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“They Are Us”: New Zealand Mourns After Mosque Attacks Killed 50 Including Refugees & Immigrants

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Burials are beginning in New Zealand as the country mourns the loss of 50 Muslim worshipers gunned down in two mosques in Christchurch by a white supremacist Friday. It was the deadliest attack in New Zealand’s history. The worshipers killed in the Christchurch massacre came from around the world. Most of them were immigrants, or refugees who had come to New Zealand seeking safety. Six Pakistanis, four Jordanians, four Egyptians and at least three Bangladeshis are among the dead. The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said that six of the victims were of Palestinian origin. We speak with Eva Nisa, a lecturer in religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. Her recent article for Middle East Eye is titled “New Zealand has been a home to Muslims for centuries, and will remain so.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Burials are beginning in New Zealand as the country mourns the loss of 50 Muslim worshipers gunned down in two mosques in Christchurch by a white supremacist Friday. It was the deadliest attack in New Zealand’s history. The worshipers killed in the Christchurch massacre came from around the world. Most of them were immigrants, or refugees who had come to New Zealand seeking safety. Six Pakistanis, four Jordanians, four Egyptians and at least three Bangladeshis are among the dead. The Palestinian Authority’s foreign ministry said that six of the victims were of Palestinian origin.

Sixteen-year-old Syrian refugee Hamza Mustafa was killed in the attack alongside his brother Khaled, who had come to New Zealand to escape atrocities in Syria. Seventy-one-year-old Haji-Daoud Nabi, who fled war in Afghanistan and settled in New Zealand 40 years ago, was killed while shielding a friend’s body at the Al Noor Mosque. The family of the youngest victim, 3-year-old Mucad Ibrahim, came from Somalia as refugees fleeing violence decades before last week’s attack.

AMY GOODMAN: Fifty-year-old Naeem Rashid was killed at the Al Noor Mosque after he tried to grab the shooter’s gun. Rashid was a teacher from Pakistan who had been planning his son’s spring wedding. His son, Talha, was killed alongside his father. Pakistan’s prime minister announced Rashid would be presented with a national award for his bravery. New Zealand football goalkeeper, 33-year-old Atta Elayyan, who had just become a father, was also among the 50 victims. So were 14-year-old Sayyad Milne, 44-year-old Husna Ahmed, and father of two, Lilik Abdul Hamid.

This is New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking Tuesday.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: We are a nation of 200 ethnicities, 160 languages. We open our doors to others and say, “Welcome.” And the only thing that must change after the events of Friday is that this same door must close on all of those who espouse hate and fear. … We wish for every member of our communities to also feel safe. Safety means being free from the fear of violence. But it also means being free from the fear of those sentiments of racism and hate that create a place where violence can flourish. And every single one of us has the power to change that.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been widely praised for her response to the attacks. She wore a hijab while visiting with Muslim communities as a sign of respect. Ardern, who is the youngest female head of state, also vowed to reform gun laws and pledged to never use the terror suspect’s name. Instead, she is calling on people to speak the names of those killed in the attacks.

More people died in Friday’s mass shooting than are typically murdered in an entire year in New Zealand, which is the world’s second-safest country, according to the 2018 Global Peace Index.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we’re joined by Eva Nisa, a lecturer in religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. Her recent article for Middle East Eye is headlined “New Zealand has been a home to Muslims for centuries, and will remain so.”

Eva Nisa, first, our condolences for this terrible massacre, this atrocity committed against the Muslim community, against the whole community of New Zealand. Can you talk about the origins of the Muslim community in your country?

EVA NISA: OK. First of all, thank you very much for the deepest sympathy. Yeah, New Zealand migrants—Muslims in New Zealand basically have been living here since the 18th century, 1769. We already—New Zealanders already could see there’s two Muslims came with the French vessel. But at that time, of course, Islam was not really like—we couldn’t see the clear face of Islam, because only two people, and they didn’t settle, too. Only in the 1850s, then we could see one family from India came to New Zealand. And since then, we could see that the number of Muslims is also growing.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you also talk about what countries most of the Muslims who have migrated to New Zealand come from?

EVA NISA: Basically, Muslims in New Zealand, I mean, their backgrounds, it’s very—it’s ethnically diverse. But according to—this is the very late census, a 1991 census, when there was a census regarding the ethnic backgrounds of Muslims. It mentioned that 49 percent of Muslims, they come from South Asian background, especially the Indian ethnic backgrounds. And mostly up to this time, most Muslims in New Zealand, we can say that they have Asian backgrounds, and then, after that, followed by Muslims from other countries, of course, other ethnicities.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaking shortly after the attack about her phone call with President Trump.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: I spoke with Donald Trump this morning. He sought to call us directly. He very much wished for his condolences to be passed on to New Zealand. He asked what offer of support the United States could provide. My message was sympathy and love for all Muslim communities.

AMY GOODMAN: Eva Nisa, your response?

