Solidarity to fight Islamophobia, not more spies

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“Justice to those affected has not yet been served.” That was Aliya Danzeisen’s response to the Royal Commission’s findings. The Commission was tasked with finding what factors lead to the massacre of 51 Muslims in Christchurch last year. Danzeisen has every right to be outraged and disappointed at the Royal Commission’s woefully inadequate recommendations, and at its inability to condemn state agencies for their inaction and prejudice. While racism against Muslims soared, and the killer was planning his attack, the Police, the SIS and the GCSB focused overwhelmingly on supposed Muslim threats. State racism meant that, despite regular warnings from the community that they were facing threats, Muslims were time and again seen as suspect. 

As one of the leaders of the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand, Danzeisen challenged the government’s inaction and blatant Islamophobia in the years before the massacre. Her organisation submitted an exhaustive and thorough report to the Royal Commission detailing the many times state spying and surveillance agencies ignored, downplayed and minimised the dangers of an ever-strengthening Islamophobia. The Council’s submission  makes for sobering reading: on the impact of the rising tide of anti-Islamic sentiment against our Muslim communities; on the utter lack of regard for Muslim leaders and community figures from officials in the face of their justified distress. Far from being listened to or engaged with helpfully, Muslims were met with suspicion, distrust, and themselves treated as potential terrorists. The Royal Commission marginalises and minimises the very real efforts these women made to alert those in charge. Their efforts went all the way to making contact with and attending meetings with the Minster and SIS Director-General.

Moreover, while the Royal Commission acknowledges that there was an “inappropriate” concentration of counter-terrorism resources devoted to the threat of Islamist extremists, it affirms the Security Intelligence Service’s assumption that this was a community that needed to be surveilled, but with appropriate concentration.

What bureaucratic dancing around the facts! We need to reject this finding outright and call it for what it is: anti-Muslim bigotry.

The purpose of the SIS, Police and GCSB has never been to protect ordinary people. They are not neutral bodies but parts of the state apparatus to protect the interests of the ruling class from external enemies and the ‘enemy within’. The Police, snoopers, military, judiciary and prisons are coercive agencies that can be called upon to exert control over the working class and revolutionary movements. These agencies serve, not our interest, but those of the tiny, but fabulously wealthy, elite under the guise of ‘national security’. New Zealand’s involvement in the international spy ring Five Eyes first began during WWII when the task was to spy on Japanese and German communications. Since the 9/11 terror attacks, the security agencies have turned their resources towards surveillance of Muslims under the excuse of thwarting Islamic terrorists. 

The way to stop white supremacist activities is not to strengthen those surveillance agencies who have contributed to the very Islamophobia that sustains white supremacism. The last thing we need is a better resourced SIS and GCSB that have even greater powers to oppress us all. As understandable as the sentiments of Green MP Golriz Ghahraman are when she states “If resource had been properly allocated to combatting far-right terror, who knows where we would be today”, this statement misrepresents the actual role of these agencies. In setting out to criticise SIS Director-General Rebecca Kitteridge for her agency’s prejudice against Muslims, Ghahraman ends up agreeing with Kitteridge’s explanation that it was inadequate funding that lead to the SIS’s inability to combat white supremacy. It’s particularly galling that Kitteridge has used the subsequent investigation into this enormous human tragedy as an opportunity to make a pitch for more funding. Talk about playing politics with people’s lives, this spy boss deserves our contempt. 

Resourcing is not the issue here, Islamophobia is. Dr Kathleen Kuehn, in her book The Post-Snowden Era, refers to a 2009 review of New Zealand’s intelligence agencies and shows that the number of staff had doubled since 2001, and funding tripled over that time! The GCSB alone had had a 150 percent budget increase over the decade. And let’s remember that while security funding has been boosted the likelihood of a terrorist attack by a person of Muslim faith has always remained ‘low’. And yet, again and again, it’s Muslims who have been targeted, vilified and their rights trampled on.  

This racism and prejudice is political. The role of the surveillance agencies has always been to protect New Zealand’s imperialist interests within the Pacific, and to underscore New Zealand’s political and military allegiances to British, and then US imperialism. Even though the threat of Islamic terror in New Zealand has always been ‘low’ according to the SIS’s own reporting, they have wanted to prove to the US and other allies that they are part of the anti-terrorism club. John Key, when Prime Minister, even went so far as to say that sending New Zealand troops to Iraq was the ‘price of the club’.

The spy agencies uphold the lie that we need protection from the ‘enemy’. More funding for surveillance agencies means more harassment of Māori, left activists and anyone deemed ‘the enemy within’. In 2007 the state used its anti-terror laws against Tūhoe and associated activists. 

How do we go about to ensure that a tragedy like the Christchurch mosques attack doesn’t happen again? The threat of white supremacist ideas and terror remain real, and many Muslim groups report an increase in hateful language since 2019. But one shining light that has come through this year is the resurgence of Black Lives Matter, a multiracial movement involving masses of ordinary people. The message of BLM resonated in Aotearoa; we saw tens of thousands of ordinary people – Māori, Brown, Muslim, Asian, Pākehā – come out onto the streets to show solidarity with protesters in the US and to challenge ongoing racism here. Connections were able to be drawn between racism against Black people in the United States, Indigenous people in Australia, Māori and African peoples here. The protests were a joyous moment when people could see the shared interests that they have with one another. 

We have a collective responsibility to listen to what groups like the Islamic Women’s Council are saying: Islamophobia has not gone away. Fascist organising continues online, and recent reports of far-right activists organising in the military show how real the threat remains. Anti-Muslim sentiment remains widespread. It will take ongoing solidarity and explicitly anti-Islamophobia and anti-racist activism to build a force capable of countering this threat. We cannot trust the state, we cannot trust the spies, and we cannot trust the Police. 

The only force with the power to counter the spread of vile ideas that nurture murderers like the Christchurch mass-murderer is the multi-racial working class. Opposing Islamophobia openly, combatively and creatively should be at the heart of working-class politics. The working-class movement needs to be sustained and kept building to ensure that filthy white supremacists ideas never see the light of day.