Fear or prudence? You be the judge

Over the last few days I have become aware of people expressing concern that the Police are spreading alarmism over the Terror Alert level. As something that will be new to many New Zealanders, there is good reason for the Police exercising the prudence that they do.

New Zealand is lucky. Elevated states of alert have persisted in numerous other countries well beyond what could be considered a reasonable time frame. In France a State of Emergency was declared following the Paris attack on 13 November 2015, and lasted until 1 November 2017. It was extended several times with varying reasons ranging from protecting political rallies – France was due to have Presidential elections; Islamic State was expanding in Syria and Iraq, countries where French colonial influences have had a less than positive impact.

Other countries such as the United States have maintained consistently high alert levels for years, whilst insisting that there remained a clear and credible danger of an attack. In the case of larger countries, such as the United States, Britain or France with a more global influence and thus the ability to negatively impact across a wider area than New Zealand – intentionally or otherwise – the elevated state of alert that has existed for the last 17 years since the War on Terrorism began is probably not surprising

Sometimes no actual State of Emergency is declared, but one might just as well have been based on the rhetoric of officials responsible. Such was the case with Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Security, Peter Dutton whose pronouncements in the media, in the Australian Federal Parliament and elsewhere have bordered on the vitriolic.

New Zealand has not declared a State of Emergency. That can only be done by the Minister of Civil Defence, or a local Mayor. It can however raise its Terrorism Alert as necessary and has done so. The six levels of threat are graded at Negligible; Very Low; Low; Medium; High; Extreme. Currently the Terrorism Alert is graded HIGH, meaning there is a high likelihood of terrorism, violent criminal activity or violent protests.

The longer a country goes without an attack, but stays in an elevated level of warning, the potentially less trusting the people become of the authorities. If for example the authorities said that the warnings will be reviewed on a regular basis, and are then forgotten about,  the assumption will be that a permanently elevated state of alert is the new new. The authorities will start to run the risk of being perceived as “the boy who cried wolf”, and run the real danger of being ignored when something serious happens.

To have an elevated state of fear there must be a threat to order, to a country, to its people that is considered credible. To maintain that elevated state of fear the authorities need to appear in a public setting looking like they are anticipating trouble – which is what we currently see in Christchurch: Police officers with semi-automatic weapons; higher visibility with patrol cars on patrol more.

Whilst unheard of in New Zealand, it is not by any means unprecedented around the world, something a lot of New Zealanders are just starting to realize now. In other countries there are more intrusive measures being taken such as searches of peoples belongings, occasionally of their body. Search warrants are more likely to be executed against properties. High risk individuals might be arrested and the Police may seek to detain them until either required to release them or they charge the suspects.

Time will tell when the terrorism alert level is lowered in New Zealand. Whilst there is a risk above normal levels that another act of violence might be perpetrated, New Zealand Police are aware that it cannot stay elevated forever. And indeed, as was intoned just before the Christchurch attack, following an Armed Offenders Squad incident in Linwood, the Police said that they want to be able to go back to not needing to carry firearms on their staff. For these reasons, I have no concerns about the Terrorism Alert staying elevated for a bit longer yet.




The fine line between free speech and hate speech

Speech is one of the most artful modes of communication and also the most fundamental. It can happen in many different ways, through body language, through oral or visual actions or other medians. It is also, in the wake of the Christchurch terrorist attack, as we try to understand “hate speech” and separate it from “free speech”, a mode that is being subject down to a very personal level.

There is a fine line between free speech, which to me is the honest expression of ones opinion or ideas and hate speech. To me the latter is the overt and deliberate attempt to discriminate and/or degrade an ethnicity, nationality and so forth.

On the side of free speech there are those with sincerely held views that might come across as offensive and possibly discriminatory. I have met people who sincerely believe it is not proper for a man to be in a relationship with another man. They did not go so far as to suggest that those engaging in such conduct should be killed or otherwise persecuted, but their upbringing had taught them that it should be frowned upon.

Another example of an offensive, yet honestly held view was when I was at the New Zealand First Convention in 2010. A gentleman from Dunedin South during a general Q+A session stood up and commented that Muslims should be put on a plane and sent home. The general chorus of disgust shut him down promptly and he was not heard from again for the rest of the conference.

So, where does freedom of speech transition into hate speech? Where does a personal dislike of a particular grouping in society become a hatred?

In terms of graphic content such as video, photography and so forth, the line is blurred. But the slope is slippery and down hill in nature. In terms of personal behaviour, simple things such as crossing the street when someone of different skin colour comes towards you, refusing to visit certain stores because of the ethnicity of the owners/operators suggest intolerance. However, in terms of wording I believe on the freedom of speech side, certain key phrases or terms denote the boundary. For example a derogatory comment might be made out of disgust, or in the heat of a situation and not be intentional. However discriminatory and degrading comments about a subject are intended to hurt and cause harm. The latter two are low level hate speech. Where it becomes graphic and is used in conjunction with descriptions of harm, violence or destruction it becomes high level hate speech.

But the key is both are hate speech examples and if the commentator has achieved low level hate speech, then the commentator is capable of high level hate speech as well.

Lesser, yet deliberately provocative hate speech, that puts down a particular group with irrational and often ill founded claims – “they’ve come to take our jobs; our land our homes”; “they have diseases; they don’t know how to parent” – can be heard being used by some fringe politicians. Former Australian Minister of Immigration and Border Protection, Peter Dutton, has been frequently criticized for his views on asylum seekers and refugees, in particular those from Africa and the Middle East.

