A motion in Parliament to mark the third anniversary of the Christchurch mosque terror attacks found MPs reflecting on how there is still work to do to counter extremism and hate speech.
Three years on from an attack that few New Zealanders predicted, the Parliament could hardly ignore a global phenomenon which recent events have further demonstrated this country is not immune to.
The MPs who spoke on today’s motion zeroed in on the pain caused to the terror attacks' most affected victims, the Muslim community, devastated families and traumatised survivors, but there was also an acknowledgement of the strong values displayed in the national response.
Moving the motion, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern recalled efforts by Parliament following the attacks to legislate for firearms reform and also establish more effective counter-terror laws.
“The 17 minutes of terror that was livestreamed on social media on March 15 remains available on some parts of the web despite measures to take it down. It's clear the terrorist had spent a great deal of time in the deepest recesses of the web, spiralling into extremism. And so two months after the attack, alongside France, we brought together heads of state and government and leaders from the tech sector to adopt the Christchurch Call, to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online.”
According to Ardern, the Christchurch Call community is growing, with dozens of countries and online service providers having signed up.
“We pledged to work with each other and with civil society to tackle the underlying causes of terrorism and violent extremism and to develop technical solutions that improve the online environment, and make social media platforms less hospitable to terrorists and violent extremists. We have made substantial progress but the work continues, including on our own social cohesion agenda.”
But the sense that much more work is needed to prevent a repeat of something like the mosque attacks was spelt out clearly by the Greens MP Golriz Ghahraman who warned that history repeatedly showed that if left unchecked, hate speech begets atrocities.
She lamented the way that police and national security agencies failed to see the threat posed by white supremacists before 15 March 2019 because they were more focussed on the perceived threat of the Muslim community itself as well as Māori activists. Meanwhile, problems of hate fester on.
“Every minority in New Zealand knows that threat in online spaces and bleeding into our everyday lives. Our Muslim whānau, Māori - our East Asian and Pacific communities saw it with the racist threats after Covid - our rainbow community, trans women. And it spreads online. As leaders, we have to stop and listen.
“The truth is that this is a global phenomenon—disinformation deliberately spread, eventually radicalising and making us all unsafe. We can no longer depend on the goodwill of online platforms to police themselves. Facebook doesn't care about our marginalised communities. Twitter doesn't care. Google and YouTube only took down that video on the day because they were forced,” Ghahraman said.
“The violence and vitriol of the recent protests outside Parliament with elements of far-right hate, with signs of white supremacy, taking advantage of disillusion, grifting disinformation, is a perfect example of that. The royal commission told us we need hate speech laws. We need hate crimes defined. The New Zealand Police wants that. It's time to act. That is what compassion would look like."
Recognising a positive to come out of what is now forged in the country’s history as a day of utter horror and pain, Labour MP Ibrahim Omer cited the values displayed by New Zealand in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
“I think of our community organisations who dropped everything they were doing and rushed to offer their services to the impacted communities. Finally, I think of all New Zealanders who were at home and went out into their local communities and wrapped their arms around their neighbours and communities,” he said.
“It's important to remember that the terrorist utterly failed. The plan to turn the whole country against each other was fruitless.”
The mosque attacks bookend a chaotic three years in which the government has had to grapple not only with terrorism, but a major natural disaster, an ongoing pandemic, a war wreaking havoc on the economy and, quite recently, an occupation of parliament grounds by a dishevelled protest hijacked by extremists.
“There’s no doubt the last three or four years have been incredibly disruptive both in New Zealand and around the world. The word ‘unprecedented’ has been used very widely and I think quite appropriately,” said the Leader of the House, Chris Hipkins.
“I never would have imagined that we’d be confronting so many things in rapid succession. But New Zealanders have proven to be incredibly resilient and incredibly adaptable. I think we can all be proud as a country of the way we’ve responded collectively to those challenges.”
What next challenge is around the corner, no one really knows, but the idea of building resilience is one we can expect to hear more of in parliament during this time of upheaval.