Questions about New Zealand foreign policy following Christchurch terrorist attack

When the Christchurch mosque gunman opened fire on 15 March 2019, the people of New Zealand and the Police were not the only people taken by surprise. Foreign powers took a step backwards and wondered how a nation that is renown for its peaceful outlook, respect of international law and tolerance of diversity could have such an attack. Intelligence officials were shocked and mystified as to how they managed to miss the warning signs.

But as New Zealand tries to move forward after the attack, questions are starting to arise about the effects it will have on our foreign policy. Two of the nations most closely linked to New Zealand with whom we probably have the most to lose – or gain – have significant foreign policy bearing on New Zealand. As global super powers, New Zealand needs both of them onside, at a time when sensitivity around Islam has never been higher.

One of the more difficult questions that we will have to answer concerns the United States. New Zealand and the U.S. have in recent years been working to heal the rift that opened up following the decision of the David Lange led New Zealand Labour Government to ban nuclear armed and powered ships from New Zealand waters. Despite differences over the Iraq War, which led to a temporary cooling the progress has been highlighted by the invitation to participate in U.S. military manoeuvres, and being allowed to dock a Royal New Zealand Navy frigate at Pearl Harbor. In return an American destroyer has visited New Zealand and U.S. Air Force jets have visited for air shows.

Following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand needs to examine whether American policy towards this country will be of use or a hindrance. American policy towards Muslim nations and Muslims is hostile, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Turkey whose regimes have strong man dictators on which Mr Trump likes to model his Presidential style. Conservative American media, such as – but not limited to – Fox News push the line that Muslim countries hate the United States, hate freedom and want to Islamify the U.S.

It is not just the U.S. though that New Zealand will have to look at. Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing a massive purge against Muslim Uighur people in Tibet and Xinjiang Province. It is systemic and includes subtle steps that seek to slip under the radar and are only noticed by people dedicated to monitoring the abuse, as well as more overt measures.

The Uighur people as far as I am aware have no history of militantcy or resisting occupation. Their subjugation is simply part of a much larger clamp down on anyone considered undesirable or a potential threat to Chinese security. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations are keeping track of the persecutions.

Both of these nations have significant bearing on New Zealand foreign policy. They have significant economic interests in New Zealand, and there is considerable migration from both countries to New Zealand by nationals in search of a better quality of life. A supremacist killer such as the Christchurch mosque gunman will

New Zealand will need to consider whether its security intelligence arrangements are fit for purpose as we share information with Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. But would they accept a change in New Zealand priorities towards ferreting out and discouraging lone wolf attacks?

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.


Supporting the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack

Over the last two weeks I have watched a huge out pouring of grief. I have seen and participated in very sombre services for the dead and with more to come, it is time to address how we may best support the victims of the attack in the long term. It is too late for the dead, but not for stopping any future attacks.

Whilst all of this is great and shows a compassionate and caring society, it is somewhat short term. If we are to deal with the hazard the gunman and anyone aspiring to be like him, then we must look at the social environment that spawns terrorism in the first place.

The best thing we can honestly do to support the victims of the Christchurch terrorist attack is go forward espousing and being everything the gunman never wanted us to be about:

  • Working towards a sort of utopia
  • Compassion
  • Tolerance of diversity
  • Dealing with injustices
  • Free from fear

Dystopia is the negative reversal of utopia. It is a society imagined or otherwise of suffering, considered undesirable or scary. Unfortunately in some countries – the United States, Russia, China, France, Australia, Hungary and Britain being notable examples – a dystopian future is becoming a real prospect. All of these countries have either influential groups stoking discontent, or large Government projects such as the Chinese data profiling, which is being used to build up profiles of individual Chinese citizens on a massive scale. The profile, if the outcome is negative, can then automatically deny them social assistance, passports, medical assistance and a disturbingly large range of other essentials.

The gunman wanted a dystopian society where a distrust of people, organizations, authorities and society at large is a good thing to have. In a dystopian society, compassion for others, for minorities and is discouraged, and one is perceived to be surrendering to the “enemy”, which is never quite revealed. A survivalist mentality can take hold, which can lead to accumulating weapons, joining organizations like the National Front and other supremacist groups.

Tolerance of diversity is one of the reasons why New Zealand was attacked. For years we have been seen as a nation that respects and welcomes newcomers from all countries. Contrary to what many people believe all are screened by Immigration New Zealand before they arrive, so this idea of anyone coming in willy nilly is quite wrong, not to mention misleading. An asylum seeker or refugee will be taken to the Mangere facility, where they will be held whilst I.N.Z. process their claim, and ascertain whether the intelligence agencies or the Police have any concerns about them.

Injustices that have been knowingly committed and are deliberately left to fester, are dangerous for several reasons. Some are historical ones that have been passed down the generations, such as the confiscation or land or other property; abuses of a particular group – acts like this, where no compensation or recognition become grievances. Out of grievance comes a desire to resist any (c)overt moves to enact laws or carry out activities that might worsen it.

This is why I am pleased that New Zealand has taken steps in recent years to address injustices and continue to do so. Is this country perfect? Nope, and the world will be watching to see what it can learn from our approach.

Terrorism is built on fear. The whole premise of terrorism is to terrorise, which means instilling fear, distrust of people, of organizations of authorities and the government. Fear is the fundamental building block in a destabilized society. The sentiment is one of “They” are your enemy. They want your land, your home, your job, your life.

This is why in order to defeat terrorism a nation, a region, city or otherwise must not ever give into fear. When one gives into fear, they stop their daily routines – it might be going to pray, or taking your child to the park or going to certain places or meeting certain people. That can become toxic.


