New Zealand citizens feel safe

Terror in New Zealand: A country is waking up

The image of green and peaceful New Zealand is deceptive. Even at the end of the world, racist ideas of "white supremacy" are rampant, as the attack on the mosques reveals.

Helicopter noise fills the sky over Christchurch, even in the night after the attacks. But then again, reports Murray Horton, it is also downright eerily quiet. An expressway, on which thousands of trucks and cars thunder along every day, is closed. Horton lives with his wife on the outskirts of Christchurch, the city of 350,000 on the South Island of New Zealand.

On Friday night, the couple saw police cars and officers with rifles at an intersection two blocks away from their home. "A very unusual sight in New Zealand, where the police usually don't carry firearms," ​​explains Horton, a retired railroad worker and organizer of citizens' groups. The police had pitched a tent behind the barrier.


46,149 citizens in New Zealand identified themselves as Muslims in a 2013 survey. With a population of 4.9 million, this corresponds to less than 1 percent of the population.

At this point the two community police officers from the neighboring small town of Lincoln had pushed the heavily armed shooter off the street and placed them. The authorities had been alerted 36 minutes earlier about the shooting in the two mosques in Christchurch. "I bow to the courage of these two cops," says Horton. "They arrested him alive - and they only carried pistols." Semi-automatic rifles, ammunition and two bombs are said to have been in Brenton Harrison Tarrant's car.

Armed forces are now standing across the country, including in front of the two mosques in Christchurch, where countless people have been laying flowers in memory of the 50 deaths since the terrorist attacks on Friday. The officers themselves regularly check the bouquets for explosives and the boards that are next to them with inscriptions such as “Kia kaha”. The expression in the Maori language of New Zealand's native people means "stay strong". Visitors kneeled down and prayed, while others put their arms around each other's shoulders and started singing. The first terrorist attack to hit the country came out of the blue. Or so it seemed.

New Zealand and its people are a blank slate for many in the rest of the world. 19,000 kilometers from Switzerland as the crow flies, it is a longing destination for nature lovers. The film adaptations of “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” caused millions of people to fall in love with the breathtaking mountain, lake and coastal landscapes of New Zealand. The clean, green image is an important economic factor in the country.

New Zealanders are a reserved, reserved people, says John Battersby, the counter-terrorism expert from the Center for Defense and Security Studies (CDSS) at Massey University in the capital Wellington. That is why they self-satisfied believed that “something like that” would never happen in New Zealand. Battersby rejects allegations that are now being raised that the police and secret services have failed. "They were very well aware that the possibility of such an attack existed - as well as the difficulty of managing this risk in a population that did not really see it as a risk." New Zealand is a small country with limited resources. Much larger countries with better security architecture have experienced multiple attacks.

Not so perfect

At the end of the world, the country regularly ends up in the top group in statistics on security. New Zealanders themselves may believe in it too, says Mairi Wallace, a self-employed event organizer who lives in Tokyo but visits her home country several times a year. “New Zealand looks wonderful on the surface. But dig deeper, and it's not the perfect company that we'd like to show the world. "

Terrorist attacks on Aotearoa, the “land of the long white cloud”, as the Maori call New Zealand, were only known from television. But precisely because of this, the alleged murderer from Australia is said to have targeted New Zealand. One should not believe that one can still feel safe anywhere in the world, he wrote in his rambling, confused manifesto on the Internet. And from alleged Muslim invaders. With that he wanted to justify his bloody act.

"New Zealand is a country of paradoxes," says Wallace, who lives in Tokyo, one of the first countries to introduce gay marriage, but it is actually homophobic. Proud of the early adoption of women's suffrage, but domestic violence against women was a huge problem. Allegedly the second safest country in the world - and then such an assassination attempt. "We were all on a cloud, we thought everything was great - or that problems don't concern us personally," says Wallace. "And now it takes such a terrible incident for us to see what life is really like."

Mairi Wallace is from the North Island, she has never been to Christchurch - a city that made international headlines eight years ago because of two strong earthquakes. Wallace never wanted to go there either, she says, because Christchurch was notorious for its boot-wearing skinheads even when she was in school more than 25 years ago. Widely known in the country as a "white city" with few immigrants from Asia, discrimination remains a particular concern of Christchurch. A local friend of Japanese origin complained about this in a phone call a week ago, says Wallace.

Paul Spoonley, a renowned professor from Massey University who researches racism, even describes Christchurch as a breeding ground for racists who demand white supremacy. Such groups are particularly popular with young working-class men, he told the New Zealand news site "The Stuff". "They feel like they are losing their place as a dominant group and that their culture is under attack by multiculturalism." Since the 2001 attacks in America, they saw Muslims as attackers.

One of the books Spoonley wrote is entitled "The Politics of Nostalgia. Racism and the extreme right in New Zealand ». Spoonley is now considered a prophet who saw everything coming. "This is the end of our innocence," he says of the terrorist attack on the mosques in Christchurch.

The proportion of immigrants from the Middle East in New Zealand is so small that, together with people from Latin America and Africa, they make up just over one percent of the population. Most of the Muslims in New Zealand are from Malaysia, Indonesia, and other Muslim countries in Asia.

Hate in school

“We're not,” New Zealanders repeat like a mantra. But the picture that the former top athlete and former commissioner for race relations, Susan Devoy, paints in an article for the news site “The Spinoff” is less rosy. Muslim children experienced hatred in school and “every single Muslim woman I know has been exposed to racist attacks, here in our cities, on Facebook, in the media”.

Murray Horton is also trying to cope with the shock of the attack. Society has become noticeably more diverse, he says. His wife, a Filipina, may have heard a handful of racist remarks in the 28 years she has lived in New Zealand. Horton is confident: “This city survived 18,000 earthquakes. We got through this and we will get through it now, "says Horton," and we take care of our Muslim friends in the process. You are welcome - radical right-wing, racist Australian mass murderers and their local henchmen are not. "

The religious researcher Joseph Bulbulia from the University of Auckland, as co-author of a study, has shown that the more someone is exposed to the news, the more anger they feel towards Muslims and the less warmth they feel towards this group, regardless of the political ideology of the group interviewed person. The starting point for the research was an established “acceptance gap” between Muslims and other ethnic groups, such as Asians, who were less discriminated against.

The American sociologist and criminologist James C. Olesen from the University of Auckland, who has worked in New Zealand since 2010, points out that the discrimination also affects local minorities. The native Maori made up only 15 percent of the population, but over half of the prison inmates. He is convinced that New Zealand society will change as a result of the attacks. However, it is important that the media reported on the case and the perpetrator's motives in such a way that they do not make his propaganda accessible to an even larger audience.