“He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless.” These are the powerful words of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Arden in an address to parliament on March 19th . They come following an attack on the Muslim community in Christchurch, during Friday prayer on March 15th, when an Australian white supremacist (who shall remain nameless) opened fire in two mosques killing 50 worshipers, 5 of which were under the age of 16. It is the worst attack of its kind in New Zealand’s history and has sparked an international debate on gun laws, race relations, and global extremism.
Reactions worldwide were ones of solidarity with New Zealand and the Muslim community. However, there have been calls for more to be done. A UK Imam, Mohammed Mahmoud, speaking at a vigil in East London, called for greater action against far-right extremism. He was praised for his actions during the Finsbury Park attack in June 2017, where one worshipper was killed and scores injured in a terrorist incident. London Major, Sadiq Khan, shared the imam’s sentiments, saying that there would be “highly visible policing around mosques” in London, prompting other regional police forces to do the same.
A week on from the attack and the domestic action taken in New Zealand, namely by Arden, has been immediate and commendable. Assault rifles and military-style semi-automatic weapons, as of 3pm on Thursday March 21st, have been banned. In addition to this, a gun buyback scheme has been put into effect to incentivise the voluntary return of guns. However, the scheme is estimated to cost up to $200 million, and the government is still deliberating on how it will be properly funded.
These actions have sent ripples across the globe and are a far cry from recent U.S. legislation on guns following similar attacks, a nation which accounts for 31% of global mass shootings (CNN). The Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders praised Ms. Arden’s immediate reaction to the attack, stating that the US “must follow New Zealand’s lead” regarding the tightening of gun laws. While the President of the U.S., Donald Trump, did not share Mr. Sanders’ affirmative approach only expressing, on Twitter, “solidarity” and his “warmest sympathy” to the people of New Zealand. Sadly, shootings, such as Christchurch, are occurring globally on a surprisingly frequent basis. In America, this equates to shooting once every 8 school days in 2018. Not enough is being done.
Fortunately, Arden not only implemented a sweeping change of gun laws but also stated, in an interview with Clive Myrie, the need for a global effort to root out racist right-wing ideology. In the modern, technological age dangerous ideologies and people have greater freedom of movement. However, ideologies are much more pervasive, especially with the growth of social media, because they are not bounded by territorial lines and can be easily used by those who wish to do harm. Consequently, a larger debate is ongoing about the role of social media, especially Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, in combatting racist and extremist material on its platforms.
It was Ms Arden’s constant reiteration of “home” that resonates most, because changing gun laws and debating structural inequalities can only foster change if people, locally and globally, are striving towards a shared goal of peace and an appreciation of difference. The appalling loss of innocent lives in Christchurch may not be in vain if lessons can be learnt from New Zealand’s quick and definitive action in tackling an ideology of hate and the proliferation of dangerous weaponry.
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