Sunday, 17 March 2019

New Zealand terror attack: Societies must acknowledge rising Islamophobia, tackle right-wing hate ideology, says Shanmugam

Dealing with specific incidents not enough - you got to deal with the ideology, he says
By Charmaine Ng, The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

Societies need to acknowledge that Islamophobia is increasing around the world and come down hard on these people, Singapore's Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

Speaking to local media a day after the terrorist attacks in New Zealand mosques that left 49 people dead, Mr Shanmugam said: "When you see the face of the person who was alleged to have committed the crime, I think you see the face of evil."

He added that while people with right-wing hate ideology have carried out terror attacks for many years, the issue has not received "as much attention" as those said to be carried out on behalf of Islam.

Beyond having leaders speaking publicly to condemn the attacks and stepping up security, societies have to "face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising", said Mr Shanmugam, who was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

"Just as we come down hard on terrorists who say that they attack on behalf of Islam, you got to come down equally hard on Islamophobic people and also you got to deal with the ideology - it's not just dealing with specific incidents," he added.

"For that you got to start by acknowledging that it is there. When you do not acknowledge it, the problem just grows."

Societies need to figure out the boundaries between free speech and hate speech - a line which, in many places, is often blurred.

"We try and draw a line and a fairly strict line, whether it is in the form of entertainment or it is preaching... anything that interferes or attacks other peoples' religions, race," he noted.

Highlighting Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, Mr Shanmugam said of the controversial comments made by the far-right independent politician: "Attacking Islam, attacking the Prophet, saying that it is a savage religion. If he had been in Singapore, this would never have been allowed."

It was important for Singaporeans to understand that if people are allowed to attack other religions or races, over time this would spread as hate speech which results in a "culture of permissiveness", Mr Shanmugam added.

And that creates "a greater divide" and "a more permissive environment for violence... so we have to face up to these questions," he said.

When asked if security at religious sites will be stepped up in the light of the Christchurch attacks, Mr Shanmugam said that while Singapore remains on high alert, it has strict laws on gun control as well as on hate speech.

He also urged Singaporeans who have come across the video of the New Zealand shooting to not circulate it and delete the footage.

"Please delete it. And don't spread it. Because we are giving the gunman and the right-wing ideologists exactly what they want by spreading it," he said.




'Sickening', Islamophobic remarks by Australian senator Fraser Anning after Christchurch attack, says Shanmugam
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 16 Mar 2019

Remarks by a far-right Australian senator after the Christchurch terror attack were "sickening" and Islamophobic, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

Mr Shanmugam said that the comments by senator Fraser Anning described Islam as a violent, fascist religion promoting savage beliefs.

The senator also attacked the Prophet and blamed Muslim immigration for the massacre, Mr Shanmugam added in the Facebook post on Friday night (March 15).

"The senator's statement is sickening. It is completely unacceptable. And he issued it when people are grieving," he said, adding that "our prayers are with the victims and their families".

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that the 49 victims were from across the Muslim world.

She said her government was working with consular officials from countries including Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.

In a statement released just hours after the attack, Mr Anning condemned the gunman but said that "usually (Muslims) are the perpetrators".

"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," the senator from Australia's Queensland said.

Citing a verse from the Bible, he added that "those who follow a violent religion that calls on them to murder us, cannot be too surprised when someone takes them at their word and responds in kind".

Australian politicians have denounced his remarks. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the remarks were "disgusting".

"Those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian Parliament," he said in a Facebook post.

Similarly, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Mr Anning's as "contemptible", and called him a "disgrace to the Senate".

"By spreading hatred and turning Australians against each other he is doing exactly what the terrorists want," he said on Twitter.

Mr Shanmugam's Friday Facebook post noted that New Zealand is a peaceful country and is seen as a model of race relations, and that most people cannot imagine this happening in the country.

He also noted that the terrorist had released an "extreme, violent message" just before the attack.

"It is heart-breaking that people, praying in a mosque, should be mowed down."

Other Singapore leaders have also expressed their condolences.

President Halimah Yacob strongly condemned the attack in a letter to New Zealand Governor-General Patsy Reddy, and called it a “senseless act of violence against innocent civilians at places of worship”.

“On behalf of the people of Singapore, I convey our deepest condolences to the bereaved families of the victims, and wish those injured a swift recovery,” she added.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a letter to Ms Ardern: “This heinous act is an attempt to spread fear and hatred. We must not allow such acts to divide our societies.”

He added that Singapore stands in solidarity with New Zealand in the fight against terrorism.

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan also extended his condolences to New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters.

The terrorist, Australia-born self-professed fascist Brenton Tarrant, 28, was charged with murder in court on Saturday.

