‘Everybody Was Shocked’: New Zealand Unites to Overcome Christchurch Massacre

© AP Photo / Vincent Yu / Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019
Mourners pay their respects at a makeshift memorial near the Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, Saturday, March 16, 2019 - Sputnik International
As New Zealand continues to reel in the aftermath of a mass shooting at two mosques in the city of Christchurch, two New Zealand union leaders joined Radio Sputnik’s Loud & Clear Monday to discuss the atmosphere in the country following the attack.

"New Zealand people are still grappling at the reality that this massacre happened in this country. If you've [ever] been here to New Zealand, you can actually see [that] policemen are not carrying guns. That's how peaceful the country is. Everybody was shocked on Friday, and people actually couldn't believe it until Saturday, when it finally [sunk] in," Dennis Maga, the president of First Union, a major national trade union in the country, told hosts John Kiriakou and Brian Becker.

"People were emotional; people couldn't express their thoughts… they were in denial until Sunday, and [then] they said, ‘Hey, it happened. We must face that there are right-wing extremists in the country and neighbouring countries such as Australia. And these things [have to be] taken seriously, and actions must be taken by the government," he added.


​Violent shooting in two mosques rocked Christchurch on Friday, leaving 50 dead and dozens injured. New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern called the shooting a terrorist act, saying it was the country's "darkest day."

An Australian right-wing extremist, Brenton Tarrant, has confessed to the attack and was charged with murder soon after the massacre. On Saturday, a New Zealand court ordered that he remain in custody until April 5.

"It's safe to say that New Zealand is a quite diverse country. There is some social acceptance that this is how we embrace one another. And given that New Zealand only has a 4.5-million population, it's not surprising that almost everyone knows one another. People can express their religion and culture, and we have strong recognition of the indigenous people of the land, which are the Māori," Maga noted.

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"And therefore we practice that and extend that [recognition] to other nationalities, and I think we became a target because of that. Some people don't believe that such culture and such harmony can exist. Even though there are white supremacists in the country, they are isolated. None of them is supported or popular. Discrimination and racism in New Zealand society are not acceptable," he added. 

According to Maga, there are a lot of migrants in New Zealand, and there are no openly right-wing militias.

"There is no right-wing militia[s]. I think that is something the intelligence of New Zealand must ascertain, [though]. We are not fully aware of such groups. No one is praising what happened [Friday]. This week, people are organizing solidarity actions. Our union, for example, is going to be co-sponsoring a Sunday march [to express] our support [for] different nationalities and ethnic groups. And the message will be clear that they [right-wing extremists] are not welcome in New Zealand.

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Prior to the shooting, Tarrant uploaded a 74-page "manifesto" on Twitter and the online forum 8chan to explain in detail his reasons for committing the atrocity, according to social media reports.

In the "Great Replacement" manifesto, he identified himself as a 28-year-old "ordinary white man born in Australia to a working class, low-income family." 

"By the definition, then yes. It is a terrorist attack. But I believe it is a partisan action against an occupying force," he wrote in his manifesto, adding that he did not initially plan to carry out the attack in New Zealand but that soon he "found out that New Zealand was as target rich of an environment as anywhere else in the West.'"

According to Mike Treen, the national director of the Unite union, which represents workers in New Zealand's fast food, cinema and casino industries, there has been an undercurrent of issues of race and racism in New Zealand politics for years.

"Issues of race and racism and the rights of the indigenous population of New Zealand has been part of the political, social, cultural aspects of New Zealand's history, and it's a difficult and fraught relationship, in that the indigenous people [who make up 15 per cent of the population] remain a discriminated against minority in the country," Treen told Sputnik.

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"So, white supremacist ideas and racial prejudice have been an aspect of politics in this country since the days of colonization. In recent decades, there has been large scale migration to New Zealand. Around one-quarter of New Zealand's population is foreign-born, and about one-quarter of New Zealanders live abroad, principally in Australia. Migration and scapegoating migrants have been an aspect of politics in particular since the mid-1990s. In the last few years, there was an online campaign around the issue of the United Nations migration pact, and some of these far-right and racist forces have been organizing around their issue in a way I haven't seen before, having rallies, protests and [participating in] racist online activity." 

"New Zealand has a growing Muslim population, as many Muslims have become refugees as a consequence of the wars of empire from the US and wars New Zealand has been complicit in, particularly in Afghanistan and in Iraq," Treen added.

According to the United Nations website, the Global Compact for Migration is a UN global agreement on a "common approach to international migration in all its dimensions." New Zealand is a signatory of the pact. 

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"There is a party in New Zealand, and it is part of the current government, called New Zealand First, who have specialized in an anti-immigration undercurrent… [and] a sort of questioning Islamic immigration. But the two main political parties, the Labour Party, which is leading the current government, and the National Party — both of them are pro-immigration and have been publicly supportive of immigration and defensive of religious minorities," Treed noted, adding that thousands of people in New Zealand have attended vigils outside mosques and in public arenas in the last few days.

"The government is going to be calling a national day of mourning. Unions themselves are calling public rallies to denounce racism and Islamophobia," Treen added.

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