Christchurch mosque shootings designed to stoke political tensions; reveal extreme ideological fault line

Last Friday much of the world woke to the news of two shootings at two separate mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch. Those shootings left 50 worshippers dead and 40 injured. Of the three men and woman arrested in relation to the shootings, 28 year old Australian man, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, has been named as the primary suspect. A self-described ‘regular white man, from a regular family’, born to a ‘working class, low-income family’, Tarrant is a personal trainer from the Australian town of Grafton in northern New South Wales.

Tarrant used the online forum 8chan to post his own live-stream of the shootings, as well as his manifesto and his own writings. On 8chan, Tarrant wrote: ‘I will carry out and (sic) attack against the invaders and will even live stream the attack via facebook.’ In his 74-page manifesto, entitled ‘The Great Replacement’, Tarrant writes that it is his hope that this attack would increase tensions in American politics, while making reference to President Donald Trump as a ‘renewed symbol of white identity.’

While the New Zealand and Australian governments were both quick to reject Tarrant’s actions and ideology, Australian independent senator Fraser Anning, conversely, issued his own statement. While Anning condemned the shootings, he also wrote that they reflected ‘the growing fear within our community, both in Australia and New Zealand, of the increasing Muslim presence.’ Anning’s statement, which also cited Biblical scripture, concluded by identifying ‘[t]he real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today [as being] the immigration program that allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.’ This was not the first time that Senator Anning has been critical of Muslim immigration. Indeed, in August, Anning told parliament that a ‘final solution’ to Muslim immigration in Australia was necessary.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, as well as Australian opposition leader Bill Shorten, were both quick to denounce Anning’s statement, with Morrison describing it as both ‘ugly’ and ‘[having] no place in Australia.’ Next month, when Australian parliament resumes, a bipartisan motion will be passed condemning Anning for ‘inflammatory and divisive comments seeking to attribute blame to victims of a horrific crime and to vilify people on the basis of religion.’

At a subsequent political meeting in Moorabbin, a suburb in Melbourne’s southeast, Anning was egged by 17-year old Will Connolly. Anning retaliated by striking Connolly before Connolly was tackled to the ground by several of the meeting’s attendees. While police have opted not to press charges against Connolly, speculation remains as to whether or not Anning himself will face criminal charges for retaliating, with Prime Minister Morrison having already called for Anning to be charged. Meanwhile, a petition seeking the removal of Anning from Australian parliament is close to reaching its goal of 1.5 million signatures.

The ripple effect of Anning’s statement reached the world’s largest Muslim-majority country of Indonesia, with Indonesia’s foreign minister, Retno Marsudi, summoning Australian ambassador Gary Quinlan to convey the Indonesian government’s position that it strongly denounces Anning’s comments.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, meanwhile, has been praised for the way in which she has responded to the attacks. Ardern has ensured that New Zealand’s gun laws will change – Tarrant used a semi-automatic assault rifle to carry out the shootings – and has also reassured New Zealand’s refugee and Muslim community that the country is ‘united in grief’ and that the government will cover the costs of the victims’ funerals. The sympathetic manner in which Ardern has interacted with those affected, which included her decision to wear a hijab, has also been hailed worldwide.

Similarly, New Zealand school students and members of biker gangs have performed the traditional Maori war dance, the haka, in a show of solidarity with the victims of the shootings and those affected. As Ardern explained, while many of the victims and those affected were migrants to New Zealand or refugees, ‘they are us. The person who has perpetrated this violence against us is not.’

While Tarrant’s actions and those of his assailants may have been to divide, the silver lining of this horrific event has been the display of solidarity shown by the majority of New Zealanders and others across the world.

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