In New Zealand, a white right-wing extremist killed 49 people in an attack on two mosques in the city of Christchurch during Friday prayers. It is the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s history. Police have arrested and charged a 28-year-old Australian man named Brenton Tarrant with the attack. The gunman live-streamed the attack and published a manifesto in which he praised President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” We speak with human rights activist and lawyer Qasim Rashid, who recently launched a campaign to run for a seat in the Virginia state Senate. And we speak with Farid Hafez, a lecturer and researcher at the University of Salzburg, senior research fellow at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University and expert on Islamophobia.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in New Zealand, where 49 people have died after a gunman attacked two mosques in the city of Christchurch during Friday prayers. Officials said 48 others were being treated with gunshot wounds. It was the deadliest shooting in New Zealand’s history.
Police have arrested and charged a 28-year-old Australian man named Brenton Tarrant, who is described by authorities as a right-wing extremist. Tarrant live-streamed the attack and published a manifesto in which he praised President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Tarrant also praised Anders Breivik, the Norwegian white supremacist who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011. The manifesto was also rife with references to racist online memes. Three other people—two men and one woman—were detained nearby, but at least one of them has already been released.
New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described today as one of New Zealand’s darkest days.
PRIME MINISTER JACINDA ARDERN: It’s clear that this can now only be described as a terrorist attack. From what we know, it does appear to have been well planned. Two explosive devices attached to suspects’ vehicles have now been found, and they have been disarmed. There are currently four individuals who have been apprehended, but three are connected to this attack who are currently in custody, one of which has publicly stated that they were Australian-born. These are people who I would describe as having extremist views that have absolutely no place in New Zealand, and, in fact, have no place in the world. …
We have undoubtedly experienced an attack today that is unprecedented, unlike anything that we have experienced before. But, as I say, New Zealand has been chosen because we are not a place where violent extremism exists. We reject those notions, and we must continue to reject them. This is not an enclave for that kind of behavior, for that kind of ideology. We will and must reject it. This is a place where people should feel secure and will feel secure. I am not going to let this change New Zealand’s profile. None of us should.
AMY GOODMAN: That was New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison condemned the attack and described the shooter as a, quote, “extremist, right-wing, violent terrorist.”
Meanwhile, an Australian lawmaker is facing criticism for blaming the attack on immigration. Queensland Senator Fraser Anning said, quote, “The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” unquote.
We’re joined now by two guests. Farid Hafez is a senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Salzburg, a senior research fellow at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. Hafez is also editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbookand co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report. He’s joining us from Vienna, Austria. And in Washington, D.C., Qasim Rashid is with us, human rights activist, lawyer and author of multiple books, including The Wrong Kind of Muslimand Extremist: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere.
We want to welcome you both to Democracy Now! Farid Hafez, let’s begin with you. Can you respond to this horror that has taken place, this terrorist attack in New Zealand on two major mosques in Christchurch?
FARID HAFEZ: Well, let me begin like this. Bit of a crazy story. You know, yesterday, in the evening, when I first got this news, I was just like sharing it on Facebook and Twitter, but I didn’t really give it much more attention, until I realized today, in the morning, that the whole media was full of it, which is absolutely right. But I realized the reason why I didn’t pay more attention to it was because it did not really surprise me.
I think we should not at all look at this incident as an isolated New Zealand incident, because we know that today, in our Western democracies, Islamophobia has become the mainstream form of racism that is shared by large parts of our societies. Many political leaders, not only on the fringe far right, but in the center of power, be it leftist nominally, Christian democratic nominally, or whatever, many of them share a dehumanized discourse on Islam and Muslims that can lead to these kinds of terrorist attacks. The dehumanization that we have been witnessing the last 15 to 20 years, at least, in the political discourse in most of the Western countriescan lead to these kinds of terrorist attacks.
So, it is just one step away from the word to the deed. If you continuously dehumanize people, treat them in a different way, implement legislation that discriminates against them, so what do you think that will happen? Some of them will say, “Islam hates us.” Like we have a president of the strongest country in this world at this time, point of time, that would argue a religion, a whole religion, hates us, the rest of the people, white people. So, if something like that is possible in a democracy, then much more is possible than this, I would guess.
AMY GOODMAN: We have the, what, 86-page manifesto, if you can call it that—
FARID HAFEZ: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —of the gunman, who continually cited people like Dylann Roof, who engaged in the massacre of nine parishioners. He cited President Trump, again, calling him “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Meanwhile, of course, before this attack, an interview was published yesterday that President Trump had with Breitbart, where he talked about having the backing of the military and the police. Can you talk about this?
FARID HAFEZ: I mean, look—I mean, look at this manifesto of “the great replacement,” as he called it, which is actually taken—which is a slogan within the new right, “the great replacement,” the idea that Jewish and Muslim conspiracies are trying to Islamize Western countries, to replace white population, right? So this is the core idea behind this slogan.