He had released a lengthy document titled The Great Replacement, in which he said he wanted to kill Muslims based on a conspiracy theory that European populations were being displaced by immigrant groups.

Australia gets tough on anti-Muslim rhetoric
The Sunday Times, 17 Mar 2019

CANBERRA • Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the government will censure a senator over his Islamophobic comments about the Christchurch mosque shootings.

Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, a far-right independent politician, tweeted last Friday: "Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?"

"I wonder if there will be as much outrage from the left wing when the next Muslim terrorist attack occurs? Most likely silence and talk about 'lone wolf attacks, mental illness and no connection to Islam'," he added.

The remarks were yesterday rebuked by Singapore Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam on Facebook. "The senator's statement is sickening. It is completely unacceptable. And he issued it when people are grieving," he said, adding that "our prayers are with the victims and their families".

Mr Morrison said yesterday his coalition government and the opposition Labor party had discussed a bipartisan motion when Parliament returns next month.

"I would normally not want to give this any oxygen, but I want to absolutely and completely denounce the statements made by Senator Anning... in his attack on Islamic faith specifically," the Prime Minister said.

"These comments are appalling and they're ugly and they have no place in Australia. He should be, frankly, ashamed of himself," said Mr Morrison, who is an evangelical Christian, after visiting Sydney's Lakemba Mosque.

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Turnbull also called Mr Anning's comments "contemptible".

"He is a disgrace to the Senate and, what is worse, by spreading hatred and turning Australians against each other, he is doing exactly what the terrorists want."

Both major parties can go no further than censuring Mr Anning as he is an independent. But amid the controversy, an unidentified young man threw an egg at Mr Anning during a press conference in Melbourne, prompting the senator to hit him in the face repeatedly before being stopped.

Australia is grappling with the New Zealand shooter being its citizen, given how far-right groups have been active in Australia for decades.

Some experts say that anti-Muslim rhetoric has now been normalised by mainstream right-wing news outlets, many of which are owned by billionaire Rupert Murdoch.

In recent years, far-right political parties such as Ms Pauline Hanson's One Nation have gained newfound political relevance by pivoting to the issue of Muslim immigration from the Middle East and South Asia.

Dr Mehreen Faruqi, Australia's first female Muslim senator, blamed Ms Hanson and Mr Anning for normalising language used to target Muslims.

"This is not random. This is the consequence of the Islamophobic and racist hate," Dr Faruqi wrote last Friday in a message on Twitter.


Tough laws needed to tackle hate speech as online platforms are not doing enough: Shanmugam
NZ attacks a reminder that online platforms not doing enough, he says
By Tan Tam Mei, The Straits Times, 20 Mar 2019

The Christchurch terror attacks are a reminder that tough laws are needed to curb the spread of hate speech, which is not being tackled adequately by online technology companies and platforms, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.

He also said he will be tabling a motion in Parliament to discuss hate speech and race and religious relations some time next month.

"We will have a debate in Parliament on structuring race relations and our approach to it... (We will) have views expressed, set out the Government's position comprehensively and contextualise it," he said.

"I think this will allow us as a society to see where the lines ought to be drawn, and whether they need to be redrawn."

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the 15th Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) retreat at the Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa, where he addressed Muslim community leaders.

During his speech, Mr Shanmugam referred to the shooting last Friday at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead and 50 others injured, noting that the gunman had posted a 73-page manifesto online before carrying out the attacks.

"(It had) far-right, hate speech, anti-Muslim beliefs, and he live-streamed the attack, and he aimed for maximum deaths and damage."

This is one of the reasons why Singapore has tough laws and a tough approach against hate speech.

He added: "Online tech companies and platforms don't do enough to take down anti-Muslim messages. In Singapore, we take a very no-nonsense approach even though we get criticised for it."

Even as the attacks in Christchurch received worldwide condemnation, the "ugly head of far-right Islamophobia" was seen in the form of anti-Islam comments made by Queensland Senator Fraser Anning in Australia soon after the incident, said Mr Shanmugam.

"If it had been in Singapore, he would have been arrested. We don't allow this," said the minister, adding that thankfully, many people also criticised the far-right independent Australian politician's comments.

Mr Shanmugam added that Singapore makes no apologies for its approach in tackling hate speech.

"(We) will continue to take a tough and strict approach, but a fair approach, across all communities," he said, adding that the Government wants to protect the religious rights of its people.

However, tough laws alone do not create the environment we have in Singapore, said Mr Shanmugam. It involves collaboration from the communities and the Government.

During his speech, he also thanked the RRG for its support and help within the Muslim community and across other communities.

Set up in 2003, the RRG trains religious teachers to counsel those who have been influenced or misguided by radical teachings. It also conducts workshops on countering extremist ideology in schools and mosques.

