World leaders stress urgent need to curb Islamophobia

People placing flowers yesterday at a memorial to the victims of Friday's mosque attacks, near a police line outside Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. A total of 49 people died in the attacks and dozens were wounded.
People placing flowers yesterday at a memorial to the victims of Friday's mosque attacks, near a police line outside Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. A total of 49 people died in the attacks and dozens were wounded.PHOTO: REUTERS

Time to change gun laws, says NZ leader; crucial to deal with the ideology, says Shanmugam

The deadly attacks on two New Zealand mosques, which were widely condemned, showed rising Islamophobia and the urgent need to clamp down on the right-wing ideology feeding it, world leaders said.

A total of 49 people died in Friday's attacks in the city of Christchurch and dozens were wounded.

A 28-year-old Australian man, a suspected white supremacist, appeared in court in the New Zealand city yesterday and was charged with murder. The man, Brenton Tarrant, flashed a white power sign during the brief court appearance.

Two others were also implicated, including 18-year-old Daniel John Burrough, who was charged with inciting racial hostility or ill-will. The second accomplice remained unidentified as of yesterday.

Reacting to the tragedy, Singapore's Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said societies had to "face squarely the reality that Islamophobia is rising".

"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 told reporters on the sidelines of a grassroots event.

Leaders elsewhere echoed his views.

 
 
 
 

"Hate has no place anywhere. We must all confront Islamophobia and work to create a world in which all people - no matter their faith, where they live, or where they were born - can feel safe and secure," Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison unleashed a stinging rebuke of right-wing Queensland Senator Fraser Anning, who drew international condemnation for his efforts to blame the Christchurch attacks on immigration.

Mr Morrison described Mr Anning's comments as "appalling" and "ugly" with "no place in Australia", as he announced that a bipartisan motion of censure against the senator would be tabled.

Mr Anning faced widespread derision on social media for his comments and a teenage protester smashed an egg on the Queensland politician's head yesterday during a public meeting.

In New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern met members of the Christchurch Muslim community, including the families of those killed in the attacks in which the gunman used semi-automatic rifles to mow down worshippers.

She said the victims, including young children and the elderly, were from across the Muslim world. Her government was working with consular officials from several countries, including Pakistan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.

Visitors as well as refugees from Syria, Somalia and other war-torn nations were among the victims. Some people were still missing, including a three-year-old boy whose brother said he had not seen him since the shooting at the Al Noor Mosque in central Christchurch. The two boys were there with their family. Their father survived by playing dead, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Ms Ardern has vowed to reform the nation's gun laws. "Our gun laws will change, now is the time," she told a press conference yesterday, adding that a ban on semi-automatic weapons would be considered.

She said it appeared the guns were modified to semi-automatic weapons. This, she said, was the likely explanation for how all five guns used were purchased legally.

New Zealand has in the past tried to tighten firearm laws, but Reuters said that a strong gun lobby and culture of hunting have stymied such efforts. There are an estimated 1.5 million firearms in New Zealand, whose population is only five million, but the country has had low levels of gun violence.

As the nation tried to come to terms with the massacre, many ordinary New Zealanders reached out to help Muslims in the country by crowdfunding millions of dollars, donating halal food and offering to accompany local Muslims now scared to walk the streets.

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•  NZ to look at banning semi-automatic weapons

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 17, 2019, with the headline 'World leaders stress urgent need to curb Islamophobia'. Print Edition | Subscribe