Terror in Christchurch | Michael Jansen - GulfToday

Terror in Christchurch

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Jacinda Ardern shares the grief of New Zealanders after the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Three factors made normally peaceful New Zealand vulnerable to an anti-Muslim terrorist attack: a history of white supremacy, proximity to Australia, and lax gun laws. While New Zealand and Australia were being colonised by Britain during the 19th century, black indigenous peoples lost their land and were persecuted by white settlers who also adopted a racist attitude towards Chinese arrivals. During the 1920s New Zealand asked immigrants to apply for permanent residence before arriving in the country. The object was to prevent Indians and non-white British subjects from entering New Zealand.

Since then New Zealand has adopted a policy of accepting migrants with wanted skills and business experience. In recent years this has been adapted to favour wealthier immigrants who speak English over poorer ones who do not.

Although New Zealand is not known for racism, it exists in schools, workplaces, on the streets and in homes, writes Dr. Gaurav Sharma in Stuff in the wake of the Christchurch shooting by a white male which left 50 dead and 48 injured. He calls on New Zealanders to “measure our response to racism and terror not in flowers, but action.” Sharma said the massacre cannot be labelled “as a hate crime done by an outsider (Australian) in New Zealand.”

He continued, “If we fail to acknowledge that we do have a problem with racism in our own country, we will fail to address the issues that many of us coloured (New Zealanders) face on a day to day basis.” Sharma is a medical doctor and former Labour candidate for parliament.

Australia has a major problem with racism which has surged in recent years. Australia has adopted a frankly racist approach to immigrants by banning people who arrive in boats, many of them Muslims fleeing war, persecution and poverty. Australia does not permit them to land and imprisons them in offshore camps. Rupert Murdoch’s Sky News — a purveyor of racist abuse in Australia, Britain and the US — carried live streaming of the attack on the two mosques in Christchurch even though the New Zealand government demanded the horrifying material to be removed from all media.

In New Zealand there are some 1.5 million firearms distributed among five million people. Calls for banning semi-automatic weapons after the shootings have compelled the government to promise reform of gun laws. Earlier attempts to tighten gun laws have been defeated by the gun lobby as is the case in the US.

A 16-year old can buy a gun and an 18-year old can purchase military-type semi-automatic weapons. All owners must pass a background check involving criminal records and medical status and must have have a licence. Guns are not registered.  Once licensed, an owner can buy any number of weapons.  

Brenton Tarrant, the perpetrator of the Christchurch shootings, owned five, four bought in a gun shop and a military assault rifle elsewhere. Although he is an Australian rather than a New Zealander, this did not seem to matter.

In spite of racism, proximity to Australia, and lax gun laws, New Zealand has not had a comparable mass shooting since 1943 when 48 Japanese prisoners of war and local men were killed during a riot. The previous multiple shooting of six persons took place in 1997.  

Although a far more violent country than New Zealand, Australia has never experienced a mass shooting comparable to last Friday’s assualt at Christchurch. Fifty people died and 48 were wounded in the shootings at two Christchurch mosques by 28-year old Tarrant. He not only live streamed his attack but also explained why he carried out his operation in a 74-page manifesto.  

Tarrant appears to be a typical white supremacist. He comes from a working class family living in a small town in Australia. He was a poor student who did not go to university but worked in crypotocurrency and as a personal trainer.  His family said he did not show signs of radicalisation while he was living at home.

After receiving an inheritance from this deceased father, he travelled widely, beginning in Spain, Portugal and France where he witnessed the influx — which he called an “invasion” — of migrants from Africa and this region. He subsequently went to Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Pakistan. He also paid two visits to Turkey, the first of three days and the second of 43 days. His grandmother and uncle, interviewed after the Christchurch shootings, said travel appeared to change him. Instead of broadening his horizons, extensive travel seems to have radicalised him, transforming him into a white supremacist.

A year ago, he settled in the quiet town of Dunedin near Christchurch where a Muslim community was established in the 1850s. He was polite and friendly but reclusive. He did not have a job.  He had few visitors and played no loud music, said neighbours. They called him a “friendly loner.” The landlord knew he had guns which were securely stored. He belonged to a fitness club and to a rifle club at some distance from his home. He was a gun enthusiast and target practiced at the club. Tarrant also carefully plotted the massacre he perpetrated. His stated objective was to “create an atmosphere of fear” and incite “violence” against Muslims.

He is delusional. In his manifesto he wrote that he believes he will be released from prison in 27 years, like Nelson Mandela, and expects to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize like Mandela “once his own people had achieved victory and took power.”

He railed against Third world migration into Western countries where white people are being “threatened with extinction” by the high birth rates of coloured migrants. He claimed to be a “Eco-fascist.” He contended the earth is being destroyed by overpopulation. He called migrants “invaders” and urged other whites to, “Kill the invaders, kill the overpopulation and by doing so save the environment.” He unfortunately absorbed the violent posts on white supremacist websites and circulated on social media. Tarrant clearly took on board Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim line as well as his equivocal approach to violence perpetrated by white supremacist males who believe they are under threat and defending their way of life.