New Zealand has shown the world how a civilised country responds to a terror attack. Led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern herself, the people have stood together to condemn the mindless terror attack that gunned down 50 worshippers, offering Friday prayers at two mosques in Christchurch, the capital city. Considering that New Zealand has never had a terror attack before, the way the Labour government tackled the incident with calm and decisive action as well as fortitude and compassion speaks volumes for the leadership of the woman at the helm.
New Zealand, a sparsely populated country which had opened its doors to immigrants -- some were asylum seekers but the majority are there in search of a better life – did not have any record of racial tension. So it is not surprising that the murderer, Brenton Tarrant, is not a local. The 28-year-old killer is a White Supremacist from neigbouring Australia out to show immigrants that they are not safe in any corner of the White world. Australia, as we all know, had in the past had major racial issues.
Tarrant travelled to New Zealand with the express purpose of killing immigrants, he described as ``invaders.’’ He is reported to have been influenced by the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments that have swept Europe and other parts of the Western world, nursing hatred for Blacks and Browns that make up the large immigrant populations travelling from Africa, Asia and Latin America to countries inhabited by Whites. He says he was inspired by Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine African Americans in a church in South Carolina and Norway’s Anders Breivij, who had killed 77 people, mostly youngsters attending a Labour Party youth event. His anger was that the Labour party encouraged so-called Muslim invasion into Norway and other European countries. New Zealand has a Labour government. Tarrant, who live-streamed his ghastly deed hoped it would lead to widespread violence and open people’s eyes to the dangers of allowing immigrants into White neighbourhoods.
The Prime Minister of New Zealand wanted to make sure that did not happen. For one, she has taken the decision not to name Tarrant. Doing so would be playing into his hopes of gaining notoriety and encouraging others to follow his bloody example. Acting swiftly, the government moved to ban military-style semi- automatic and assault rifles that was used by the gunman. Just six days after the attack, the new law was passed. The ban will be in place by April 11, according to news reports from New Zealand. “Related parts used to convert these guns into MSSAs (military style semi-automatics) are also being banned, along with all high-capacity magazines," the Prime Minister was quoted by reporters as saying.
Contrast this with the US, where President Donald Trump refuses to ban lethal weapons that have killed not just innocent people but school children as well. Last year, as many as 113 incidents of school shooting were recorded. The highest in a decade. Despite the public outcry, and a demand to ban certain categories of lethal military-style automatic weapons, including a protest movement led by school children, the gun lobby continues to ensure that no ban is allowed.
Ordinary citizens in New Zealand gathered in mosques in large numbers to express solidarity with the Muslim community.
Lessons of India
There are lessons here for all nations exposed to mindless terror. Coming as it does on the heels of the Pulwana attack by a lone suicide bomber in Kashmir, comparisons are inevitable. India mourned the dead soldiers. It is but natural to do so. But this was accompanied by loud cries of revenge. Pakistan had to be taught a lesson and fast.
But what was unforgivable was people turning against Kashmiri students in the rest of the country. Instead of the country uniting in horror, as In New Zealand, Indians played into the hands of the perpetrator. Hounding of Kashmiris, attacks on students studying or working in various parts of India was reported. The lead was taken in Jammu, where Kashmiri Muslims were targeted by hardline Hindutva supporters. It exposed Indian society as mindless and foolish. Few voices were raised in protest. What did Kashmiri students have to do with the terrorist? No one bothered to ask that question.
Reports of intimidation of Kashmiri students came from various parts of the country, including Ambala, Jaipur and Dehra Dun. The owner of a institute in Dehra Dun was hounded by the student union to give an undertaking that Kashmiri students should be monitored to ensure they were not indulging in anti national activity. The principal of another institute had to promise he would not admit Kashmiri boys and girls.
India keeps repeating that Kashmir is an inalienable part of India, yet such boorish action shows that the rest of the country has never accepted Kashmiri Muslims from the valley as their own. Do we only claim the land, and are we ready to shed blood to protect it, but don’t care for the people.
The hyper nationalism that is being fanned by the government has led to Right-wing groups and members of the larger Sangh Parivar taking law into their own hands in the name of patriotism. Any efficient government could have foreseen that there was danger to Kashmiris in the rest of the country, considering public anger after Pulwama. But our authorities, as usual, were found wanting.
Ever since the Hindutva forces have come to rule the roost since 2014, India’s age old tradition of embracing all religious groups has been replaced by Islamophobia. Vigilante killings no longer bother Indians, except the usual liberals in metros. The rest just shrug their shoulders and continue. People find excuses for the perpetrators and carry on. No one came to the rescue for 16-year old Junaid Khan when he was killed by passengers on a train. His fault, he was born a Muslim.
In New Zealand, the Prime Minister herself led the way by setting an example. She has shown how a tragedy can unite people and send out the right message to the world. Jacinda Ardern take a bow.
Seema Guha is a senior journalist who has been covering foreign policy and the North East for decades. The views expressed are personal.