By the time any of you read this, the story in question has already been discussed at great length across the media but I will briefly explain it. On Friday the 15th of March in Christchurch, New Zealand, a group of people carried out a well-planned attack on two Mosques and have to date killed 50 people with many others injured. They used explosive devices and automatic weapons to carry this out. This group of murderers are white supremacists.
The media coverage is extensive so I’m not going to go into details about it, but would rather discuss what it means as a New Zealander. The world is very familiar with terrorism, I now live in London which has been on the receiving end of similar attacks many times, by both White right wingers and Muslim extremists (not to mention the IRA bombings of the past) However, NZ has never experienced anything quite like this until now. There have been a few incidents in the past of the lone gunman killing people (look up the story of Aramoana) Terrorism has never really been prevalent in NZ, maybe because of its location. Some may discuss acts of environmental terrorism but those are really a different story.
As far as I knew growing up, automatic weapons were not available in NZ, but apparently they are readily available, which is alarming in itself but part of the problem is something about NZ that you will very rarely hear about and that is a prevalence for violence.
There have been many people saying they can’t believe that this type of violence has happened in our peace loving country and similar thoughts. I can believe it.
Growing up in NZ I experienced more anger and violence by a long way than my 14 years in the UK. NZ is ride with angry, lonely, desperate, violent men.
A few years ago on a visit back I noticed how prevalent anti-social behaviour was, Nazi’s with swastika tattoos wandering around abusing Asian families, beggars threatening violence if you didn’t give money and much more, so I researched it and found that NZ has higher rates of many crimes than the UK. Rape, gang violence, drug abuse, child abuse, poverty, homelessness and many other social problems exist in NZ at significant rates, not to mention extremely high suicide rates.
It’s not an island paradise.
The second factor in this is the profound racism that has always existed there. Largely between Maori and white New Zealanders (and it goes in both directions) but over the last 20 or so years many more diverse immigrants have arrived. I remember very clearly when Somali refugees moved into my town, I had never seen an African person until I was 16 in real life! Things that are very normal to my life in London now. Again, this racism is not something that you will hear about in NZ media. You can go travelling there and have a lovely time, but live there and you will begin to see the depth of these attitudes.
If you don’t believe me, go ahead and look up the crime stats, they are a bit hard to come by but they are clear.
Anger, violence and racism are prevalent. Add to that the growing number of white people who are committing acts of terrorism against Muslims and anyone else who isn’t a white Christian around the world. One of the attackers (who was Australian and also filmed the event as he did it live to Facebook) had written the names and events of numerous other similar attacks on his weapons, as a tribute or to make it clear his motivations or who knows.
One thing that I also want to make really clear is that any extremist act whether it come from Islamic State, a lone gunman, or a Neo-Nazi group is the act of people with significant mental health problems. It takes something to mercilessly gun down or blow up or behead other people. Empathy is gone from these individuals and groups and it is not normal human behaviour. The media has discussed this, but if you look at right wing media the white guys are “misunderstood and suffering” and everyone else is a “maniac” There is little difference between these people, they are all extremely conservative, and often indoctrinated by others. They are just basing their acts of violence on vaguely different reasons.
The people who committed this act have always been in NZ. This is ironic as if any country is built by immigrants it is NZ. The Maori emigrated there from Polynesia, then Europeans came, then Indians, Chinese, Africans, middle Easterners and so on. We’re all immigrants. That obviously is a logical argument against hateful acts of this nature, but remember that the killers involved are not reasonable. Argue against a Muslim Extremist in Islamic State or a Neo-Nazi and in both cases your well-reasoned debate will fall flat.
There is no real reason to behave in this way in NZ, nor anywhere else which makes fighting back against these attitudes very hard to do. NZ will stand up against it, the gun laws are already being changed and messages of support have been extensive. But New Zealand needs to finally address the many social issues I raised above, the racism, the violence, and the mental health problems. Talk about it, look at why.
The chances of stopping those who wish to carry out atrocities is small, NZ will be on high alert for some time but not everything can be noticed, even if in this case they should have been on watch lists as there were public expressions of their attitudes.
There is no doubt that the rhetoric of the Donald Trumps and Marine Le Pens of the world has fuelled this behaviour in white people, but to act on it takes more than a loud mouth racist, we can’t blame an act of violence on what someone else says, the perpetrator is to blame even though I’m sure the hate speech of certain people has encouraged them.
The lesson for NZ and any country that has not yet (or has) experienced a similar attack is to address the underlying social issues. Stop pretending we live in a peaceful paradise, stop pretending there aren’t angry, hate filled people in your home and stop pretending Kiwis can’t be fucking racist. Extremist acts of terror are at the end of a person’s story, they don’t suddenly become terrorists, these people didn’t just wake up one day and decide to kill Muslims, and they have been building to this over a long time. The final element that bothers me about the coverage of this is the many comments of “Our Prayers are with you” and “How could they kill people worshipping peacefully” Get past that, killing is killing and they chose to kill people worshipping peacefully, so what are your prayers going to do to help? Absolutely fucking nothing, that’s what. It is a social problem, it is a NZ problem and a world problem. This particular atrocity is a white person problem, just as Islamic State is a Muslim Problem and in neither case does it matter how peaceful the rest of us are, these individuals are outside of what most of see as decent human behaviour.
Everything I have described above is not a NZ problem only, but the attitudes of Kiwis to these issues is unique, it doesn’t matter how peace loving your country is “generally” there are social issues underneath that need addressing.