On My Visit to New Zealand: Can Christchurch Heal Our Collective Wounds?

By Ramzy Baroud
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I visited the city of Christchurch on May 23, 2018, as part of a larger speaking tour in New Zealand that also took me to Auckland, Wellington, Hamilton and Dunedin.

New Zealand is an exceptional country, different from other countries that are often lumped under the generalized designation of the ‘western world.’ Almost immediately after my arrival to Auckland, New Zealand’s largest and most populous city, I was struck by the overt friendliness, hospitality and diversity.

This is not to downgrade the ongoing struggles in the country, lead among them being the campaign for land rights as championed by the Maori people, the original inhabitants of New Zealand; but, indeed, there was something refreshingly different about New Zealanders.

Just the fact that the Maori language, “Te Reo”, is one of the three official languages in the country, the others being English and Sign Language, immediately sets New Zealand apart from other colonized spaces, where indigenous peoples, cultures, languages and rights are, to various extents, inconsequential.

It is due to the empowered position of the indigenous Maori culture, that New Zealand is, compared to other countries, more inclusive and more accepting of refugees and immigrants. And that is likely why New Zealand – and Christchurch, in particular – was chosen as a target for the terrorist attacks carried out by an Australian national on March 15.

The Australian terrorist – whose name will not be mentioned here in honor of a call made by the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, as not to celebrate the infamy of the senseless murderer – wanted to send a message that immigrants, particularly Muslims, are not safe, not even in New Zealand.

But his attempt backfired. Not only will he live “the rest of his life in isolation in prison”, as promised by New Zealand’s Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, who was speaking at the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) emergency conference in Turkey on March 22, but the horrific crime has brought New Zealanders even closer together.

There is something sorrowful, yet beautiful, about Christchurch. This small, welcoming city, located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, was devastated on February 22, 2011 by a massive earthquake that killed 185 people and destroyed much of the town.

Last May, I spoke at Christchurch’s Cardboard Cathedral, an innovative structure that was built as a temporary replacement to the Anglican Cathedral that was destroyed in the earthquake.

In my talk, I commended the people for their beautiful church, and for their own resilience in the face of hardship. The diversity, openness and solidarity of the audience reflected the larger reality throughout the city, in fact, throughout the country. For me, Christchurch was not a place of tragedy, but a source of hope.

My audience, which also included members of the Muslim community, some coming from Al Noor Mosque – the main target of the recent attack – listened and engaged me as I argued that the genuine authentic voices of ordinary people should be placed at the core of our understanding of the past, and our hope for a better future. While the focus of my talk was the history of the Palestinian people, the message exceeded the struggle for freedom in Palestine into the struggle and rights of all indigenous groups, guided by such uplifting experiences as that of the Maori people of New Zealand itself.

I also had the chance to meet with Marama Davidson, co-leader of the Green Party, among other MPs. It was strange to be in a position where solidarity from politicians came across as genuine as that of the unconditional solidarity of ordinary activists – once again, highlighting the uniqueness of New Zealand’s progressive politics and leadership.

Experiencing that myself, it was no surprise to see the outpouring of genuine love and support by Prime Minister Ardern and many members of her cabinet and parliament following the mosque attack. The fact that she, along with numerous women throughout the country, wore symbolic head-scarves in order to send a message to Muslims that they are not alone, while countless thousands of New Zealanders mourned the victims who perished in Al Noor and Linwood mosques, was unprecedented in the recent history of Western-Muslim relationship.

In fact, on Friday March 22, when all of New Zealand’s TV and radio stations transmitted the call for Muslim prayer, and as Muslims and non-Muslims rallied together in a massive display of human solidarity while mourning their dead, for a moment, all Muslims became New Zealanders and all New Zealanders became Muslims.

At the end of my talk, a group of Muslims from the mosque approached me with a gift, a box of dates to break my fast, as it was the month of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and repentance for Muslims worldwide. With much gratitude I took the box of dates and promised to visit Al Noor when I return to the country in the future.

A few months later, as I watched the horrific images on television of the terrorist attack that struck this peaceful city, I immediately thought of the Cardboard Cathedral, of the beautiful solidarity of the Maori, of the numerous embraces of so many New Zealanders, and, of the kindly Muslims and the box of dates.

