WHEN WE think of New Zealand, we think of Kiwis, the Maori, rugby, hobbits. We don’t think of terrorism. Yet, in the blink of an eye, all that has changed. The Christchurch attack has left four dozen people dead and even more injured. It has shown, yet again, that these utterly horrific and repugnant acts of murder can take place anywhere.
Early reports suggested the perpetrator, Brenton Tarrant, was drawn to white supremacist thinking. In a 74-page “manifesto” posted online, he said he wanted to create “an atmosphere of fear” against Muslims, claimed to have received blessings from previous mass murderers, and expressed a desire to send a message that “nowhere in the world is safe.”
He need not have bothered. Attacks in Las Vegas, Barcelona, Nice, Berlin, London, Stockholm, Paris, Orlando, Mumbai, Pulwama, Tunisia, Nairobi, Brussels and elsewhere have long brought home the insidious reach of the terrorist problem, propagated by the actions of “lone-wolf” actors.
The New Zealand massacre reinforces that evil lurks everywhere. This latest act, one of hate, also finding utter condemnation from TT. “In this period of grief the people of Trinidad and Tobago, we who live by the doctrine that every creed and race have an equal place in our nation, unreservedly condemn all words and deeds, from whatsoever source, that would have the effect of initiating, encouraging or sustaining hatred in any and all its manifestations,” stated a release from the office of the Prime Minister.
New Zealand’s authorities now face difficult questions. Witnesses criticised emergency services for being slow to respond, claiming it took up to 20 minutes for the police to arrive. Certainly, the attacker had time to launch an attack on one site, then wrap up and make his way to a second mosque. The murderer arrived at Al Noor mosque at 1.40 pm during Friday prayers, opened fire on about 400 people and killed 41 of them before driving four miles to the Linwood Islamic Centre, where another seven people were killed. One of the injured later died in hospital.
In a sickening twist, Tarrant broadcast a portion of his actions live on social media. While social media outlets continued to struggle to contain dissemination of that footage yesterday, the response by law enforcement officials was swift. Cars strapped with explosives were reportedly intercepted, suggesting the disruption of a more vast plan.
There has been considerable improvement around the world when it comes to the response to terrorism. Local officials have, for instance, foiled plots and there has been a concerted effort to study the root causes of extremism. Tarrant’s actions, however, underlines the stark truth that Islamophobia has become a serious problem, as equally dangerous as religious fundamentalist thinking. When prejudices on all sides are left to become unhinged, the carnage is potentially never-ending and exponential.
Could the New Zealand attack have been prevented? Did no one notice the accumulation of firearms by an actor with such dangerous beliefs? These are matters that will have to be examined.
But the truth is, not everything will be preventable. Which is why we must act to ensure the response to atrocities like these is not just one-dimensional. It must also address the cultural prejudices that fan the fire.