EVA NISA: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that have been mentioned a lot by New Zealanders. If Muslims are asked, “What do you need?”—even if Muslims are asked, “What do you need?” they will also say the same. We just need the love and support and also sympathy, because—the other thing is, I think New Zealanders, we are very shocked with this kind of thing, because this never happened before. I mean, Jacinda Ardern mentioned this is an unprecedented tragedy, too. So, we don’t need, let’s say, a political kind of comment or some—I mean, I know that some politicians, they have mentioned some comments, and then they have used this—some of them even used this tragedy as part of their political tools to show that, look, there is this clash between Islam and Christianity, or Islam and the West. So, we don’t need that kind of—so, we need just love, support and sympathy.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to ask you about the response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and how she’s being praised, wearing a hijab, comforting the victims’ families, and also, as you just said, talking about Muslims as “us.” This is the prime minister speaking on Friday.

PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: Many of those who will have been directly affected by the shooting may be migrants to New Zealand. They may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the prime minister’s comments are being contrasted with President Trump. She made those comments on Friday. It wasn’t hours later that President Trump signed the veto on Congress trying to stop his wall on the border, where he used the same terms that were used in the assailant’s manifesto, the assassin’s manifesto, referring to immigrants as “invaders,” immigrants coming over the border as an “invasion.” Eva Nisa, can you talk about the response of your prime minister, the youngest woman leader in the world?

EVA NISA: Yeah. I think Jacinda’s—I mean, most New Zealanders, we are very happy with the comments made by our prime minister, Jacinda Arden. The hashtag #UnityIsPower and “New Zealand is home for the migrants” always has been repeated a lot. And New Zealand has been very committed to open its gate for migrants, especially—I mean, lately, in 2015, the government committed that we would receive 750 Syrian refugees. And then, after that, the government added the number of the quota to 1,000 Syrian refugees. So, that’s one of the things that needs to be underlined, that New Zealand is basically—we are committed to welcome refugees and to make them feel that New Zealand is their home. That’s why that kind of stuff is—it’s very important.

And the other thing regarding Jacinda Arden with the veil, that’s also one of the things mentioned a lot, that many Muslims feel like this kind of support, I mean, a small gesture like this, means a lot. And one of the things that is quite heartbreaking, on Sunday, there were these two young Muslims who were verbally abused, attacked by this man. And yeah, he said that, “You just go to your own country.” But the good thing is, this man was drunk. So, it’s one of the things that—because, you know, when this kind of thing happened, there is this—what we know as gendered Islamophobia. So, women, Muslim women, especially those who wear veil, they are visibly more recognizable as Muslims, so showing her support by wearing a veil, it means a lot for many Muslims here in New Zealand.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Eva Nisa, I wanted to ask you—New Zealand has a relatively small Muslim population, about, I think, 1 percent of the country, compared to Australia, that has a much larger percentage, or even, obviously, all of Western Europe. Have you seen a rise in white supremacist expressions or public statements in New Zealand over the past few years?

EVA NISA: Yeah. Many analysts and also scholars have mentioned that for the—there is an increase in this kind of hate speech, especially comes from white supremacists, and especially for the last two decades. Some scholars mention that one. And some Muslims, also Muslims that mention, too, that especially post-9/11, there is—I mean, that happens in many countries. I mean, I know that in the United States this also happened, and there’s an increase in hate speech. So, we are facing that one, too. But it’s very difficult to confirm, because, of course, we don’t have a record. There’s no—up to this time, we don’t have hate law in here, in New Zealand.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to quote Anjum Rahman, a spokeswoman with the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, who wrote in an op-ed that the council’s growing fears about Islamophobia and the rise of the right in New Zealand were ignored by the government for years. She writes, quote, “[W]e talked about the effects of discrimination, the issues in our communities, the rise of the alt-right and the increasing level of vitriol we were seeing online and in person. … We begged and pleaded, we demanded. We knocked on every door we could, we spoke at every forum we were invited to. … My community wants and needs accountability,” she said.

And I wanted to end with Waleed Aly, the Muslim host of an Australian news program, The Project. Here he is, speaking Friday, just hours after the massacres. The video has received millions of views.

WALEED ALY: You’ll have to forgive me. These won’t be my best words. The truth is, I don’t want to be talking today. When I was asked if it’s something that I wanted to do, I resisted it all day, until, finally I had this overwhelming sense that it was somehow my responsibility to do so. … I went to the mosque today. I do that every Friday, just like the people in those mosques in Christchurch today. I know exactly what those moments before the shooting began would have been like. I know how quiet, how still, how introspective those people would have been, before they were suddenly gunned down. … If you’ve been talking about being tough on terrorism for years in the communities that allegedly support it, show us how tough you are now. For mine, I’m going to say the same thing I said about four years ago, after a horrific Islamist attack. Now? Now we come together. Now we understand this is not a game. Terrorism doesn’t choose its victims selectively, that we are one community, and that everything we say to try to tear people apart, demonize particular groups, set them against each other, that all has consequences, even if we’re not the ones with our fingers on the trigger.

AMY GOODMAN: Waleed Aly, the Muslim host of the Australian news program The Project. And we want to thank Eva Nisa, the lecturer in religious studies at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. We’ll link to her piece in Middle East Eye, headlined “New Zealand has been a home to Muslims for centuries, and will remain so.”

This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, the U.S. blocking members of the International Criminal Court? Stay with us.

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