So, this manifesto, as much as the manifesto of Anders Behring Breivik, yes, to a large extent, it drew massively on the writings of far-right ideologues, but that’s only one part of the story. The other part of the story is that it also draws a lot on mainstream journalists, right? And I think this is really what we have to have the discussion all about, because if we start now, like we did it with Breivik, discuss a lone wolf, white supremacist terrorist attack, that’s part of the story, absolutely, and this is a problem, and terrorism committed by white supremacists is a problem, but we really have to raise the question: What is the larger context in which all of this is happening? And again, all of these manifestos speak to the reality of a large discourse that is shared, a hegemonic, anti-Muslim, racist discourse that we have in so many Western countries.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan was named in the shooter’s manifesto. He’s London’s first Muslim mayor. This is Mayor Khan responding to the attacks.
MAYOR SADIQ KHAN: Londoners stand shoulder to shoulder with the people of Christchurch. We stand in solidarity to say those who seek to divide us, to break our communities and destroy our way of life will never succeed. When the flames of hatred are fanned, when people demonized because of their faith, when people’s fears are played on rather than addressed, the consequences are deadly, as we’ve seen so sadly today.
AMY GOODMAN: Mayor of London Sadiq Khan, again, one of a number of people named in the shooter’s manifesto, that he wanted to kill. He also talked about Angela Merkel. He talked about Erdogan of Turkey. Let’s bring in Qasim Rashid, human rights activist, lawyer and author, in Washington, D.C. Your response to what has taken place, this worst catastrophe in New Zealand’s history, by this allegedly Australian shooter?
QASIM RASHID: Well, I echo a lot of what my colleague said. This is not new. And I would be lying if I said I was shocked. This became prominent when the president referred to Syrian refugees as serpents. When you hear prominent right-wing pundits refer to Iraqis as primitive, semiliterate monkeys; when you have ongoing demonization; when you try to assert that an entire religion hates us, or an entire people must be banned because of their faith, you will see attacks like this. So, what happened in Quebec at the mosque two years ago. In Minnesota, we’ve had multiple attempts by white supremacists to bomb mosques. In Islamberg, New York, a predominately black Muslim community has been repeatedly targeted by white supremacists and extremists. Same thing in Kansas and in Illinois. Across Europe, across the United States, anti-Islam hate crimes are at record highs. And this is not happening in a vacuum. The FBI documents that the rise of white supremacy extremism online is even faster than ISIS extremism.
And so, my message to those who are watching this is that this is actually a time to come together. This is a time where we need to recognize that extremism and terrorism has no religion. And black, white, brown, we need to stand united. In particular to white allies, I ask you to recognize that there is a need to root out white supremacy extremism. And it’s not enough to simply not be racist; you have to be anti-racist. You have to work actively with communities of color to push back against this misinformation, to spend time trying to better understand various committees of color. Because our job isn’t to sit in mosques and be shot. Our job is to be valuable contributors to society. And we can only do that when there is collaboration. What we saw today is an ongoing result of worldwide demonization and rising Islamophobia. We can only combat that if we work together. And I believe that if we work together, we truly can overcome this. But it needs to come from the people, because the politicians, unfortunately, are not giving us the messaging that we need to create these conditions of peace that I know we all desire.
AMY GOODMAN: Discussion will take place of what has happened—49 dead so far, but there are 48 others in the hospital who have been shot. Farid Hafez, what do you think is the language that should be used? You’ll hear in the corporate media the reference to “psychopath.” And then, but what about the pushback against that, that that negates responsibility, both at an individual level, what has taken place, and what society must do?
FARID HAFEZ: I think, in terms of political stakeholders, political leaders, media spokesperson, etc., I think this is a time where we have to deeply reflect upon our deeds, upon our words, about how we’ve been discussing and creating the so-called Muslim problem within the last 20 to 30 years. I think this is the time where we have to reflect: Where does this all end in? Where does this all go to? What is, at the end of the day, the society that we create? Because this is not only about the dehumanization of Muslim people who have been praying during the Friday prayer; it has also been a dehumanizing of all of our hearts, where people who have been watching these videos, it does something with our hearts, it does something with our minds. It normalizes a certain way of killing people. Right? I mean, it changes our societies.
And if we agree that the way the discourse on Islam and Muslims has been made the last 10, 20, 30 years, and we see that we are all part of this, then this might be the beginning point to really make a change. I mean, you have given—at the beginning of this interview, you have given this example of this one lawmaker in New Zealand named Fraser Anning, who was speaking about the horrible attacks on one side, but at the same time arguing that Muslim immigration is a cause of this. So, that’s the wrong way how to discuss these issues.