A good example of hate speech was the incitement of Hutu’s to kill Tutsi’s during the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago. To get Hutu militiamen into the frame of mind necessary to kill their Tutsi neighbours or any Tutsi’s they saw, radio stations would broadcast incendiary content particularly aimed at degrading Tutsi’s and encouraging their murder. 800,000 Tutsi’s were killed, often with machete’s and often in places of worship where they thought they might be safe in a bit more than 100 days.


Are our terrorism laws still fit for purpose following Christchurch attack?

Following the Christchurch terrorist attack there are growing calls to revisit the terrorism laws in New Zealand and whether or not they are still fit for purpose. The calls come as New Zealand grapples with the question of how does it carry out appropriate surveillance on potentially dangerous individuals, whether the lone wolf type of attack is a form of terrorism not already covered in legislation.

This article examines key parts of the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act, passed as a result of the 11 September 2001 World Trade Center attacks.

S. 3 of the Act provides for a range of existing conventions established to deal with the suppression of terrorism. It also makes provision for enforcing sanctions against al-Qaida and the Taliban.

These might have been relevant in 2002 when al-Qaida and its affiliated groups such as Jemaah Islamiah were active and committing terrorist attacks around the world. They might have been good for dealing with large networks of sleeper cells that become active on their own accord and launch attacks like the Madrid railway bombing in March 2004 and the Bali night club attack in 2002.

However these provisions failed on 15 March 2019. These provision fail to provide for the lone wolf type attack, where a disgruntled or vengeful member of society uses the resources at his/her disposal to carry out an attack that they are likely to have done all of the planning for by themselves. In saying planning I am saying that the lone wolf attacker would have worked out what materials were needed; funded the acquisition of them; determined the what, how, where, when and who of the attack.

Part 2 of the Act needs to be amended to show provision for aforementioned mode of attack. There will need to be a section inserted which deals with associations with militant groups by individuals.

Questions also exist around whether or not right wing hate groups can be considered terrorist groups. This is a grey area of law because if one considers them to be hate groups, does that make militant left leaning groups that are prepared to use violent/destructive methods that could reasonably cause fear, terrorist groups as well? Does, in place of bombs, assassinations and so forth this make the use of intimidation, hate mail and such potential means of giving effect to terrorism against minorities?

I have concerns that people of conservative persuasion might now be subject to unexpected interest from Police because their status might have changed. If they can subject Green Party supporters, civil rights activists and N.G.O.’s to surveillance for, it is not to say that this is impossible. I have no preference – I condemn any Police or other organization with surveying capacity that abuses their authority for such acts, but I wonder whether in the rush to appear proper if the Government has forgotten that there is a need for the watch dogs to be watched themselves.

One section that I would like to see is one that expressly prohibits preferential tendencies towards people or organizations based on Government directives. The idea would be to keep in check the likes of foreign powers, businesses, N.G.O.’s or citizens, whilst enabling authorities to do their job.


Lessons of the Christchurch terrorist attack: An Introduction

On 15 March 2019 Christchurch was subject to a terrorist attack by a gunman and possible accomplices. Over the course of the attack, the gunman shot and killed 50 people. A further 42 were injured and at the time of writing this about 36 were still in hospital.

The attack happened in two stages at Al Noor Mosque on Deans Avenue, and at Linwood Islamic Centre on Linwood Avenue. Prior to the attack the gunman played military music which continued as he entered the Al Noor Mosque and started shooting at around 1340 hours local time. He left Al Noor Mosque after about 6 minutes and continued shooting outside, before driving away at speed towards Linwood Islamic Centre. The gunman continued shooting there. He then started driving towards a third Mosque, during which the Police intercepted him. They rammed his car, forcing it to stop and arrested him. The car was found to have bombs in it, which the gunman was not able to detonate.

The five articles that will follow over the next several days will focus on:

  1. The implications for the New Zealand intelligence and surveillance programme
  2. The implications for firearms legislation (including the changes already announced)
  3. Supporting our Muslim community and individual victims
  4. Judicial overhaul and the need to revisit terrorism legislation
  5. Consequences for New Zealand’s foreign policy

This was an attack on the very values that New Zealand stands for. Unlike other terrorist attacks, such as the French Government sinking the Greenpeace flagship Rainbow Warrior, the Christchurch attack was made by a person with extreme hatred of society. New Zealand and ultimate Christchurch was not attacked because we were conducting a war or other military activity that he disagreed with. Nor were we attacked for inflicting violence on a particular community or people. Nor were we attacked for discrimination or other xenophobic conduct.

New Zealand was attacked because in his eyes our crime was that we were NOT waging active war on Muslims.


Stand with Christchurch

Yesterday, Friday 15 March 2019, white supremacists committed acts of terrorism against multiple Mosques in Christchurch where people were peacefully going about their prayers. In the ensuing attacks, 49 people were murdered. Improvised explosive devices were found by Police near the scene of at least one attack.

This is NOT what Christchurch stands for. This is NOT what New Zealand stands for. We are horrified beyond belief that such utter cowardice could be perpetrated against people carrying out totally legitimate activities.

Because of that, Will New Zealand Be Right will not publish until Sunday 17 March 2019. Stay safe. Reach out to any any friends you have in ethnic communities. Give thanks to the Police for the magnificent job they are doing bringing these people to justice.