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EDITORIAL: Christchurch and the horror of white, right-wing terrorism

The Jewish Independent
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Published: 19 March 2019

Last updated: 4 March 2024

THE TERRORISM ATTACK that left 49 people dead in Christchurch last Friday has left people sickened almost beyond words. In a time when massacres by lone deranged fanatics have become a regular occurrence, the attacks on two mosques were loaded with a deeper layer of horror for Australians.

Firstly, that it happened in neighbouring New Zealand, a small country that has so far been under the terrorism radar, and of all places in sleepy Christchurch, a city still on its knees after multiple earthquakes; secondly that the main perpetrator was an Australian-born white supremacist; and thirdly that he targeted a Muslim community as it went about its daily prayers.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern struck the right note with her comments in the aftermath of the massacre. “Many of those directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here.

“They have chosen to make New Zealand their home. It is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetrated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”

These were powerful and important words, whose resonance will grow stronger over the coming weeks as ideologues across the spectrum try to reframe this appalling event for their own ends.

Already, Australian senator Fraser Anning – whose extreme right-wing views are well-known - attempted to link the shootings to immigration. “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” he tweeted within hours of the shootings.

“As always, left-wing politicians and the media will rush to claim that the causes of today’s shootings lie with gun laws or those who hold nationalist views, but this is all cliched nonsense.

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

His remarks were labelled “disgusting” by Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian parliament,” he added, leading a chorus of condemnation.

Jewish community leaders in New Zealand and Australia have also announced strong expressions of support. Synagogues were shut on Shabbat across New Zealand for the first time ever, partly over security concerns. But the statement also expressed solidarity with the Muslim community. The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies has set up a crowd funding appeal to support the victims’ families.

For Jews, and decent people everywhere, the attack reminds us again that terrorism crosses all religions and ethnicities. The gunman was a white Australian who channelled his hatred of Muslims into mind-numbing carnage.

No-one should be blaming the victims for their religion, just as no-one blamed the Jews who were massacred at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last October, when a white American gunman channelled his hatred into a shooting spree that claimed the lives of 11 people during Shabbat prayers. Just as no-one blamed the children of Sandy Hook, or the victims of Port Arthur, and so on.

Our main concern now, apart, from trying to lend whatever support we can to the shattered Muslim community of Christchurch and New Zealand, is to address the virulent strain of ultra-right xenophobia, executed by angry white men, that has fuelled this and other massacres in recent times.

Although there are no easy answers, the government could start by declaring it will not do business with right-wing nationalist leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro or Rodrigo Duterte from the Philippines.

ZFA Statement on Christchurch Terror Attack and Senator Anning

Photo: Jacinta Ardern reaches out to the Muslim community on her visit to Christchurch on Saturday (AAP)

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The Jewish Independent acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the Traditional Owners and Custodians of Country throughout Australia. We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and strive to honour their rich history of storytelling in our work and mission.

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