyrocketed overnight. Yet, the UK Government continues to play down the threat of the far Right, focusing instead on the threat from militant Islamists.

In the US, Donald Trump recently drastically reduced the country's counter-extremism programme, removing its responsibility to counter far-right extremism entirely. The programme now solely focuses on militant Islamism, with no measures in place to protect the country from the Right. In Australia, the controversial politician Pauline Hanson ridicules Islamic dress in Parliament, while refugees suffer in barbaric conditions in island detention centres.

This accommodation of Islamophobia must stop. Here, too, New Zealand must acknowledge the ways in which Islamophobia and far-right extremism exist in our society. Search briefly online, and you will find an alarming number of online Kiwi extremists. The Government must not sweep Islamophobia under the carpet, but ask the hard questions other countries don't.

Alongside policing approaches to identify far-right activists, Islamophobia can be countered with longer-term programmes of anti-racism. The Government should support schools to engage in more anti-racism education programmes to ensure that young New Zealanders grow up into inclusive citizens. The Government could also increase the refugee quota. This would send the message to the world that New Zealand is a sanctuary against hate.

Other, more-wider reaching initiatives are also needed. Economic inequality breeds feelings of resentment, and the need to blame. Where inequality is greatest, the safety and security of ethnic minorities is lowest. New Zealand must double its efforts to tackle the vast inequality in our communities, ensuring that all New Zealanders can thrive.

The immediate reaction to a horrific attack like this is shock. But as the dust settles, New Zealand must think carefully before it builds its response. Like in so many ways, now is an opportunity to show the world that New Zealand does things differently.

Kieran Ford is a PhD student at the University of Otago. His research concerns extremism and counter-extremism strategies.




I also recall that our current Government came to power on a strong anti immigration platform.

Too soon for anti Government blah.