AUCKLAND, New Zealand — In the two weeks since a rightist lone wolf shooter killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, working people in their thousands have turned out to rallies and vigils, looking to express their opposition to racism and anti-Muslim bigotry. Close to $16 million New Zealand dollars ($10.9 million) has been donated to victims of the attack.
But the Labour-led coalition headed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has taken advantage of the widespread working-class solidarity to rally political support behind the government and its banner of classless “national unity.” The capitalist rulers she speaks for have seized on the killings to move to threaten political rights, boost their police and spy agencies and step up censorship.
On March 29 the central government, Christchurch City Council and some local Muslim and Maori organizations hosted a national “We Are One” service in Christchurch, attended by government delegations from Australia and 58 other countries. Similar events were held around the country. Ardern received a standing ovation from the tens of thousands gathered, while hundreds of armed police, including police snipers flown in from Australia, patrolled the park.
More than 250 detectives and other cops, including Australian police and FBI agents from the U.S., are investigating the shooting rampage by Brenton Tarrant, a self-proclaimed “eco-fascist” originally from Australia.
Police Commissioner Mike Bush announced March 25 that all front-line police will now carry guns. Previously, New Zealand police carried pepper spray, batons and Tasers, but not guns except in special circumstances. They’re now wearing Glock pistols and either carry semi-automatic rifles or have them ready in their police cars. Armed cops have been deployed at public events across the country.
The same day Ardern set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry into why the twin government spy agencies — the Security Intelligence Service and the Government Communications Security Bureau — didn’t have Tarrant’s name on spy watch lists in either New Zealand or Australia. Their goal is to strengthen the powers of the capitalist rulers’ political police.
Government attacks political rights
Amid a barrage of media columns blaming the massacre on “white” people and racism, guns or social media, the government is pushing to strengthen censorship. This atmosphere is stifling political discussion by working people.
Four days after the attack Ardern said she would never use Tarrant’s name. Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has called for the judge at his trial to silence Tarrant any time he “starts to rave about his ideology.”
Tarrant’s 74-page “manifesto,” posted online before the attack, has been banned by Chief Censor David Shanks, making those who possess, distribute or possibly even quote it liable to up to 14 years in jail or a NZ$10,000 fine. Minister of Justice Andrew Little is fast-tracking moves to strengthen existing laws on “hate speech” and making “hate crimes” illegal.
Free speech on the internet is being targeted. Ardern welcomed a decision by Facebook to ban posts, photos and content supporting “white nationalism.” But who decides what ideas and isms should be censored? Privacy Commissioner John Edwards called on Facebook to give the names of people who distributed the video to police.
Groups on the middle-class left are pushing the idea that there is a rise in racism and anti-Muslim prejudice in the working class. “Love Aotearoa Hate Racism” held a rally and march that drew thousands in central Auckland March 24 to “tackle all forms of racism on our streets and in our workplaces.”
But an anti-Semitic rant by one of the speakers went unchallenged by rally organizers. Ahmed Bhamji, chairman of a mosque in the suburb of Mt. Roskill, claimed the gunman was funded by Israeli government intelligence agency Mossad and “Zionist business.”
“These conspiracy theories are dangerous lies,” New Zealand Jewish Council spokesperson Juliet Moses said. “They put the Jewish community at risk.”
Ardern’s use of the killings to shut down political space has won enthusiastic praise from the international liberal media in the U.S. and elsewhere. “Ms. Ardern has shown the way,” said a March 21 editorial in the New York Times.
The government-led promotion of “national unity” has led to other setbacks for working people. Leaders of the Post Primary Teachers’ Association, the union that organizes high school teachers, called off a nationwide strike planned for April 3, saying it was “the only choice” after the attack.