An Australian television anchor is being praised for a powerful on-air reflection of the New Zealand mosque shootings and the politics of division and fear.
Waleed Aly, one of the hosts of the Australian news and current affairs show The Project, is himself Muslim and described to viewers being initially reticent to weigh in on the attack that killed 49 Muslims in two Christchurch mosques on Thursday night.
New Zealand police and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have since called the attack an act of terrorism.
But Aly told viewers he felt an “overwhelming sense of responsibility” to speak about the violence and went on to describe both the fear he felt in response to the attack and the lack of shock that it happened at all given repeated similar incidents and the language used by politicians to “demonize particular groups.”
“While I appreciate the words our leaders have said today … I have something to ask. Don’t change your tune now because the terrorism seems to be coming from a white supremacist. If you’ve been talking about being tough on terrorism for years and the communities that allegedly support it, then show us how tough you are now,” he said, laying out several cases of anti-Islam comments by Australian political leaders in recent years.
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“Now we understand that this is not a game, terrorism doesn’t choose its victims selectively, that we are one community and everything we say to try and tear people apart, demonize particular groups, set them against each other — that all has consequences, even if we’re not the ones with our fingers on the trigger.”
Police in New Zealand charged a 28-year-old man with murder in connection with the shootings, which were live-streamed on social media by a self-proclaimed white nationalist as they happened on Thursday night.
Two other individuals remain in custody but have not been charged.
The massacre that killed 49 people took place at two mosques in the small New Zealand city of Christchurch, which is home to roughly 375,000 people.
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Another 48 people are being treated in hospital, according to police.
Police have also confirmed that the individual behind the shooting published a “manifesto” in which they railed about far-right conspiracy theories describing so-called “white genocide,” attacking Muslims and repeatedly referencing the Crusades, which are a common point of fixation for extremists on the far-right.
Those killed were attacked during prayers, and Aly described what he said it must have been like in that room just before the shots rang out.
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“I was in the mosque today. I do that every Friday just like the people in those mosques in Christchurch today,” he said. “I know exactly what those moments before the shooting began would have been like. I know how quiet, how still, how introspective those people would have been before they were suddenly gunned down. How separated from the world they would have felt before the world came in and tore their lives apart.”
He continued, adding that “the people who did this knew well enough how profoundly defenceless their victims were at that moment.”
“This is a congregational prayer that happens every week like clockwork. This was slaughter by appointment and it’s scary because like millions of other Muslims, I’m going to keep attending those appointments — and it feels like fish in a barrel.”
Aly went on to say that the language used to defend the attack in the manifesto was similar to what Australian politicians have been saying for years and referenced numerous remarks, including one statement from Australian Senator Fraser Anning shortly after the massacre.
In the statement, Anning, who is a far-right elected senator for state of Queensland, blamed the shootings on Muslim immigration to New Zealand and quoted a Bible passage that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.
He then added that those killed were not “blameless.”
Aly said while the leaders of Australian political parties have since denounced Anning, they themselves have made divisive and anti-Islam statements and pointed to comments in 2016 by the country’s then-immigration minister that it had been a mistake to resettle Muslims from Lebanon in the 1970s.
He also highlighted the condemnation of the attack by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison by referencing a 2011 report that Morrison, while immigration critic for the opposition party, had advocated the party “capitalise on electorate fears of ‘Muslim immigration,’ ‘Muslims in Australia,’ and Muslim migrants’ ‘inability to integrate.'”
Aly’s collected but stirring remarks quickly garnered praise on social media.