And I really do fear that, yes, many political leaders all around the world have been saying, “Well, this was a cruel terrorist attack.” But I really raise the question, like: What will happen tomorrow? What will happen after tomorrow? Will all of these political leaders really take concrete steps, first by changing the way they are talking, second by reviewing the legislations, anti-terrorism legislations, countering violent extremism legislations, and, third of all, really they want to take concrete steps to fight racism, structural racism, and to change the way they have been dealing with all of these issues throughout the last decades? I think that’s really the question that is at stake at the moment. And we will see if people really take it as a chance to make a change, or if everything will just go on the way it has been for the last three decades.
AMY GOODMAN: Just giving details, as they emerge, on what actually took place, this is from the New Zealand news website Stuff: A gunman walked into a mosque on Dean’s Ave. in Christchurch carrying a semi-automatic weapon, opened fire, live-streaming the attack along the way. He then apparently went outside, reloaded and shot people on the ground who were already shot but were still alive. Then, he went on, driving, not shooting, to a second mosque in Linwood. Again, at least 49 people were dead as of 9 p.m.—41 at the Central Mosque, seven at the Linwood Mosque, one in Christchurch Hospital who died of their injuries—48 people with gunshot wounds, including young children. Others went to other medical centers. A 28-year-old man charged with the murder is due to appear in the Christchurch District Court on Saturday morning, arrested in a car which had explosive and guns inside. The shooter identified himself. He was Australian-born Brenton Tarrant. None of the suspects were on any police or terror watchlists. Immediately, the prime minister spoke, called it a terror attack, said everyone should shelter in place, that Muslims should not go to prayer. And I’m wondering, Qasim Rashid—you tweeted out something slightly different today, when it came to Muslims praying on this holy day. What was your message?
QASIM RASHID: Well, my message is that while our Muslim sisters and brothers in New Zealand can’t pray due to this horrific attack, I consider it an obligation and a privilege and my right here in the United States to go to my mosque to pray, to not cow down to terrorists, to seek peace, to seek mercy upon those who are attacked, and to pray for justice.
You know, one thing that I think people need to understand is that the same forces that attacked this mosque are the forces that attacked the Pittsburgh synagogue last year. This is the same scourge of extremism. And I think it’s very telling that this terrorist was not on any sort of watchlist, because there’s a faction of people who believe that you can simply profile Muslims, and therefore you’re going to create national security. And that’s what a lot of the demonization is about.
My hope is that people use this as an opportunity to reach out to their Muslim neighbors, to attend the local mosques in their area. You can visibly call them and say, “Hey, I’d like to come and offer my respects.” This is an opportunity, as horrific as it is, that we can come together stronger. And, you know, I say this whenever there is an attack by a Muslim; I point out that this is an opportunity for us to come together. And I’m saying the same message now, that this is an attack on Muslims. And statistically speaking, you’re much more likely to be attacked because you are Muslim than by a Muslim. And rather than let this opportunity go to waste, come to our mosques. Let’s have a conversation. Let’s understand who each other are. And let’s push back against this extremist rhetoric, because until and unless we do, these kinds of attacks are going to continue to happen. They’re going to continue to try to divide us and create some sort of, you know, faux race war. But I think and I believe that we have the power to overcome that, as long as we stand united across racial lines, across religious lines and across national lines.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end this segment with Christchurch resident Yasmin Ali responding to the attack.
YASMIN ALI: We had, of all the fatalities, family friends that we’ve known for 19 years, dead; people who were there for my engagement, dead. … You don’t think something like this could happen in New Zealand—well, in Christchurch of all places. We’re such a small community. We’re so kind and loving. So, I just don’t understand why someone would hurt us like this, and in such a way, just like an animal. Like, why would you treat us like that? We’ve done nothing, nothing wrong to you. What terrifies me is that there’s people out there that are enjoying this, or they’re OK with this, and they support this, and it pushes their cause even more. And I’m really scared for our future. I’m terrified. I don’t know if I’m going to be feeling safe walking by myself, wearing my headscarf. And I’ve never felt that way before.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Yasmin Ali, a Muslim woman in Christchurch, New Zealand, a New Zealand resident. Again, 49 people so far have died in a terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch. I want to thank Qasim Rashid, human rights activist, lawyer and author of multiple books, including The Wrong Kind of Muslim and Extremist: A Response to Geert Wilders & Terrorists Everywhere. He recently launched a campaign to run for a seat in the Virginia state Senate. And I want to thank Farid Hafez, senior lecturer and researcher at the University of Salzburg in the Department of Political Science and Sociology, senior research fellow at The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University. He is in Washington, D.C., now. Hafez is the editor of the Islamophobia Studies Yearbook, and, since 2015, co-editor of the annual European Islamophobia Report. I also want to point out, the alleged gunman, Tarrant, live-streamed the attack. We have shown none of that footage. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.