Attendees at an Auckland meeting to respond to the terrorist attacks in Christchurch, listening to Palestinian New Zealander Billy Hania (Image: Alex Braae)

Activist groups pledge ‘massive rally’ in defiance of Islamophobic terrorism

A Friday night meeting in response to the Christchurch shootings discussed demonstrations and plans to stand guard outside New Zealand mosques for Friday prayers. Alex Braae reports.

Within hours of the devastating acts of terrorism in Christchurch, plans were already being made in Auckland for a staunch response.

At least 49 people were killed in what appears to be an act of white supremacist terrorism. Groups of Muslims were targeted at two Christchurch mosques during Friday prayers.

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting outbreak, police issued a general warning to mosques around the country that they should shut their doors. There have also been reports of armed guards being placed outside mosques.

The group Love Aotearoa Hate Racism convened an emergency meeting in Auckland to discuss how to respond. It was held at Unite Union’s office in Morningside, with about 70 people packing a small meeting room.

The mood of the meeting was a combination of grief, fear and fury at what had taken place. Billy Hania, a Palestinian New Zealander, said he “was at the mosque praying today in Pakuranga. It could have been us.”

Those who turned up to the meeting were from a range of communities, but united in their desire to confront what one participant described as “fascist terrorism”.

Anu Kaloti from the Migrant Workers Association said that there was a strong sense in her group that they should demonstrate that they stand alongside Muslims because “I fear there’s going to be more”. She said when she first heard about the attacks, she was angry, then scared. 

Kaloti said a climate of this sentiment had been rising, and increasingly normalised in corners of politics and the media. “So various things have been coming together, and we’ve been sensing for a while that something like this could happen,” she told the Spinoff in a later interview.

Those views were echoed by a Sikh man who spoke at the meeting. He said when it came to white supremacism, there was no telling who would be targeted next. “That is what these bastards have done – they’ve put terror into each and every one of us.

However, the mood of the room then turned to defiance and plans for action. A group has been set up to coordinate a “fucking massive” rally against Islamophobia, tentatively scheduled for Sunday 24 March in Aotea Square.

There was also a plan put in place for groups of activists to stand guard outside mosques for Friday prayers in the coming weeks. That was seen by those at the meeting as a direct way for practical support to be expressed.

Noeleen van de Lisdonk, a Māori woman who converted to Islam 40 years ago, said that such a demonstration would show “commitment to the solidarity of Aotearoa, and how we want it to be a safe place for all cultures. We are entitled to live in peace and harmony, and this would be a significant symbol.

“The Muslim community is productive and giving, we support our neighbours, but this has had such a huge impact on our community and New Zealand.”

A crowdfunding campaign for families of the victims has also been set up on Givealittle, which at the time of publication had raised over $100,000. The page temporarily went down under the weight of traffic.

Anger was also expressed at the meeting towards the police and intelligence services, with a perception that they had misallocated counter-terrorism resources.

Unite Union leader Mike Treen said “the state spent their time hunting for Islamists and environmentalists. These people who did this act boasted about it online before they did it. So who was monitoring them?”

The prime minister and the Police have confirmed that the suspects in custody had not been on authorities’ radar.

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