Firearm laws changing in wake of Christchurch attack

Last week it was announced that in the wake of the terrorist attack in Christchurch, gun laws will be changing. The announcement, by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern follows an attack on two mosques (with a third planned), that was made possible by the use of high powered semi-automatic weapons with modifications that enable a high rate of fire.

This has however attracted a ferocious backlash from gun owners here and overseas. The gun owners here are reacting to a more immediate threat – it will be their semi-automatics that are affected by the changes that have been announced. This is different from the gun owners overseas who are reacting to something that:

  1. Has nothing to do with them, and
  2. Suggests that they have ulterior or otherwise not entirely appropriate motives

The latter is a cause for concern as it includes powerful, well funded lobby groups such as the National Rifle Association of America. The N.R.A. are staunchly opposed to gun control anywhere for any reason. Unconfirmed rumours are going around that they are sending lobbyists over to New Zealand to fight the impending changes, despite no legislation having yet been drawn up, much less ready for the Parliamentary process.

There is no place for the American N.R.A. in New Zealand politics. It is an organization that in recent years has been accused with some justification for inciting politics of fear in order to get Americans to buy firearms many probably don’t want, never mind need. It is an organization that has put down the families of shooting victims and told lies to its membership about the international attempts to reduce the illicit arms trade that fuels low intensity conflicts such as that in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

New Zealand does need to make changes to our gun licensing laws. Even some of my friends who do support gun ownership recognize this, but they have drawn the line, perhaps correctly at perhaps holding their weapons at much more tightly controlled shooting ranges. One suggested requiring a check in/check out register to be kept at each firing range of semi-automatic weapons that are secured in an alarmed room.

Ultimately not all guns are being banned, though I did notice letters in The Press suggesting this would be a world leading thing to do. As utopian as this might sound, it is simply impractical for a number of reasons in New Zealand. These include farmers needing them for pest control work; recreational shooting; shooting competitions as well as obviously the need to arm the Defence Force and Police. But also the vast majority of New Zealanders are responsible about their use and ownership of fire arms. It is a minority who abuse them.

Challenges facing N.Z. intelligence following Christchurch attacks

Since the World Trade Center attacks on 11 September 2001, there has been a renewed focus world wide on terrorism inspired by the Islamic religion in defence of perceived Islamic values.

Until 15 March, many New Zealanders thought there was little risk of terrorism of any sort happening here. The Green Party and other left leaning organizations regularly questioned the need for the Government Communications Security Bureau (G.C.S.B.) and New Zealand Security Intelligence Services existing. However, the opponents of these two agencies have never articulated a workable solution to abolishing them.

Now that there has been an attack and the two agencies responsible for our security failed in their job, New Zealand must ask itself whether its current arrangements are fit for purpose. If not, what would be better arrangements?

My own concerns stem from the security assets on New Zealand soil as we know them, working for a foreign Government instead of New Zealand and subject to a foreign powers. Two U.S. surveillance sites at Tangimoana in the lower North Island and Waihopai in the Wairau valley of the upper South Island. Both are signals intercept stations that can monitor peoples faxes, phone calls and e-mails.

A notable feature of the increased focus on this one particular source of terrorism as opposed to all other known or perceived sources has been the use by the Security Intelligence Service of informal conversations with young men of the Muslim faith. During those conversations it was claimed the S.I.S. applied pressure to these men to continue spying on their mosque.

It is debatable whether or not such a threat existed in New Zealand. The right wing of New Zealand politics believed such a threat existed (and still does), whilst ignoring the causes of much Islamic militantcy around the world such as American wars in the Middle East. These causes also include support of Israel even when the latter violates international law and their arming of nations such as Saudi Arabia to commit war crimes in other Middle East countries. In a setting where lawlessness caused by constant war that breaks down the security and judicial apparatus it is easy to become influenced by violence since it seems to be the only solution with currency.

During 2002-2004 an Algerian asylum seeker named Ahmed Zaoui tested New Zealand’s mettle after arriving in several European countries with no proper documentation. He was subject to unfair trials before being deported. He wound up in New Zealand and was jailed. Eventually he was freed. It was not because many people necessarily thought he was completely innocent, but because no charges were brought against him, so it violated New Zealand law to keep him imprisoned.

Few – if anyone – believed that an attack by anyone of far right persuasion was possible and when concerns were raised about groups such as the National Front and Right Wing Resistance, they were dismissed as flights of fantasy.

I attended a counter protest to a National Front rally in Christchurch in 2013. There was a clear tension between the two groups. The National Front members were out numbered probably 12-15 people for every one of their members. But they were dressed in uniform that appeared to match that of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (S.S.)and when their members left, they gave Hitler salutes. They distributed anti Asian/Muslim/minority propaganda. Their leader, Kyle Chapman was linked to the fire bombing of a Marae. They had a website which was listing job adverts for people with computer coding skills to bulid or enhance the site.

There is nothing that I am aware of which says the gunman was a member of either organization. He was a loner, a radical who saw extreme wrong in being a tolerant and diverse nation; in looking out for minorities; in viewing them as somehow such a threat that only violence would suffice as a response. But he and anyone who might have assisted him managed to go by unnoticed.

Clearly our national surveillance and security agencies missed the biggest threat to New Zealand since France blew up the Rainbow Warrior in 1985 – though I do not think we could have reasonably expected a Government whose nation N.Z. helped free in two world wars to appear as a terrorist threat.