The Christchurch massacre, and the need for Australia to clean its backyard

By Alexander Rheeney 17 March 2019, 11:30PM

It was only my first day in the Blackpool Gazette newspaper on the northwest coast of England on July 7, 2005 when the bombs went off in London. The terror attack become known as 7/7 and was a series of terrorist suicide attacks in the British capital, primarily targeting commuters using the city’s public transport system.

Sixteen hours earlier, I got on a train at Paddington station, to begin my 4-5-hour journey from London to the northwest coast of England, to undertake a weeklong internship with the Blackpool Gazette as a recipient of the 2005 Harry Britain Fellowship, which was organised by the now defunct Commonwealth Press Union (CPU). 

Unbeknown to me and thousands of other commuters that day – that very train network would be the target of four men the next day – who were armed with rucksacks packed with explosives and on a suicide mission. Three bombs went off in the London underground, and another one on a bus in the morning rush hour that day. The attack claimed 52 lives with the authorities describing it as the worst single terrorist attack on British soil.

I returned to London after a week – only to be greeted by increased police and military presence and victim memorials set up at selected train stations – and an air of uncertainty and emptiness that had engulfed the British capital. London wouldn’t be the same.

When I flew out of the United Kingdom (UK) after calling it “home” for six weeks, I continued to ask myself why there was so much hate in the world, enough to drive four men on a suicide mission to kill as many innocent people as possible. There was so much hatred, there is so much blood, how many more lives should be taken for a cause?

Fast forward to 2019 and terror now strikes closer to home, just next to our doorstep. 

Yesterday morning New Zealand Police Commissioner Mike Bush said the death toll had increased to 50, after another person succumbed to their injuries, and was found while the others were being removed from the Deans Ave crime scene. 

Stuff NZ reported that 11 people remained in critical condition in Christchurch Hospital. A total of 36 people are still in hospital. 

It is perhaps even more shocking to hear that the main suspect, 28-year-old Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is an Australian citizen. He has been described as a right wing extremist and has allegedly published a “manifesto” on social media which was anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim and promoted white supremacy.

Following the Christchurch attacks on Friday, I have asked myself whether Australia has now become an incubator of home-grown terrorism in the likes of Brenton Harrison Tarrant? Are there others like him in Australia who are being nurtured in a conducive environment created by a ruling political party that champions policies that promotes hostility to non-white Australians? Being a Papua New Guinean and coming from Manus Island – which currently plays host to the Australian government-funded detention center – I reckon Australia’s Liberal Party has an Islamophobia Policy, if the home nations of the asylum seekers currently in Manus are taken into consideration. 

And what about that racist Australian blogger and columnist Andrew Bolt – who works for the News Corporation-owned Herald Sun newspaper – who took a cheap shot at Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa'ilele Malielegaoi last September, when the PM put the Australian government on the spot over its climate change cynicism and poor implementation of the Paris Agreement? 

Therefore, perhaps, comments by independent Australian senator Fraser Anning weren’t surprising. While we note the swift condemnation by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of the senator’s comments and plans by the Australian government to introduce a motion in the parliament to censure him, we believe the Australia government should do more to tackle the rise in white supremacy movements in its backyard. It should also close down the Manus and Nauru detention centers – in line with the recommendations of the United Nations and various international human rights organisations – and ensure speedy processing of those still in the centers.

The involvement of Brenton Harrison Tarrant in the Christchurch massacre should serve as a wakeup call to Canberra, and compel it to undertake a postmortem of its own track record in race relations, and what should be done to heal the deep wounds that have emerged over the years and behind the curtains. 

It is unacceptable for New Zealand and those of us in the Pacific Islands to pay a heavy price for your failures in creating communities who can live in harmony, love, peace, joy and respect of each other and what they stand for. 

Have a lovely Monday Samoa and God bless. 

By Alexander Rheeney 17 March 2019, 11:30PM

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