Aotearoa New Zealand's annual hui on countering terrorism and violent extremism recently took place in Ōtautahi Christchurch. Susan Haniel, our Senior Advisor, Sector Improvement attended the hui and reports back on key points discussed during the two-day meeting as well as future directions for work that came out of the gathering.
He Whenua Taurikura means 'a land or country at peace' and this was the aim of the hui - to bring together a diverse group of people representing different ethnicities, beliefs and politics, along with academics, public sector representatives, New Zealand Police and intelligence services to look at the security risks that Aotearoa New Zealand faces from terrorism and violent extremism.
Mayor Lianne Dalziel gave the opening address and spoke about how Ōtautahi Christchurch was a city that stands testament to the capacity of communities to instinctively come together and be resilient, to adapt, change and co-create a new future when there is no going back to normal.
Dawn Baxendale, Chief Executive of Christchurch City Council spoke about local government being in a triad with New Zealand Police and social services, and had a role in driving the prevention agenda.
The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern addressed the hui and quoted, “you don’t attack what you feel you belong to”. This was the message throughout the two-day conference - that we need to have strong links with one another and social cohesion so that people feel they belong to their communities and to this country.
People in communities will have solutions to their own community problems. Local government workers and other public servants need to have the skills to engage with them and listen to their stories to find ways to bring people together. Our preventions for extremist threats need to be confident and inclusive, communities need to feel part of the solution.
Talk of social cohesion is easier than doing the work as was borne out at the conference when angry division arose about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A speaker from the NZ Jewish Council said that there needed to be nationally consistent approach to condemning terrorism because there had been marches in 2018 in New Zealand in support of Hezbollah whose military wing was a proscribed terrorist organisation. This statement clearly offended some of the Muslims who walked out for a short time, but returned in peace to continue with the hui. Our beautiful compère from the Ngāi Tūāhurihi rūnanga of Ngāi Tahu, brought calm back to the hui using the afternoon tea break for those involved to take some time to kōrero over a cup of coffee.
The risk of another terrorist attack in Aotearoa New Zealand is medium; an attack is feasible and could well occur. The most likely scenario of an attack occurring would be from a lone-actor with grievances whose interactions with other extremists was through online sites. When interacting online, young people especially, form trans-national identities to which they may be tied to more than a sense of New Zealand identity.
However, there is also an extremist white supremacy group causing concern to our Māori, Muslim, Jewish, Sikh, and other ethnic communities. It is of interest to our security services and has been banned from Facebook. Following a request, and also an angry outburst at the hui to Twitter’s Nick Pickles to also ban it, the white supremacist group has since been removed from Twitter.
The threat of ISIL has been diminishing with its decline in power since 2019. The threats to Aotearoa New Zealand were from overseas trends and were identity driven or faith driven.
There was much talk of 'slow violence' which is when a society causes harm to its citizens and their property, often invisibly, through social or health inequalities, racism, sexism, or another systemic means.
In a poignant session, Muslim women shared with us stories of slow violence - “What hate feels like now”. Here are some of those stories: being asked to provide more paperwork than usual by the public health sector, being declined jobs or housing unless they showed their face, having people in public verbally attacking them, having people pretend to shoot them, informing police of verbal attacks and having little confidence that anything was being done, being disliked, and seeing their daughters being harrassed at school by both students and teachers.
They asked for public servants to do more, to not treat them differently from other citizens, and to stop mistreatment whether through negligence or deliberate actions.
There is a continuum of racist thought that has extreme neo-Nazi beliefs at one end of the spectrum. Further down the continuum is non-extremist racism against people of colour which hurts our Māori, Muslim, Jewish, Polynesian, Indian, Chinese and other ethnic groups. Their common enemy are white supremacists.
Changes to legislation
Local government, public servants and our communities need to work collectively with Te Tiriti as a foundation, and Te Ao Māori approaches where appropriate, to address and prevent harm to minorities in our communities.
There will be changes coming to legislation, such as the Intelligence and Security Act 2017, the Arms Act 1983 and the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.
There is currently an open consultation on the Incitement of Hatred and Discrimination in Aotearoa New Zealand. We encourage you to make a submission by 6 August 2021.
An official strategy for countering terrorism and violent extremism
New Zealand's Counter-Terrorism Strategy has a number of action points to bring our nation together to protect all New Zealanders from terrorism and violent extremism. The Strategy is based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, human rights, open government norms, and the principle of proportionality.