In the wake of the terrorist atrocity in Christchurch this month, Ali Akbor reflects on the growing threat of white nationalism and the urgent need in our country for the compassionate leadership demonstrated by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern
THE people of New Zealand stood together last Friday. They were marking seven days since the heinous gun attacks on two Christchurch mosques which cost 50 innocent people their lives with many more injured.
Speaking before a nationally-broadcast Muslim call to prayer, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told a large crowd gathered near one of the mosques: “New Zealand mourns with you, we are one.”
The previous day, she announced a ban on all types of semi-automatic weapons. Within hours of the killings, she said the New Zealand government would pay the burial costs and provide financial support to the families of those lost, regardless of their immigration status.
Ms Ardern has received rightful praise around the world for matching her sincere words with strong action. This is leadership. If only other prominent politicians could follow her example in tackling extremism and protecting religious and ethnic minorities.
The Christchurch killer’s links to white nationalism were quickly established by police. This included the discovery of a 73-page “manifesto” in which he expressed support for US President Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”
Asked in the wake of the New Zealand massacre if he believed white nationalists were a growing threat around the world, Trump replied: “I don’t really.”
As chief executive of Unity Homes & Enterprise, a BME-led housing association based in Leeds, I have become concerned that white nationalism is posing an increasing threat to community cohesion in our own country.
I was born in Bangladesh but have lived in the North of England since early childhood. I have experienced various degrees of racism over the last five decades. But I believe more threats exist now than at any other period in my lifetime.
As a football fan, I was shocked to see the level of racial abuse several England players were subjected to in Montenegro on Monday evening. But we have also witnessed a number of instances of racism in our own domestic game this season. As former England international John Barnes has said in response: “You can’t get rid of it in football before you get rid of it in society.”
There can be no doubt that the sense of social unease and racial intolerance has been exacerbated by Brexit, aided by the rhetoric of some politicians.
Last week, Nigel Farage announced plans to become leader of the recently-formed Brexit Party. The previous leader resigned over anti-Muslim tweets. Farage is the man who stood in front of an anti-migrant poster filled with brown faces during the 2016 EU referendum campaign. Interviewed by the Yorkshire Post a few months ago, he declared: “In some ways it won us the referendum because it kept us focused on the danger of open borders.” This should not be a source of pride.
Last weekend, the Sunday Times reported on rising fears amongst British Muslims that they are facing an increased threat from far-right extremists. The newspaper referenced the five Birmingham mosques that were vandalised in the days following the Christchurch shootings. And it quoted an unnamed MI5 source who said: “The ideology of far-right sympathisers is a bit of a patchwork quilt which is underpinned by violent mindset.”
The source added: “We have a mixture of old-school neo-Nazis in their sixties and seventies, and we also have younger individuals, including some at universities… who reject multi-culturalism.”
White nationalism is bubbling under the surface of several supposedly advanced democracies. This may become ever-more evident in next month’s European Parliamentary elections when far-right parties are likely to take significant shares of the vote in several states.
It is possible that the United Kingdom might yet take part in those elections. We may also be facing a second Brexit referendum or even another General Election. All of these events have the potential to fan the flames of community division yet further and open the way for the vacuum to be filled by proponents of white nationalism.
This is a gap that moderate British politicians must seek to bridge themselves. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s compassionate and strong stance against extremism, backed up by policy change, has set a new benchmark.
BME communities in this country are fearful of the growing threat of white nationalism. It must be faced down if social cohesion, which so many of us have worked hard to achieve, is to be maintained in the coming months.
Our politicians must act like the leaders they claim to be.
Ali Akbor is the chief executive of Unity Homes & Enterprise
Main Image: New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visits members of the Muslim community at the Phillipstown Community Centre on Saturday, 16 March 2019, less than 24 hours after the terror attack at two mosques left 50 people dead and dozens seriously injured in Christchurch. New Zealand. Creative Commons Kirk Hargreaves. CC BY 4.0
Note: The victims of the Christchurch mosque attacks were honoured with a national memorial in New Zealand, the BBC reported today.