While Singapore has come a long way in building its racial and religious harmony, "we are not done yet", said Mr Shanmugam. The strong inter-community relations and communal harmony did not happen by accident, he said, adding: "If you leave people on their own, inevitably they will emphasise... divisions and not the commonalities.

"So, we have been (actively working on), and we have to continue to actively work on, bringing people together. Without that, it will not work. Who is the we? It is all of you. Every community, every group, every religious leader and, of course, the Government. All working together to achieve this."

New Zealand PM Jacinda Ardern urges global action on social media perils after mosque massacre
The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2019

CHRISTCHURCH • New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern yesterday called for a global response to the dangers of social media as the Muslim community began burying their dead five days after a massacre at two mosques.

Ms Ardern said that while her focus was on the people of New Zealand, there were issues world leaders needed "to confront collectively".

"We cannot, for instance, just simply deal with some of the issues we face with our social media... on a case-by-case basis," she said. "There is an argument there to be made for us to take a united front on a global issue.

"This is not just an issue for New Zealand - the fact that social media platforms have been used to spread violence (and) material that incites violence. All of us need to present a united front," said Ms Ardern.

The white supremacist gunman in the massacre at the two mosques live-streamed 17 minutes of carnage in which he killed 50 Muslim worshippers during Friday prayers.

Facebook said the live-stream from Christchurch was viewed fewer than 200 times but it had to remove a staggering 1.5 million videos as footage of the slaughter went viral. In the United States, a congressional panel said it was asking top executives from US tech firms to explain the proliferation online of the "horrific" video. The House Committee on Homeland Security called it "critically important" to filter such violent images.

A 44-year-old businessman was remanded in custody after a preliminary court appearance in Christchurch yesterday on charges of distributing footage of one of the mosque shootings. If found guilty, he faces up to 14 years in jail. A teenager appeared in court earlier this week on the same charge.

Ms Ardern also announced that New Zealand would hold two minutes of silence as a mark of respect for the dead tomorrow and the call to prayers for Muslims will be broadcast nationally. Women in the country were being encouraged to wear headscarves to show their support for the Muslim community.

Ms Ardern earlier visited Cashmere High School in Christchurch which lost two students in the attack - teenagers Sayyad Milne and Hamza Mustafa - along with Hamza's father Khaled, and former student Tariq Omar.

She talked to about 200 children about racism and changes in gun laws. "Never mention the perpetrator's name... never remember him for what he did," she said, asking the children to focus on the victims.

Mr Khaled Mustafa and his son were buried yesterday in the first funerals for those killed as New Zealanders braced themselves for days of emotional farewells.

Hundreds of mostly Muslim mourners gathered yesterday morning at a cemetery near Linwood Mosque, one of the two places of worship targeted, to lay Mr Khaled and Hamza to rest. The family had arrived last year as refugees from the Syrian maelstrom only to find tragedy in a land where they had sought sanctuary.

Mr Khaled, 44, and Hamza, 15, were shot dead at the Al Noor Mosque, the first attack site. Mr Khaled leaves a wife, daughter and son Zaid, 13, who was wounded in the shootings.

Mr Jamil El-Biza, who came from the Sydney area to attend the funerals, said Zaid said at the graves of his brother and father: "I should be lying beside you."

Also present was Mr Abdul Aziz, an Afghan refugee who confronted the gunman at Linwood Mosque. He was embraced by many mourners.

In a sign of lingering tensions, the PA system at the funeral announced evacuation procedures at the venue in the event of an emergency, mourners said. A total of six burials were expected yesterday.

Meanwhile, the bullet-riddled Al Noor Mosque, where more than 40 people died, was being cleaned and repaired for Friday prayers.

Near the mosque, members of rival gangs did a Maori haka, a powerful indigenous ceremonial performance, and a crowd of people sung New Zealand's national anthem as the sun set.


Terrorism in Christchurch: Response and resilience
By Cameron Sumpter and Nur Diyanah Anwar, Published The Straits Times, 21 Mar 2019

At least 50 Muslim worshippers were killed in a terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch last week, and the lives of their families and friends will never be the same. In honouring the victims of this tragedy, the nation's response and resilience as a society can become its defining feature.

In a 74-page manifesto the assailant sent to the New Zealand Prime Minister and other senior officials minutes before the attack, he wrote that aftershocks would "ripple for years to come, driving political and social discourse, creating the atmosphere or fear and change that is required".

Beyond this delusion of grandeur lies a deeper misunderstanding of the nation he chose to target. New Zealanders promptly stood in solidarity with their Muslim neighbours over the weekend, paying tribute to the victims, opening their homes, and displaying support any way they could.

Racism is a problem in New Zealand, but this cowardly act of hatred is far more likely to produce conversations and engagements that will galvanise the country's ethnically diverse society. While it is important to look at the context in which this violent extremism may have found accord, focus should rest on the strong display of societal resilience in its aftermath.


