New Zealand ignoring other security threats

There was once a time when navigating national security was a straight forward issue for New Zealand and indeed much of the world. The threats were distant and being monitored by our allies. But slowly but surely what started out as a nice back yard in which New Zealanders thought they could have a beer, has turned into a crocodile pit. Last year one of the inhabitants of the crocodile pit had a go at New Zealand. We hastily removed it, checked the foliage around the edge and then went back to our seat.

For the last several months, for obvious reasons New Zealand as a nation has been fighting COVID19. It caused us to shut down for a month and then spend another 3 weeks on Level 3. We did it and with the exception of the last month, where a bit of a COVID surge has occurred, completely stopped it. But in that time have we been paying enough attention to other national security threats?

We were right to be more concerned about our internal well being. No one really understood COVID19 when it first became a problem and its ability to spread around the world caught many nations dozing at the wheel. The global pandemic has infected 15 million around the world, of which nearly 4 million are in the United States. Of the 3.97 million Americans who have or have had COVID19, nearly 145,000 have died, which is more than all Americans killed in World War 1 or getting close to the size of Hamilton.

With our borders shut, some might argue that other security threats were no longer a problem since no one could get in or get out. Planning a terrorist attack unless the attackers had all of their resources ready to go, was out of the question and any suspect transport activity would have been much more easily spotted by the Police, and other than a supermarket, what would they attack anyway?

Daesh was really a consequence of failed western geopolitics. New Zealand for the most part rightfully stayed out of that conflict, which had nothing to do with us and would only expose New Zealanders to unnecessary danger from one of the most backward entities in the world. New Zealanders understood this.

Then we had 15 March 2019. An Australian-borne New Zealander shot up two mosques in Christchurch, killing 51 people during afternoon prayers. New Zealanders were revolted. The Prime Minister acted decisively, introducing legislation within ten days to restrict the potential for firearms similar to the one used to indiscriminately murder New Zealanders in the future. But against this backdrop of a rapid Government response, toxic right wing conspiracy nuts tried to derail the legislation. Mixed among them were activists who believed that the gun man was doing New Zealand a favour by killing so many Muslims.

He was not. He was trying to incite violence and division.

Not surprisingly the Police response to the attack was massive, and received widespread international applause. Armed Police stood guard at the mosques and at places such as Christchurch’s justice precinct for weeks following the attacks to reassure New Zealanders. This is not to say we should put armed Police back on the streets again just to reassure the public that New Zealand is safe. Considering the recent revelations that Maori and Pacific Island communities feel unsafe when armed Police are around, perhaps the most immediate thing we can do is take steps to disarm that fear and thus disarm the distrust that fear can stoke.

New Zealand Police really need to invite the leaders of all of our ethnic minorities to a hui. At that hui they need to go through all of the individual minorities one on one and then as a group to find out their specific concerns. They need to identify common themes coming out, such as among the Maori and Pacific Island communities, the fear of armed Police; among Islamic and other religious communities the fear that 15 March 2019 might not be the last. These people are as much New Zealanders as you and I. Let us make them feel valued and welcomed and not feel like social pariahs.

Internationally we need to look at how much we want to do with a United States Government that openly demonizes Muslims and other religious communities. We need to look at whether our Defence Force should be deployed in war zones that started because of some foreign power or another having a geopolitical agenda. New Zealand needs to also have a critical look at whether we make a big enough effort to help our small Pasifika neighbours, some of whom have barely functional governments.

COVID19 might have been the dominating thing on our domestic radar, and in many respects still is, but that should not we stop paying attention to potential threats overseas or domestically. They are still there lurking like ambush predators, awaiting a suitable moment, and we need to be ready.

Mosque attack anniversary commemorations should be a once only

Following suggestions that it is not appropriate to have commemorations this weekend for the Christchurch mosque attacks, I have been giving this some thought. I have reservations about getting too heavily into the act of commemorating the Al Noor and Linwood mosque attacks.

The reason is simple:

In the Islamic faith it is considered that once a person is deceased, they have gone to another life. Whilst Islam does not forbid people from mourning it emphasizes the need for a positive legacy from the loss of the deceased.

