New Zealand Shows Us Nowhere Is Safe From Alt-Right Hatred In A Digital Age

We are aware in the UK and US of our growing problem with the alt-right, but somehow it has seeped across to a country which feels like an innocent bystander

Today’s news in New Zealand utterly devastated me. New Zealand is a country I love, to which I proudly hold citizenship. However the act of terrorism committed in Christchurch today, affecting one in 500 New Zealand Muslims, has shown that nowhere is safe from alt-right hatred.

As the UK feels increasingly as though it is on the brink of disaster, socially and politically, New Zealand has taken on the role of an idyllic safe haven in my head. Particularly after the appointment of Jacinda Ardern as prime minister, it seemed to be one of the few places governed by a compassionate leader, free from populist rhetoric. In the midst of Brexit and Trump, the idea of using my dual citizenship and relocating has seemed increasingly attractive.

I should say now, New Zealand is not a perfect paradise. It would be easy at this time to paint it as a nation unspoilt by racism or bigotry, which is sadly not the case. New Zealand has problems, many of which are rooted in colonialism, and to portray it as a bastion of social harmony would be disingenuous.

However, in the words of former New Zealand prime minister Helen Clark on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, when Kiwis look at the rest of the world right now, they have thought: “thank heavens we live in New Zealand.” Because while it is not a paradisiacal nation, New Zealand does still feel relatively untouched by the alt-right rhetoric we see daily in the UK and USA.

New Zealand has an average of 50 murders a year. It’s one of the safest countries in the world, with relatively tight firearms restrictions. Furthermore it’s not a country with a leader engaging in anti-immigration rhetoric. In fact Ardern has repeatedly offered to resettled asylum seekers which Australia is holding in an off-shore camp. This is simply not a country where these things happen.

Which is exactly why this attack feels so devastating, and perhaps the very reason New Zealand was chosen by the perpetrators as the location for this atrocity. To its west Australia is comparatively overflowing with institutionalised anti-immigration sentiments, as demonstrated by Queensland senator Fraser Anning, who used the Christchurch attack to spew Islamophobia on Twitter. To its east, the USA is in the midst of a manufactured border crisis with a president issuing unconstitutional ‘Muslim bans’, all while mass shootings seem to become a growing part of American society. While on the other side of the world in the UK we have a politician killed and a mosque attacked by right-wing terrorists.

We are aware in the UK and US of our growing problem with the alt-right, but somehow it has seeped across to a country which feels like an innocent bystander. The victims were certainly innocent bystanders in a war raging on online platforms, as men are increasingly radicalised by a growing white supremacist, xenophobic, and supremely Islamophobic rhetoric being spouted by major media organisation as well as ‘professional’ mouthpieces with huge followings.

Thankfully New Zealand has a Prime Minister unafraid of denouncing the atrocity as an act of terrorism, unlike many media organisations, commentators, and, notably, the president of the United States.

It will take a long time for New Zealand to recover from this. It’s a small country, with a total population of 4.9million – just over half the size of London – which means when tragedies strike they are felt deeply. Only a few months ago we saw how profoundly New Zealanders reacted to Grace Millane’s death, with vigils and marches held in her honour and a heartfelt, public apology from Ardern broadcast around the world. I have no doubt Kiwis will respond with the same compassionate outpouring again.

I can only hope that the sheer shock of this attack will wake us up to the severity of right-wing radicalisation. This was not a random act of hate-fuelled violence, it was a calculated attack directly as a result of the despicable rhetoric online and in the media which too many deem as harmless.

Social media platforms need to recognise that a racist tweet or image or video is never ‘just a joke’. Newspapers need to prioritise human lives over xenophobic click-bait. And we all need to make sure we continue to call out the kind of vile messaging which Brenton Tarrant cited as an influence and an inspiration, whether it comes from an anonymous Twitter user or an esteemed politician.

We owe it to the victims, to Muslim communities worldwide, and to New Zealand to do better.


What's Hot