I also understood why the undeserving-to-be named terrorist chose to strike Christchurch, and the underlying message he wanted to send to Muslims, immigrants, New Zealanders and all of those who champion peaceful co-existence and tolerance worldwide.

But he failed. In fact, all other foot soldiers of racism and hate will continue to fail because tragedy often unites us. Collective pain helps us see each other as human beings first, where our differences, however great, can never be enough to justify or even explain why 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim had to die, along with 49 other, beautiful and innocent people.

However, one can be comforted by the Maori saying, “Ka mate te kāinga tahi, ka ora te kāinga rua” – “when one house dies, the second lives”. It means that good things can always emerge from misfortune.

It will take much time for Christchurch, and the whole of New Zealand, to heal from this terrible misfortune. But the strength, will and courage of so many communities should be enough to turn a horrific terrorist act into an opportunity to heal our collective wounds, not just in New Zealand, but the world over.

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New Zealand’s Massacre: PM Vows Gun Reforms after Mosque Attack

By Staff

New Zealand’s prime minister vowed to toughen the country’s gun laws after revealing Saturday that the man accused of murdering 49 people in two mosques legally purchased the arsenal of firearms used in the massacre.

Jacinda Ardern said the gunman, 28-year-old Australian Brenton Tarrant, obtained a “Category A” gun license in November 2017 and began purchasing the five weapons used in Friday’s attacks in the southern city of Christchurch the following month.

The firearms included two semi-automatic rifles, two shotguns and a lever-action weapon, she said, speaking to reporters in Wellington before heading to Christchurch.

“The mere fact… that this individual had acquired a gun license and acquired weapons of that range, then obviously I think people will be seeking change, and I’m committing to that,” she said.

“While work is being done as to the chain of events that led to both the holding of this gun license, and the possession of these weapons, I can tell you one thing right now — our gun laws will change.”

She confirmed that the gunman and two suspected associates who were also arrested had not been on the radar of any intelligence agencies, even though he had published a manifesto online indicating plans for attacks on Muslims.

“They were not on any watch lists either here or in Australia,” she said, pointing out that “the individual charged with murder had not come to the attention of the intelligence community, nor the police, for extremism.

In parallel, Arden confirmed that she has asked “the agencies this morning to work swiftly on assessing whether there was any activity on social media or otherwise, that should have triggered a response. That work is already underway.”

“Given global indicators around far-right extremism, our intelligence community has been stepping up their investigations in this area.”

New Zealand tightened its gun laws to restrict access to semi-automatic rifles in 1992, two years after a mentally ill man shot dead 13 people in the southern town of Aramoana.

But firearms laws are lax compared to neighboring Australia, which enacted a strict gun control regime in the wake of a similar massacre in 1996, and most other developed nations outside of the United States.

Anyone over 16 can apply for a New Zealand firearms license, valid for 10 years after completing a safety course and a police background check.

Most guns do not require registration under New Zealand’s Arms Act and police do not know “how many legally or illegally owned firearms there are in New Zealand”, according to a police statement last year.

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New Zealand and the Positive Feedback of Violence:

March 15, 2019

by Ghassan Kadi for The Saker Blog

The tragic news of terrorism in New Zealand highlights the failure of Western governments in dealing with it.

In its policy of denial of addressing ISIS-like activities in the West, Western governments have inadvertently given ultra-right wing elitist Fascists the green light to take the law in their own hands to “avenge” the terrorism of Salafist/Wahhabi/Jihadi terrorists on innocent Westerners thereby driving them to kill innocent Muslims.

It is hard to think of a policy that is more antithetical than the manner in which the West deals with the so-called “Islamic terrorism”.

On one hand, at least as far as the Western media outlets are concerned, the West is duly adamant in its “war on terror”, all the while feeding it from the other hand. The topic has been so widely addressed and proven beyond any reasonable doubt, and there is no need to even try to provide more evidence that Western policies have capitalized on Wahhabi doctrines and nurtured and facilitated the emergence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in the Middle East, all the while it is trying to control followers of the suicidal devotees at home, ie in the West.