It is an idea that I quite like. Which is why I believe that these commemorations planned for this weekend should be a once off, and that thereafter in accordance with the Islamic faith, which lost so many of its followers, we should focus on assisting the Muslim community with turning the darkness of 15 March 2019 into something positive that will be beneficial for all.

Just as the Muslim community will want to move forwards, so should the rest of New Zealand. We should not ever forget what happened, but large public gatherings to acknowledge the attacks year after year would not be helpful for anyone in Christchurch.

Following recent arrests of people publishing inflammatory material, including a 19 year old man who made a threat to Al Noor Mosque, it was discovered they belonged to Action Zealandia. We should focus on making sure that militant groups like Action Zealandia are not able to establish a foothold. Despite Action Zealandia denying the group supported the attacks, a document was “leaked” to Stuff which mentioned the code of conduct for the group, including refusing to talk to anyone conducting an interrogation. And an expert with experience of researching the far right in New Zealand said it was possible that the document was deliberately planted to ensure that it appeared that the group is peaceful.

In a few months time the trial of the person accused will start. Just as New Zealand media have agreed not to publish the persons name or other identifying details, nor will this blog. The person is accused of murdering 51 people and faces a further 40 charges of attempted. If convicted, the person has no prospect of ever being released in New Zealand. The attacker, who drew inspiration from the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik and other inflammatory sources, was from Australia.


Revising terror laws for jihadis

Meet Mark Taylor. Mr Taylor is a Kiwi jihadi who went to Syria to fight for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (I.S.I.S.). For years he . Now, with I.S.I.S. largely defeated, Mr Taylor has been abandoned by them in a part of the world he knows not much about. He has no proper documentation, or the means to get such documentation, with the nearest consulate office where he could go being in Turkey.

Mr Taylor is known as the “bumbling jihadi”. He is apparently someone not really able to think for themselves, easily influenced and wanting a sense of belonging say people who used to know him when he was in the Army.

But at the same time, how do you survive in a war zone like Syria or Iraq for so long, especially in a disorganization militant environment with no clear command structure, logistical capacity or leadership? Mr Taylor managed to do that with no food or money and that basic services were non-existent, which points to a degree of resourcefulness.

At the end of the day though, I side completely with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on this. Mr Taylor should face the full force of the law if he makes it back to New Zealand, for several reasons:

  1. He is a member of a terrorist/militant group banned under New Zealand law
  2. In being a member he would have associated with other members, possibly received or given logistical or material support to other members
  3. He has not recanted any of his views, based on which one can assume he still believes in them
  4. Whilst not participating in actions, he boasts of being on guard duty whilst with I.S.I.S., which means that although he was not involved in combat he was enabling other militants to be by relieving them of being guards

That said the legal situation he finds himself in, as do the Police working to establish grounds for prosecution and the Government working out how the new laws should look, is complex. What the “full force of the law” might look like is not immediately clear, though the strongest path to conviction appears to be the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002, because he joined a group internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

The Green Party, not surprisingly do not believe in tightening up the legislation. They believe his human rights will be breached, which the Government deny. National support the legislation as far as the Select Committee, at which point they will be asking for amendments. New Zealand First are likely to support the legislation as well to ensure it reaches the Select Committee at least.

But how “bumbling” was this guy really? With Kurdistan now under full attack by Turkey and struggling to guard the jails holding jihadi like Mr Taylor, we have to be ready for the prospect that they will be let go or attempt an escape. Some argue that Mr Taylor in the Middle East is more dangerous to New Zealand and the world than if he were released and allowed to return to New Zealand.

Whether we like it or not, as the situation in Kurdistan deteriorates and the Kurds struggle for survival, they might well have no choice but to let Mr Taylor go. What happens then? I do not know, but if he comes to New Zealand the public need to be protected from him and any ideological influences he brought with him. The Police need to be sure he is not going to commit an attack or promote violence. And that most certainly will involve jail time.

Second firearms overhaul announced

The Government has announced the impending second tranche of firearms legislation. The announcement was made following the second of several gun amnesty collection days to recover firearms that had been made illegal in the wake of the 15 March 2019 terrorist attacks.

