New Zealand stabbings: nation rallies behind Muslim community

New Zealand has responded to its first terror attack by an Islamic state-inspired extremist with an outpouring of support from and for the Muslim community, as leaders emphasise that the actions of the attacker must not be seen as a reflection on the wider community.

On Friday, a man stabbed a number of shoppers at a supermarket in Auckland, before being shot dead by police.

In the aftermath, prime minister Jacinda Ardern said he was a lone-wolf extremist, who had long been known to police and under surveillance.

“What happened today was despicable. It was hateful, it was wrong, it was carried out by an individual, not a faith, not a culture, not an ethnicity, but an individual person who was gripped by ideology that is not supported here by anyone or any community.”

On Saturday, the day after the attack, she called for kindness and unity in the face of the attacks. “We have it within our powers to ensure that the actions of an individual do not create a knock on of hate, judgment and vitriol. I know, New Zealand you will be kind,” Ardern said.

“Please wrap your arms around all of our victims – those of yesterday, and those of the past.”

New Zealand’s Muslim community, which is still recovering from the country’s worst terror attack in 2019, have offered their support to victims – and expressed their anxiety that the extremist could be seen as somehow representative of the community. Following the 15 March Christchurch shootings, New Zealanders rallied to express their solidarity with the Muslim community. But the country was also forced to reckon with a wider history of racism, Islamophobia and of concerns about white supremacy not being taken seriously.

“When I heard the news yesterday of another attack on innocent New Zealanders just living their lives, my body grew hot, I began shaking and felt sick,” said Temel Ataçocuğu, who was shot nine times in the 15 March terrorist attack, in a statement released on Twitter. “I understand their fear. And I know how difficult this will be for their families as well.”

“Isis does not represent Islam or Muslim people,” he wrote. “The earth is so big. Why can we not share it? We need to learn to live together with respect and tolerance and to end the hate.”

The Muslim Association of Canterbury began crowdfunding for victims of the attack on Friday afternoon, and had raised more than $11,300 overnight.

“We are broken-hearted but we are not broken again,” said Imam Gamal Fouda, leader of Al Noor mosque, which was the site of the 15 March white supremacist attack that killed 51 worshippers.

“This terrorist is not from us and we are one against terror,” he said in a statement. “All terrorists are the same regardless of their ideology whether it is white nationalism or ISIS. They stand for hate and we all stand for peace and love.”

Friday’s attacker was a Sri Lankan man, and his actions were strongly condemned by Sri Lankan New Zealanders. “The community is in shock,” said Sanjana Hattotuwa, a researcher studying links between violence, extremism and social media. “I don’t know how to put it to you. It’s appalling, it’s whatever mix of expletives that you want in whatever form you want, to express the kind of reaction that the community has around this kind of individual and this kind of action”

“I think there is a concern … that the actions of a person, despite what prime minister Ardern said, may go on to color the entire community,” Hattotuwa said. “He does not represent the community. The community is 100% with the victims.”

“He is not us, and will never be. That’s not just because of what happened yesterday, but what is very clearly a track record, behavior, and engagement that is reprehensible.”

Asked on Friday about fears of backlash against New Zealand’s Muslim community, Ardern said: “It would be absolutely wrong. The community here has been nothing but helpful and supportive, it would be wrong to direct any frustration at anyone beyond this individual. That is who’s culpable, that is who was responsible, no one else.”

Leaders of opposition parties on the centre-right and libertarian wings of parliament echoed those sentiments. National party leader, Judith Collins, asked that New Zealanders remember that the IS-inspired Auckland terrorist was “no more representative of Muslim Kiwis than the Australian white supremacist who murdered people in the Christchurch mosque attacks. This is not a religious issue. It is a terrorist issue”.

The ACT party said in a statement that “the individual alone is responsible. We stand with Kiwis of Sri Lankan origin”.

The Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand expressed their sympathies to the survivors in a statement, and said that “stereotyping or targeting particular communities causes harm”.

“The people of Aotearoa New Zealand came together in an exemplary way after the attacks on Christchurch mosques. Our response was considered a model globally. We are confident that New Zealanders will come together again to respond to hate, in whatever form it takes.”