The recent terror attacks in Europe over the last 3-4 years are a gruesome testimony, and the failure of Western governments in dealing with those serious massacres left many Europeans not knowing how to deal with them other than in one of two manners, either by shifting their votes towards ultra-right wing parties, or taking the law in their own hands.

In saying this, we must keep in mind that at least some massacres that recently happened in the West had the fingerprints of ISIS, but were not pronounced as such. The infamous Las Vegas massacre stands out like a sore thumb. As a matter of fact, ISIS did “claim responsibility” for the attack, but the claim was played down by the media and by the Trump Administration as well as the highly-charged Democrats digging extremely deeply in dirt and sniffing with radio-telescope-sized nostrils, desperately trying to find anything against Trump, including hiring highly-imaginative fiction script writers who are capable of writing a story, any story, upon which they can impeach President Trump.

The truth of the matter is that when it comes to ISIS attacks on the West that highlight the inabilities of Western governments to curb it, both the American Democrats and Republicans have an unwritten agreement of bipartisan inaptitude-based silence.

But the infamous November 2015 Bastille Day attack in Nice, the London Bridge and Manchester attack, the Munich attack, just to name a few, were undeniably ISIS-inspired attacks. And what did the governments of France, the UK, and Germany do in way of preventing such further attacks? Nothing much that would give Western residents enough feeling of security.

Fear breeds insecurity and insecurity breeds radicalism, violence and counter violence.

When the West under the presidency of Jimmy Carter and advice of Zbigniew Brzezinski decided to turn on the Afghani Mujahideen, in their shortsightedness, not realizing that they were opening a Pandora’s box that is far bigger than they could even imagine, in their second-tier failure, and without giving a second thought as to whether or not they monster they were awakening/creating was going to chase them home, they are now facing not only the Jihadi monster that they cannot switch off, but also a domestic ultra-right one that is potentially capable to inflict much more harm to the democratic fabric of Western society.

Shifting blame does not solve problems, but in between the supposedly developed and rational West and the Middle East that is still by-and-large stuck in medieval ideologies, there is logically a bigger onus on the West to be the “wise guy”, but it has proven to be anything but.

New Zealand does not deserve any of this violence. New Zealand is a nation with a predominantly Western culture, but it is also one that endorses its indigenous Maori culture. It has a very compassionate refugee policy, and ever since its former late Prime Minister David Lange made a stand against nuclear US Navy vessels docking in his country in the 1980’s, New Zealand has taken many steps that clearly position itself as the Switzerland of the South Pacific. And this is perhaps why Brenton Tarrant chose New Zealand as his theatre of action. In fact, he did say that he chose the most unlikely place on earth in order to prove that no place is safe for the “invaders”.

Terrorists of all flavours and descriptions, and there is no philosophical difference between them at all, seem to be embarking on a highly dangerous path of proving their worth by planning and perpetrating unprecedented acts of terrorism. They see such acts like sportsmen and woman see sporting achievement records, and every achiever tries to break records.

Some sanity has to prevail to stop this vicious cycle of positive feedback of violence.

Marco Polo is back in China – again

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March 10, 2019

Marco Polo is back in China – again

by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

Embattled Chinese technology giant Huawei is on a new commercial offensive in New Zealand, one that playfully conflates the nation’s passion for rugby with telecommunications infrastructure.

“5G without Huawei is like rugby without New Zealand,” one billboard said. Another reads: “New Zealanders wouldn’t accept second or third best on the rugby field, and they shouldn’t have to put up with it when it comes to 5G.”

Last November, New Zealand blocked the use of Huawei equipment and supplies in the roll out its new generation 5G network over national security concerns, one of the first indications that Wellington is taking a harder look at its largest trading partner.

The company is not banned outright in New Zealand, but is under a temporary ban via its local partner Spark, which has been prohibited from deploying Huawei’s technology over spying concerns shared by New Zealand’s “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing partners, namely the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Canada.

The Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) said last year that it had “established links between the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) and a global campaign of cyber-enabled commercial intellectual property theft.”

“This long-running campaign targeted the intellectual property and commercial data of a number of global managed service providers, some operating in New Zealand,” Andrew Hampton, director general of the GCSB, said.

