Through a series of meetings that led all the way to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Head of the State Services Commission Peter Hughes, and the Police, the Islamic Women’s Council repeatedly warned the highest levels of our civil service that their community was under imminent threat. Warned for many months before the massacre of over 50 people in Christchurch on March 15th 2019.
So they went all the way to the top with every relevant state agency, seeking protection.
They were ignored.
Then their sisters and loved ones were shot dead.
This atrocity in New Zealand was probably the worst terrorist attack on a religion in the southern hemisphere for over a century.
The way our media narration has closed over it in just a year, and moved on to worrying about getting a heavy ‘flu, or political donations, or the Rugby season’s dramas, shows how New Zealand society prefers to re-seal the lid on religion and consign it to obedient silence.
In hundreds of pages of evidence, the women carefully document the exchanges between different parts of the government, police, and of meetings with security agencies.
But in the end, the Council says the public sector dramatically failed to protect the Muslim community and the country from the Christchurch terror attacks:
“While little might have been able to be done when the gunman opened fire, there was a multiplicity of actions that could, should, but were not taken by the public sector in the years prior to the attacks. Had they been taken when they should have been, the gunman is likely to never have got to the door of the mosques.”
It has been convenient to install New Zealand Muslims into a small enclave of virtuous tolerance; as if New Zealand has an especial claim to virtue because it tolerates the apparently intolerant.
We’ve spent nearly a decade and billions of dollars reconstructing Christchurch from a physical catastrophe. Yet we’re struggling to pass gun legislation that would start to regain our moral structure after a moral catastrophe. After all, the killer was Australian – not of us and not our problem to fix.
Unlike Cave Creek, Pike River, or Kaikoura, this won’t be fixed by more concrete, steel, or manuals.
This crime is a crime against the deepest part of what we value as New Zealanders. Perhaps that value is now so dim we’ve forgotten it exists. Perhaps it’s too hard to even name.
This massacre happened to us. Not them.
The disdain and ignorance New Zealanders show for seriously practiced religion in this country need only be seen on our stages right now in The Book Of Mormon. Those who are religious are perpetually portrayed as fools, as if foolishness were not pretty evenly distributed. We have let our rejection of colonialism through association with Anglicanism become a suppression of engagement with religious people – it’s more like sufferance.
Now, we can attribute this rage to kill Muslims praying in a Mosque in New Zealand to all kinds of diffuse excuses including Five Eyes membership, Muslim radicalization, state security reactions to the 9/11 attacks – and all the way into the great unending vortex of war preceded by unending war. It won’t put our own society right.
This attack is a fundamental breach of our social contract because a people who obey the law and engage as much as they wish to, specifically asked to be protected from imminent threat and were denied and were instead left exposed to a slaughter on a scale and ferocity no seen here for about 150 years. What does our modern state actually mean then?
Powerful as it was, this will take more than the Prime Minister wearing a scarf to fix.
We were warned.