Despite New Zealand's multiculturalism and reputation of tolerance, the nation has endured sporadic encounters with far-right nationalism and neo-Nazi violence. Coincidentally or not, the traditionally conservative city of Christchurch has probably witnessed more than most.

From the early 1980s, groups of youth began mimicking dynamics abroad by shaving their heads and adopting symbols of Nazism in their dress. Ten years later, economic recession and growing inequality led some to seek solace in their white working-class identity, while rising numbers of educated migrants from East Asia became an unfortunate scapegoat.

One gang established in a Christchurch prison in 1994 was involved in two brutal hate killings in the late 1990s and the murder of a Korean backpacker in 2003.

White nationalists have held occasional rallies on city streets, but very few people generally attend. In late 2017, a small group gathered outside Parliament in Wellington and was soon chased away by hundreds protesting their views. "Immigrants are welcome, racists are not", they chanted.

Neo-Nazi gangs have depleted in recent years, though racist undercurrents persist through random noxious comments on the street, and particularly among far-right echo chambers online.

New Zealand has its very own alternative right keyboard warriors, spouting globalist conspiracy theories, berating the mainstream media and blaming immigrants for any conceivable problem.

None of this falls anywhere near the level of hatred and devastation the Christchurch Muslim community suffered last week. Nor does it suggest the Australian perpetrator had local links in the city, which remains unclear.

Establishing evidence of domestic support will be crucial for understanding the extent of the problem.

New Zealand has experience with racist violence, and troubling sentiment likely lingers in certain small circles. However, the nation this terrorist selected for his assault is overwhelmingly tolerant, welcoming and respectful of difference. Kiwis also tend to be highly supportive of their fellow community members, which was sorely tested following another recent national tragedy.


The 2011 Christchurch earthquake killed 185 people, injured up to 2,000 and devastated infrastructure and livelihoods.

In the face of terrifying aftershocks, broken services and widespread trauma, individual, communal and institutional resources came forth organically to offer support and aid those in need.

Sir Jerry Mateparae - former governor general and current High Commissioner to the United Kingdom - described the "Kiwi spirit" in the months after the earthquake as one of "companionship, and with that a generosity, compassion and resolve when things need to be done".

This spirit has again been evident within Christchurch and throughout New Zealand following the mosque attacks. The outpouring of empathy and concern was shown by all levels of society, and has been lauded by the international community.

At the state level, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern addressed the nation and wider world with strength, passion and sensitivity. She wasted little time flying down to Christchurch to visit grieving families and spent time with the local Muslim community, wearing hijab and listening more than speaking.

The government has promised to cover the victims' funeral costs and will provide financial aid for their families. On Tuesday, Parliament was opened with an Islamic prayer by Imam Nizam ul haq Thanvi.

At the grassroots level, faith groups have displayed their support and rallied assistance to the local Muslim community, survivors and families of the victims. Jewish synagogues in New Zealand remained closed on the Saturday following the shootings - their Sabbath - to show solidarity and mourn with Muslims.

Churches and Christian leaders invited people of all faiths to join them in silent prayer for Christchurch, and welcomed Muslims whose mosques had been closed by security services for their protection.

The local Sikh community offered assistance, such as washing the bodies, digging graves, transporting the bodies and family members to burial grounds, and arranged langars (free vegetarian meals) for those affected or attending funerals.

Other faith-based organisations such as the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of New Zealand also issued public statements in unanimity with the Muslim community.

Maori leaders also conducted a ceremony outside Linwood Mosque to cleanse the building of evil spirits, while various groups performed highly emotional hakas to pay their respects to the deceased and to stand strong with the Muslim community.


A sense of community can develop in two ways - over time, or more quickly during periods of crisis or trauma.

The attacks on the Christchurch mosques have been a litmus test for New Zealand's resilience and the fortitude of its society.

Unmistakably, the events which unfolded last week were testament to the spirit described by Mr Mateparae and it will be through this strength that New Zealand can recover.

One example of the willingness to engage and evolve positively as a society is the position taken by the unfortunately named local rugby team, the Crusaders. New Zealand's most successful team over the past ten years has stated the club is open to adopting a more appropriate name and officials plan to consult the Muslim community after a suitable period has passed.

The team clearly want to eliminate any association to historical religious conflict and may feel a sense of responsibility to show local Muslims they have an important stake in the Christchurch community. More importantly, the fact these discussions are taking place immediately following the attacks is good reason to trust that New Zealand will only become stronger and more unified.

Cameron Sumpter is an associate research fellow and Nur Diyanah Anwar is a senior analyst at the Centre of Excellence for National Security of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

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