When the Government announced its plans for dealing wit New Zealand’s arsenal of military grade automatic and semi-automatic weapons, it was intended to happen in two phases. The first, immediate phase, would quickly end the legality to own weapons such as the AR-15 which was used in the Christchurch terrorist attacks. This was the emergency legislation that was pushed through Parliament at speed in March and was enforceable by the end of the same month.

Because a lot of New Zealanders are unaware of Parliamentary process there was a perception that the Government intended to confiscate peoples firearms without whim or reason. This was despite the government being clear that it was intended to be a temporary stop gap measure whilst more comprehensive legislation was drafted. The perception, which was rumoured to have been enabled by American firearm lobbyists, was coldly met by politicians from both sides of Parliament with the exception of A.C.T. Member of Parliament David Seymour.

It would be followed by the much more comprehensive and permanent legislation that would set in law a tighter regime around the acquisition and ownership of such firearms. In the meantime there would be amnesty days up and down the country where people with firearms that had been banned could be surrendered to the Police at drop off points. The owners of the guns being surrendered would be given an indication as to how much they would receive in financial compensation for handing them over.

The Police acknowledge that there are many guns that they probably do not know about. An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 potentially illegal firearms are thought to be circulating within New Zealand.

The new laws will target those with criminal histories; people with mental health issues including those who might have tried to use a gun to kill themselves. Those who are espousing open violence against society or particular individuals or groups of individuals are also likely to be seen as a red flag to Police when issuing gun licences. A firearms register will be established by the Police, and the cost of maintaining the firearms licencing office will be better offset by changes in the cost of licencing. New offences and the matching penalties are also likely to be added.

This time there will be a select committee period lasting three months. There will be substantial time for firearm advocates and firearm safety advocates to get their messages into submissions and prepare for hearings in front of the Select Committee. This was, contrary to the honest beliefs of some, always intended to happen – there was never any intention to block the permanent tranche of legislation from public scrutiny.

New Zealand changing post Mosque attack

It is probably fair to say that New Zealand will not be quite the same again. In the same way that the Canterbury/Christchurch/Kaikoura earthquakes have made New Zealand acutely more aware of its dynamic geological environs, the attack on the Mosques of 15 March have been a violent jolt to our society and how it handles extremism.

The aftershocks will continue to reverberate through the country for a while. Law changes that are currently in progress are just the start, with changes signalled for hate speech law and a Royal Commission of Inquiry has been established to examine issues related to what the intelligence community knew about the gunman.

Just as I saw many positives coming out during the earthquakes, such as how the community rallied to help each other, contribute to the Civil Defence operation, donate to Red Cross and so forth, there has been a great outpouring of support for the Muslim community. Within a few days several million dollars had been raised to assist with material and financial needs, since many of the people in the Mosque who were shot dead or injured are the main source of income in their family. We saw how quickly the Mosque reopened – as fast as the Police could conduct the scene examination, get the interiors cleaned up and the various trades people repair the damage from bullets and things falling over.

The fear after the Christchurch earthquakes was palpable. Fear of a further big one. Fear of not being able to make ends meet, of loved ones and friends finding themselves in a tight spot that they cannot get out of. It unleashed a wave of stress and psychological issues among those who were there – depression, anxiety, among others. The fear after the Mosque attacks is there too – despite the authorities being relatively confident there is nobody else involved. Fear that this might become the new norm. Fear of how to explain to youngsters when they get older what happened and why.

Just as followed the earthquakes, where hard conversations were had – and continue to be had – about the direction the recovery should take, conversations about healing and moving forward will be had with the individual religious communities.

Some of the lessons of the earthquakes have been learnt. Many councils around New Zealand are now moving to address issues with infrastructure, building codes and the readiness of the authorities. It is too early to tell what the lessons of the Mosque attacks were, much less whether or not they will be heeded. Months or years from now when the initial good will has worn off and those other than the immediately affected are trying to move their lives forward, will we remember that not all can do so as easily?

Nobody knew where or how New Zealand would go in the immediate wake of the Canterbury/Christchurch quakes. Even when the Kaikoura quake hit there were questions about Kaikoura’s future. Those questions will be getting asked around New Zealand about where and how we proceed after the Mosque attacks as well. Are we ready?