The world still needs to have conversations about racism and white supremacy, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday, as the country marked two years since a white supremacist attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch.
Brandishing semi-automatic weapons, Australian Brenton Tarrant killed 51 people and injured dozens more when he opened fire on Muslim worshippers on March 15, 2019.
Shortly before his attacks, which he live-streamed on Facebook, Tarrant released an anti-Muslim manifesto entitled “The Great Replacement”, in which he expressed anti-immigrant hatred and called for all non-European immigrants who are “invading his land” to be removed.
The attack sparked a global debate about the threat of white supremacy.
It also sparked copycat attacks, the first of which happened nine days after Christchurch, with a California mosque being set on fire. Police found graffiti daubed at the mosque that referenced the Christchurch shootings. Other attacks followed in other countries.
On 27 January 2021, the Singaporean Internal Security Department arrested a 16-year old Indian for plotting to attack the Assyafaah and Yusof Ishak Mosques on the anniversary of the Christchurch mosque shootings.
The youth had produced a manifesto which described Tarrant as a “saint” and praised the Christchurch mosque shootings as the “justifiable killing of Muslims”. Unable to obtain firearms due to Singapore’s strict gun control laws, he was instead armed with a machete.
Tarrant was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for each of the 51 murders. It was the first time that life imprisonment without parole, the maximum sentence available in New Zealand, had been imposed.
Ardern told reporters on Monday that it was incumbent on New Zealand to get its house in order, reports Reuters.
“It’s not fair to say that because the terrorist came from Australia, New Zealand didn’t have a responsibility,” she said. “Members of our Muslim community were experiencing some pretty horrific racism before that attack here in their own communities.”
She apologised last year after a royal commission of inquiry found that national security agencies were almost exclusively focused on the perceived threat of Islamist terrorism before the attack.
When asked if New Zealand was a much safer place for Muslims now compared to two years ago, Ardern said: “I am not the one to answer that, only our Muslim community can. But I can say right now, there’s still work to be done.”