Friday was an awful day. It was the day that New Zealand bore witness to the worst terrorist attack ever conducted on our soil. This act of hate and violence was abhorrent and unquestionably a criminal act of terror.
In all, it’s been a horrific chapter in New Zealand’s history, but it has united our nation. Our local media, government, police, first responders and communities have all responded above and beyond, as they always do.
We as a nation have shown resilience, kindness, compassion, support and love to the victims, their families and each other. We have mostly ignored the individual criminal, his motives, and his agenda, ensuring his message of hate doesn’t receive the attention he was seeking. This is an incredibly powerful thing to do as a community and as a nation and one that proves New Zealand’s collective psyche for peace and tolerance.
Of special note, our Prime Minister has been exceptional. She has led from the front and has acted like a human being first and a politician second. She has consoled the victims, she has re-assured the public through her language and demeanor, and has ensured all emotional outpouring be directed appropriately to the victims and the Muslim community. Her leadership has bought us all together in a time of need and she has done us all very proud.
Unfortunately, however, now that we have had a chance to digest what has happened, we need to address the uncomfortable reality of Friday’s attack. This attack wasn’t an attack on New Zealand. It was an attack on the Muslim community conducted through an extremely violent act of terror in Christchurch. We as a nation rightly feel the pain and anger of this event but non-Muslim New Zealanders were never going to be the target of such a crime. We were never in danger. We need to get that clear in our minds so we can address truly why this happened and how we can improve as a society.
First, the events of Friday’s attack were conducted by a young white Australian-born terrorist. He was the manifestation of a growing global movement that causes more terrorist acts in ‘the West’ than any other hate movement. White Nationalism.
For those not aware of what White Nationalism is, it is a movement which espouses the belief that white people are a race with a national identity that needs to be protected and preserved. White Nationalists seek to develop and maintain this white national identity and take action, often violent, to protect this identity. Its proponents identify with and are attached to the concept of a superior ‘White Nation’, and it’s an extreme manifestation of racism. White Nationalists feel threatened by policies that challenge the ‘sovereignty’ of their ‘White Nation’ construct such as legal immigration policies that accept Muslim refugees.
It was the expression of such white nationalistic sentiments that caused me to voice my opinion in an article about racism in New Zealand only last month. At that time, a friend of mine was complaining about their parents’ views that were expressed through a Facebook post. The subject of this post was an anti-immigration rant about the dangers of accepting Muslim migrants into New Zealand. It was abhorrent and it made me want to speak up, so I did.
The sentiment of this post was the same sentiment reflected in the published manifesto of the Australian terrorist and it’s a sentiment that is seeping into the global mainstream. We only need to look at US President Donald Trump’s televised response to the events of Friday for further evidence. Trump gave his condolences and then went on to remind the US citizenry that the US southern border is under attack from an ‘invasion’ of illegal immigrants. This is of course is completely untrue. Australian senator Fraser Anning took it a step further…
Let’s be clear, such anti-immigration rhetoric towards non-white, non-Christian immigrants is complete bullsh!t. We all know that it’s completely irrational for anyone to fear such immigration or to broadly classify all such migrants as dangerous to the societies looking to accept them. It’s particularly irrational to fear for one’s individual safety, or that of a ‘white’ race, from such people when extreme right-wing white violence causes more deaths in the US than any other group.
There are further global behaviours that have allowed such nationalistic sentiments to take hold in the mainstream global conscious. When a person commits an act of terror under the banner of Islam, the entire religion is scrutinised and misrepresented. It’s then usually left to the Muslim community to defend themselves for the actions of people they have as much in common with as we do. When the same acts are committed by a disenfranchised White Nationalist, however, we don’t see the same societal consequences in our western societies. As an example, nobody assumes all Australians are terrorists after Friday’s event, nor could you reasonably say all white people are terrorists. Such statements are simply absurd, yet the Muslim community aren’t afforded the same respect from parts of our community when radical Islamicists act in the same way.
When terror events committed by extreme Islamicists are presented in a way that doesn’t discern between the peaceful majority and the extreme fringes, people start to fear their customs and the distinctive features of their faith. The long-term effects of such portrayals influence how parts of our societies behave towards them. People start to feel uneasy with bearded men in airports, they protest a women’s right to wear a burqa, and these distinctive features of a peaceful faith start to represent fear and mistrust. The simple acts of people demonstrating their faith start to attract unwarranted abuse from within their own communities. This normalisation of such generalised Islamophobia leads to the tolerance of anti-immigration policies and the acceptance of White Nationalist ideologies in everyday society.
When radical young, white men commit the same acts, the long-term consequences aren’t nearly as severe for other young white men or their communities. As a society, we don’t become fearful of white men. We don’t cast suspicions upon them for what they wear or how they look. We don’t question their religious believes or chided said religion as despicable, violent, or misogynistic. Young white men don’t become targets of random airport searches, nor do they get subject to community marginalisation. It sounds odd to say we should fear all white Australian immigrants because they conduct terrorist attacks. It sounds ‘more normal’ when someone argues we should ban Muslim immigration. This is because young, white, terrorists typically aren’t subject to the same presentation of their crimes. They are referred to as ‘mental ill lone wolfs’, or it’s simply acknowledged that they may be part of a small minority who hold extreme beliefs, not a reflection of the group as a whole. A ‘mentally ill lone wolf’ will never have the same connotations as a ‘radical Islamic extremist’. Such subtle re-framing of the same acts of terror have a huge impact on how the populous view and react to these events and thus how the population view who these criminals profess to represent.
The unfortunate reality is that we as a western society are simply so used to hearing such Islamophobic rhetoric from Western media, our global politicians, and online, that it often sounds rational, even sensible when such topics are discussed. If we disagree with it we tend to ignore it and never challenge it, and this the problem. This is why White Nationalist sentiments are tolerated, accepted and are spreading.
The response from New Zealand to Friday’s attack has demonstrated that we are capable of caring for all people within our community. We all truly understand that extremism is extremism and terrorism in terrorism. They are both blind to religion and race. It’s now time to acknowledge we have these hate sentiments in our communities and move to remove them from our society.
We need to address the fact that the Muslim community is in more danger of being victims of hate from those that fear them than those that fear them are of the Muslim community. The Muslim community is subject to verbal, physical and physiological abuse for their faith within New Zealand and that just can’t keep happening. This issue was made very clear in Dame Susan Devoy’s spin-off article published on Sunday and it’s something we need to wake up to as a nation. It’s something that we need to stop. If people want to abuse an entire portion of our community simply because of how they dress and how they worship, they can take up the advice National MP Chris Bishop gave to Australian Senator Fraser Anning and ‘F&%k off’.
We need to hear the stories of those that are being marginalised in New Zealand and believe them when they say they are victims of racism, no matter who they are or the form of abuse. We need to address such behaviours when we witness it to reassure all members of our community that they belong here. This is truly the only way we can protect our community as a whole from further events like this from occurring again. And it’s the only way we can get something positive from one of New Zealand’s darkest days.
About the author — Aidan Kenealy
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