A Huawei advertising billboard in New Zealand. Photo: Huawei website screen grab

Concerns over Huawei’s alleged links to China’s ruling Communist Party are now global, but New Zealand’s stance on China is fast shifting, with Huawei’s ban just the latest in a growing list of concerns that have caused ripples in previously calm and mostly trade-centric relations.

Last month, headlines on both sides of The Ditch — the sea that separates Australia and New Zealand – were made after allegations surfaced that a New Zealand academic had been harassed by presumed Chinese agents.

New Zealand scholar and China expert Anne-Marie Brady recently alleged that her office at the University of Canterbury and then her personal residence were broken into by persons acting on behalf of the Chinese government.

Earlier, Chinese officials had appealed to her university as well as New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs to stop funding her research, some of which has probed China’s military activities, including revelations that Beijing is building bases on territory that Australia claims in Antarctica. Brady was also the first to reveal that a sitting member of New Zealand’s parliament previously served as a Chinese security agent.

New Zealand’s newfound and rising China concerns are starting to mirror Australia’s. Canberra’s fears have centered on Beijing’s perceived interference in its domestic politics, resulting in new laws that without overtly naming China aim to curb its political influence.

Brady has testified to Australia’s parliament, which was recorded in the official Hansard ledger. Australian journalist Peter Hartcher noted last month that New Zealand had not done the same, though it has since faced strong pressure to do so, including via a 150-strong petition from academics.

Andrew Hastie, chair of the Australian parliament’s security and intelligence committee and noted China hawk, told the reporter that “it appears that she’s a target of interest for the Chinese Communist Party or apparatchiks of the Chinese state as a way of silencing her and intimidating her.”

“It’s very clear that my country’s government wants this story to go away. The Chinese Ministry of State Security operates in our societies unhindered and our governments just watch. It’s happening in Australia, too,” Brady told the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper.

The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood
The shells of the Sydney Opera House are seen through a Chinese flag. Photo: AFP/Torsten Blackwood

As the controversy spirals, Wellington is now waking to the issue. China’s targeting of Australia-based people of interest has until now been more overt.

In 2017, Chinese academic Chongyi Feng was detained in China and not allowed to board a flight to Australia, where he teaches at the University of Technology Sydney. Feng holds permanent residency in Australia but is not a citizen, meaning Canberra was limited in what it could do.

Unrelated but threatening moves have worried politicians, journalists and academics in Australia, with allegations and instances of spying, bribery, political donations, academic interference and pro-Beijing propaganda placements in Chinese language Australian newspapers.

While some claims have bordered on hysteria, others have been proved and grounded in fact. To be sure, New Zealand’s view of China has not been as tortured as in Australia, which has relied on Chinese demand and investment to keep its recession-proof economy afloat even as it balances ties with its close ally the US.

But China is also New Zealand’s largest trade partner. New Zealand’s exports of all goods and services to China were worth NZ$16.6 billion (US$11.8 billion) for the year ended September 2018, $2.6 billion (US$1.8 billion) more than Australia and almost double New Zealand’s sales to the US, a government website says.

New Zealand is not confronted with the same trade-versus-security dilemma as Australia, but recent Chinese moves in its backyard have clearly made Wellington uncomfortable. It’s view of China as a “strategic partner” is also changing, as Beijing increasingly challenges the “rules-based order” in global affairs New Zealand holds dear.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s left-leaning Labour government has started to raise those concerns, analysts note. Those were seen in a Strategic Defense Policy statement issued last year, the first by New Zealand to raise Chinese expansionism in the South China Sea.

“[New Zealand] is navigating a more complex world” and will “face challenges not previously seen in our neighborhood… [its] security outlook may be shaped most powerfully by a combination of forces putting pressure on the international rules-based order which will play out in newly potent ways close to home.”

New Zealand Labour leader Jacinda Ardern speaks to the press in Wellington on October 19, 2017. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in an October 19, 2017, file photo. Photo: Reuters / Charlotte Greenfield

China “seeks to restore claimed historical levels of influence … [and] some actions in pursuit of these aims challenge the existing order.” “It has expanded its military and coast guard presence in disputed areas of maritime Asia. It has determined not to engage with an international tribunal ruling on the status of sovereignty claims,” the paper said.

