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Andrew Little (Getty Images)
Andrew Little (Getty Images)

The BulletinMarch 21, 2019

The Bulletin: How did a white supremacist terrorist slip through?

Andrew Little (Getty Images)
Andrew Little (Getty Images)

Good morning, and welcome to The Bulletin. In today’s edition: Questions raised about how white supremacist was missed, Christchurch businesses pitch in to repair mosque, and funerals for victims begin.

In the wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, questions are being raised about how closely security services were watching white supremacists. The accused was not on any watch-lists for police or the intelligence service, and at this stage there have been no proven links between him and other white supremacist groups – though possible links are being investigated in Britain.

Though it does raise a wider question – even if he did have links to such groups, would police or the intelligence services have noticed? That’s a question many critics of the strategy of various agencies have been asking, reports Radio NZ. It’s certainly what the Islamic Women’s Council have been saying – that they tried to lobby intensively to get threats against the Muslim community looked into, but felt they got nowhere with either of the last two governments. Instead, the Muslim community were the ones being watched.

It’s thrown into sharp relief in this analysis by RNZ political editor Jane Patterson, who has gone through 10 years worth of “annual reports and ministerial briefings” from the spy services – not once do they mention right wing extremism in specific terms. A brief warning was made by SIS boss Rebecca Kitteridge earlier this year, but the overwhelming focus of the security services appears to have been on Muslims themselves.

There are other specific examples that have been alleged. Radio NZ reports that a Christchurch gunsmith says he warned police last year, about an increasing number of right wing extremists getting access to guns. “I did warn him specifically that there were real neo-Nazis out there and they had gained access to all manner of firearms… I’m talking about machine guns, pistols, submachine guns, the whole gamut of what’s available to restricted collectors.”

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of what sort of online activity the accused was engaged in before the attack, and how closely the online forums where white supremacist propaganda spread are watched. Given that others have been charged in relation to either allegedly creating objectionable material before the attack, or sharing the stream of it while it was being carried out, there will need to be investigations into whether these people were all known to each other before it took place. Yesterday’s NZ Herald article by David Fisher is well worth reading on this point – the attacker at this stage is being considered a ‘lone wolf’ – someone who operated entirely alone – which makes it much more difficult to prevent. But sometimes lone wolves howl loudly enough that they should be heard, and sometimes there’s a pack backing them up.

This will all be something that the upcoming inquiry will need to take an extremely hard look at. GCSB and SIS minister Andrew Little says the services absolutely have been keeping an eye on white supremacists, and that as the person who signs off warrants, he can say that all forms of extremism are being looked at. He also says that the last nine months have seen an increased focus on this sort of activity. But it is vital that questions about this continue to be asked.

Christchurch businesses are pitching in to repair the heavily damaged Al Noor mosque, so that it is ready to be used this Friday, reports Stuff. Many of them are donating their time and materials, and many declined to be identified, because they had no interest in gathering publicity. “It’s not about our business, it’s about trying to restore some normality back into the town. To help is a really good feeling,” said one.

Funerals for those killed in the attack have begun, with a father and son the first to be laid to rest, reports the ODT. Their names were Khaled Mustafa, 44, and Hamza Mustafa, 15, who was a student at Cashmere High. It is likely that all of those who were killed will be buried at Linwood Cemetery.

Four mosques around Auckland will be opened this Friday evening to the public, reports The Spinoff. It’s an attempt to bring people into the space, so they can connect with and grieve alongside the Muslim community. It is one of a number of events planned for the coming days, including two minutes of silence to be observed nationwide on Friday.

Here’s a worthwhile piece on how gun laws affect shooting deaths, from the Guardian. It was written this week, so is in the context of what happened in Christchurch. But it strongly suggests stricter gun laws bring down the number of firearms deaths, particularly with regards to Australia’s experience. They toughened their laws significantly after the Port Arthur massacre. The government is expected to announce their intentions for law changes next Monday. The experience of Australia is also unpacked by Maria Slade, who writes that they haven’t suffered a single mass shooting of that nature since the atrocity in 1996.

Fonterra is signalling a change in focus after their latest round of half year results, reports Interest. They’re going to look to maximise the value of milk production in New Zealand, and are in the process of offloading a bunch of assets as part of a debt reduction strategy. The co-op has however returned to profitability.

The Greater Wellington Regional Council is being accused of going too slow on a review into the bungled bus network overhaul, reports Radio NZ. The report compares the number of complaints between February last year to February this year – it’s up by more than twice as much. The whole thing is likely to be a major element of the local body elections later this year, though with significant staffing problems at the companies with the bus contracts, it’s unclear if any of the politicians will be able to do anything about it.

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Right now on The Spinoff: James Dann writes about how people in Christchurch are working together to offer support to those most affected. M R. X. Dentith covers the dangerous spread of the conspiracy theories that were pumped out in the immediate aftermath of the attack. And Shaun Robinson from the Mental Health Foundation writes that we cannot necessarily blame this on mental illness itself – that’s not how extremism works.

This is a really powerful commentary on the events of the last week, and far before that too, by novelist Brannavan Gnanalingam, published by Overland. He is not Muslim, but many of the things that Muslims have described as happening to them have happened to him too. It’s a really important contribution to the conversation going on at the moment and I encourage people to read it. Here’s an excerpt, which outlines the events that led to his family coming here for safety:

There is a tendency to think New Zealand is insulated from the rest of the world’s toxic discourse. That the Trumps and the Orbans and the Tommy Robinsons and the Le Pens are over there, somewhere else. And it’s important to recognise that scapegoating of Muslim populations are a global phenomenon in the 21st Century. China’s treatment of its Uighur populations, India’s Hindu Islamophobia-fuelled nationalism, Sri Lanka’s and Myanmar’s Buddhist led-crackdown/genocide perpetrated against Muslims show that this is not just a problem of the West. Closer to home, Australia’s offshore detention gulags are clearly built on foundations of anti-Muslim sentiment.

I have also experienced the consequences of untrammelled scapegoating, and how it can lead to the most horrific consequences. During the second half of the 20th Century, there had been a long and steady dehumanising of Tamils in Sri Lankan public discourse. In July 1983, a number of Sinhalese soldiers were killed by the Tamil Tigers in the far North of the country. The government reacted by parading the bodies of the dead soldiers in Colombo and handing out electoral information showing where the Tamils in Colombo lived. In the following orgy of violence, thousands of Tamils were massacred in a few days. A mob had come to our place. My Mum – who was pregnant with me – and my grandparents were only saved because our next-door neighbour hid us in his back room and told the mob that all of the Tamils on the street had escaped. Our neighbour was Muslim.

The Sunwolves, the Japanese Super Rugby team, will be out of the competition from the end of the 2020 season, according to rugby commentator and Spinoff contributor Scotty Stevenson. It will mean the competition could revert back to being a round robin, which will probably please both the fans because it will mean a departure from the currently incomprehensible format. The Sunwolves were really never that good, but each season they won one more game than the season before. So it’s a shame we’re now unlikely to see them ever kick on.

From our partners: Climate change has already affected how electricity gets delivered to customers, and it’s only going to get more challenging. Vector’s Chief Networks Officer Andre Botha outlines what the lines company is doing to respond.

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