SPEECH BY ISMAIL VADI DELIVERED AT THE SOLIDARITY MEETING WITH VICTIMS OF THE ATTACKS
25 March 2019
The twin attacks on 15 March 2019 by self-confessed white supremacist, Brenton Tarrant, on the Al-Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 Muslims were killed and over 50 others injured is condemned in the strongest terms by the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation.
These were unprovoked attacks on over 100 unarmed worshippers and civilians. They are brutal acts of terrorism with international ramifications. They are the deadliest shootings in the history of modern-day New Zealand.
In a 17-minute video recording of the attacks, Tarrant played the marching song of British military, The British Grenadiers; a Serb nationalist song from the Bosnian War celebrating Radovan Karadzic, who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims, and the song Fire, in which the singer proclaims, “I am the god of hellfire!”. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, described the attack as an “act of extreme and unprecedented violence” and a “well-planned terrorist attack”.
What do we learn from this frenzied attack by this racist, white terrorist?
In his manifesto, he presents in a matter of fact language the motive for the attack: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history”? He has drawn inspiration from Anders Breivik, the Norwegian far-right terrorist, who on 22 July 2011, killed eight people by detonating a van bomb, and then went on to shoot 69 young people at a summer camp of the Workers’ Youth League. Tarrant confirms that “I have only had brief contact with Knight Justiciar Breivik, receiving a blessing for my mission after contacting his knight brothers”. He then offers a warning: “We are coming for Constantinople and we will destroy every mosque and minaret in the city.”
What should we remember from this horrific, dreadful and painful incident?
It is important that we do not see this as an isolated terror attack by a lone wolf. Reading Tarrant’s manifesto, there is no doubt that he is an essential cog in the global rise of the white supremacist and white nationalist movements that are growing in the US, in Europe, in Brazil, in New Zealand and elsewhere in the world. White supremacy is the racist ideology that believes the white race is inherently superior over other races, and should control other races. White nationalism is a version of white supremacy that believes in a country built by and for white people exclusively.
The popularization of white supremacist ideology on social media and online platforms has given rise to far-right political parties, which have made major gains in divisive elections throughout the West. In Europe for example, far-right populist parties in recent years have seen phenomenal growth in electoral support. The Freedom Party in Austria, the National Front in France, the Party for Freedom in the Netherlands, the Five Star Movement in Italy, the Golden Dawn in Greece, and the Alternative for Deutschland in Germany have run far-right nationalist campaigns based on two fundamental ideas trending in western countries: uplifting the poor working class in a crippling globalized economy and constricting immigration from the Middle East. This is also visible in the UK and the Alternative Right (alt-right) movement in US that is indirectly
supported by Trump. In the developing world we have the rise to power of leaders like Jair Bolsanaro in Brazil and BJP leader, Narendra Modi, in India.
The rise of right-wing parties has been possible because of widespread feelings of insecurity among Westerners. Fears of an erosion of Western culture, sparked by the Syrian refugee crisis, have led to a rise in xenophobia, which far right movements have capitalized on. Today, we live in a world that in some ways represents the period just before the rise of Nazi Germany. Our world has become increasingly anti-black, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant.
The truth is that racists, white supremacists and far-right groups and parties globally are co-ordinating their activities more effectively, using new media technology, using elections and democratic processes to win seats in parliament. The second truth is that they are being inspired and emboldened by leaders like Donald Trump.
And so, we’ve seen dead bodies of migrant children wash up onto the shores of the Aegean; harrowing scenes of African refugees crowded onto inflatable boats en route to Europe, and thousands foot-trekking from South America to the US. We’ve seen progressive protestors against the Unite the Right Rally targeted in Charlottesville and Jewish worshippers killed in Pittsburg. And only yesterday, we’ve just witnessed, live on Facebook, the massacre of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch.
We should never believe that South Africans are immune from such dastardly acts. We are not safe from white supremacists and far-right organisations. We should not forget that we had the violent AWB and the Boeremag. We witnessed the criminal actions of Barend Strydom of the Wit Wolwe, who massacred seven blacks on 15 November 1988, on Strijdom Square in Pretoria. We must be aware that in recent times, white supremacists who are notwanted in Europe, are living in our country and providing paramilitary training to white South Africans against what they call, “white genocide”, and linking South Africans to the global white supremacist movement.
What all this tells us, is that the world that we imagined for our children – one defined by peace, tolerance, progressive values, liberty, justice and inclusion – may not exist if certain steps are not taken. The New Zealand attacks – while a blight on our humanity – in some ways has forced the world to consider with greater seriousness the threat that the rise of right-wing racism poses to democracy and peace globally. It has forced the world to recognise that an individual who is white, male, and inspired by a violent supremacist ideology, can be called a terrorist.
What should we do?
Anti-apartheid struggle veteran, the late Ahmed Kathrada, in a speech to the United Nations in 2014, had given us the lead. He asked, “What is the alternative vision to the global resurgence of racism today? Take up the reigns and actively move towards building a truly non-racial world, free of discrimination and look towards creating a worldwide network or forum to begin a global campaign to combat racism in all its forms. In this way, maybe the dream of a ‘Greenpeace’ against racism could become a reality.”
Several years have passed since Kathrada spoke at the UN. He is no longer with us to lead us. And we have passed the crossroads. We must applaud and support the progressive, humane and visionary leadership of the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. As young as she is, she has shown what it means to be a real leader. She has shown that you don’t need a massive army, you don’t have to be an imperial power, to fight the scourge of white supremacy and terror. You do so by promoting the best human values, takingaction that protects people across all faiths and cultures, and being compassionate and caring to the “other”. Most of all, in today’s time, it means standing up for the oppressed.
Leadership of this kind has unexpectedly been exhibited by Ardern at the global level. It should be an example to us here, of what can be replicated at a local level, within our own organisations and communities. The Christchurch attack shows us the importance of international solidarity and support. The global outpouring of support sends a strong message of our common humanity, our collective conscience and our common future, irrespective of being separated by geographic boundaries.
For many of us in civil society, in the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation, the attacks in Christchurch should prompt us to understand the critical need for increasing inter-connectivity between those who are progressive. Locally, we should be considering more strongly how we work together to combat racism within our own country and communities, and how we capacitate organisations and individuals to tackle the scourge. Internationally, we need to be working with like-minded structures and networks to shift the global narrative. We need to develop a new vision for an inclusive and peaceful world. To do this, in the age of globalization, requires us to develop global links and networks.
The Anti-Racism Network South Africa, which the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and several other organisations have formed, aims to do this. We aim to coordinate local organisations against racism, and link up with similar movements in other parts of the world. In this way, we aim to work towards what Kathrada called for: the “Greenpeace against Racism”. I would urge all organisations here today to get in touch with the Kathrada Foundation and find out how to be part of the ARNSA network.
I end with quoting excerpts from the poem, Mending Wall, written in 1914 by the American poet, Robert Frost, which holds an important contemporary message. The persona in the poem questions the relevance of mending the wall between himself and his neighbour by asking, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know, what I was walling in or walling out.” Despite his neighbour’s insistence that “good fences make good neighbours”, the persona argues that his “apple trees will never get across and eat the cones” under his neighbour’s pines.
In today’s world, we should be questioning the need for barriers and walls – both physical and metaphorical. We need to be asking who is being walled out, why and by whom, and for what purpose? The duty of our generation, and perhaps the next few generations that succeed us, will be to ensure that the barriers that are being put up, are broken down before the foundation can dry, and the old walls that existed are not mended once again to recreate a world that was once defined by racism, colonialism and white supremacy.