In July, New Zealand announced it would spend NZ$2.35 billion (US$1.67 billion) on four Boeing P-8A Poseidon submarine-hunting maritime patrol aircraft that would offer more interoperability with the US and Australia in naval exercises.

Winston Peters, acting foreign minister with the minority New Zealand First party, traveled to Washington last December to seek US support and help in the Pacific, New Zealand’s backyard and a part of the world that feels significantly less safe for a small but independent nation than it did even two years ago.

“New Zealand is a small but well-functioning democracy located at the bottom of the world,” he said in an address. “While New Zealand and the United States work together on a range of global issues, our cooperation and like-mindedness is now coming into sharper relief in the Asia Pacific where the region is becoming more contested and its security is ever more fragile.”

In recent months, analysts and academics have noticed a perceptible shift away from China. “I can’t recall in recent years a more substantial and consolidated New Zealand official view of the behaviors that China is exhibiting in the South China Sea,” professor Robert Ayson of Victoria University told Asia Times.

“Jacinda Ardern’s coalition government has brought with it generally higher levels of concern about some of China’s goals and actions in the wider Asia-Pacific region and an increased willingness to put these concerns on the public record.”

“China’s more worrying behavior and the arrival of a more concerned government has meant that those parts of New Zealand’s official community which have been concerned about China have had a more receptive audience in Cabinet for their views.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (R) welcomes New Zealand Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Winston Peters at the Department of State in Washington DC on December 17, 2018. Photo: Nicholas Kamm / AFP)

“It’s no coincidence that these stronger indications of skepticism and concern about China have come when Winston Peters is foreign minister and his [New Zealand] First colleague Ron Mark is Defense Minister,” he said via email, pointing out the minority leader’s nationalist and more traditional realist credentials compared with the left-leaning and inclusive Ardern.

But Ardern may also take a more traditional view that China can still be a part of rules-based-order, including in regard to climate change mitigation efforts. The basis for that is a “comprehensive strategic partnership” signed under former prime minister John Key and President Xi Jinping.

David Capie, a professor at the University of Wellington, told Asia Times that “those actions [of China’s] threaten New Zealand’s interests, so it’s not surprising that there would be a shift in policy. I’m sure it is a welcomed by our closest partners, but this is a New Zealand decision.”

There is speculation that Wellington has been pushed into a harder line vis-à-vis Beijing by both Canberra and Washington and that the Labour government — despite being far more left-leaning than the previous center-right Key government — was correcting a perceived laxity on China by its predecessors.

“It sometimes takes the election of a new government for officials to be able to take a look at policy settings and to work out if they need adjusting,” Capie said. “I think that’s what’s happened to New Zealand.”

Still, Wellington must keep intact its crucial economic ties with China, even as it changes the way it looks at Beijing’s place in the world and region. Chinese Premier Li Keqiang met with Ardern on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in November, where the two leaders discussed upgrading their ten-year-old free trade agreement (FTA), according to Chinese media.

Chinese tourists taking pictures in New Zealand. Photo: Facebook

New Zealand has also signed on to the China-led Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade pact. At the same time, domestic anti-China tensions have flared with Chinese buyers often blamed for inflating property prices. That backlash has recently motivated foreign property ownership law changes.

Adding to the economic drama, a plane bound for Shanghai to promote China-New Zealand tourism under the “Land of the Long White Cloud” promotion campaign was recently inexplicably turned back. The campaign aims to lure more Chinese to New Zealand, especially to lesser visited areas.

Much of New Zealand’s trade with China centers on dairy and agricultural exports, with the Chinese keen for goods and foods they see as clean, safe and high-quality. New Zealand has been using that clean image as a drawcard for tourism promotions. One entrepreneur even started selling bottled New Zealand air to China, with each bottle enough for 180 breaths.

“I wouldn’t overstate the shift that’s taken place. The government has expressed a desire to keep working with China and sees it as an especially important partner on issues like climate change and trade,” Capie said.

But the harassment of New Zealand nationals who reveal China’s hidden moves in the region and a block on Huawei’s involvement in its telecom infrastructure development shows the relationship is shifting from what was once a friendly, warm and trusted place.

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