Terror in Chch

Islamic women’s group threatened

Harassment, vitriol, and threats against Muslims are approaching the level of before the March 15 attack, an Islamic leader says

An Islamic women’s group threatened online is surprised by the slow police response.

Aliya Danzeisen, of the Islamic Women’s Council, says it has been more than a month since she reported a threat made against her group on social media.  

“We’re asking is the person located in New Zealand or is it somebody [from] overseas,” she explains. “And we still don’t know.”

The message didn’t threaten physical harm, Danzeisen says. “They’ve told us that we’re being watched – and then anti-Islamic vitriol comes in, with language that’s quite concerning.”

The language “should fit a crime”, she says.

The threat comes amid a worrying upsurge in harassment of, and vitriol against, Muslims and identifiable ethnic minorities. It’s so bad, Danzeisen says, that the Islamic community is feeling as unsafe as it did in the lead-up to the March 15 mosques attack in Christchurch.

(The Human Rights Commission said it couldn’t provide figures of complaints by publication deadline. Last week, RNZ reported on the creation of a new register for Islamophobia and racist attacks.)

“We are dealing with quite current threats. We are surprised that the police and the security services are not as responsive [as they could be] and don’t have thorough plans,” she says. “With the police you would think that there would be a better policy to respond to threats and concerns.”

“The investigation team are making active enquiries to identify the person behind the comments and where they are based.” – Wally Haumaha

Deputy commissioner Wally Haumaha confirms Waikato Police are investigating the complaint, made on October 25. He says in an emailed statement that Police are taking the online comments “extremely seriously”.

“The investigation team are making active enquiries to identify the person behind the comments and where they are based, and are working to keep the council representatives updated and supported.”

Newsroom asked Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s office if she was aware of the threat against the Islamic Women’s Council, but her office didn’t respond yesterday.

Haumaha says Police work closely with ethnic communities – primarily through its Māori Pacific and Ethnic Services Group – as well as religious and spiritual leaders. A national forum of “key ethnic leaders” has been established to advise the Police commissioner, Haumaha says, while a national Muslim reference group has been created “to ensure the safety and security of mosques throughout NZ”.

Islamic Women’s Council members have been extremely vocal, and visible in the media, since the March 15 attack, in which 51 people were killed, and 49 injured, at two Christchurch mosques.

Danzeisen, of Hamilton, was in Christchurch yesterday as a keynote speaker for the New Zealand Political Studies Association annual conference.

Speaking to Newsroom after her speech, she recalled making a complaint to police about a threat made on social media on February 20 about burning Qur’ans outside a mosque. (She’s concerned about identifying the particular mosque, saying: “When you report it, then there’s more.”)

The threat mentioned the date March 15, and she initially thought the sender was based in Christchurch. It was only on March 14, weeks after the complaint was made, that Police brought Danzeisen a statement to sign. Police told her later that the person wasn’t connected to the Christchurch attack.

Such slow responses, including to the latest threat, don’t fill the council with confidence, Danzeisen says. “If the person who sent this recent one is located in New Zealand we want to know.”

Haumaha says Police investigated and identified the person responsible for the February 20 threat. “They were spoken to and formally warned by Police.”

They were warned

For years, members of the Islamic Women’s Council warned Government Ministers and public agency bosses that there were legitimate threats, including from white supremacists, against Muslims, and the community needed help. If officials and politicians got it wrong, it would be the Muslim community that would suffer most, they said. And so it was.

A Royal Commission is now investigating the Christchurch mosque shootings. Danzeisen has previously upbraided the inquiry for ignoring the council’s wishes to be involved in setting the terms of reference.

She’s disappointed Muslim representatives won’t be in the room to challenge other testimony but, now, she’s more positive about the commission’s work. “I feel like the two commissioners actually understand what we’re saying,” she says. “There’s the potential that they’ll get it right.”

Has the rudder moved on political leadership? Danzeisen feels Ardern’s talking more about long term policies, such as with the Christchurch Call. But the Prime Minister’s only one person in Government and the country’s heading into election year.

“I think they’re trying. Or she is. She’s leading, but I don’t know that all parties are.”

Danzeisen’s not convinced the government bureaucracy, which for so long was focused on the threat of Islamic terrorism, is now looking in the right place. “Since we aren’t at the table we don’t know.”

How things have changed, or stayed the same

She believes the whole public sector needs a revamp – especially the way it serves the public. “Consultation needs to be more than going to a city and saying I’m going to be there on this night. It actually needs to be indepth. And it’s not one ministry, it’s across the board.”

On the media, Danzeisen says it needs to be better informed about basic cultural matters so the substantive story doesn’t get lost in superficial things. Generally, though, the media is doing a better job of questioning authorities more, and showing the Muslim community in a different light.

“But the question is, are they doing that with all communities or just our community? It should be a change in how they’re approaching things.”

Danzeisen says the barriers that once prevented the Islamic Women’s Council’s voice from being heard within government have been removed, and it’s now able to have what she calls strong conversations. But the aftermath of the attacks is such a big issue that council members – who are helping their community heal – don’t have as much time to advocate.

She has been amazed by herself and fellow Islamic leaders this year. “I didn’t know women could withstand this much,” she says. “If you look at the widows who are rebuilding their families, if somebody had asked me before the attacks, would it be possible that they’d be rebuilding as well as they have, I wouldn’t believe they could have. They have amazed me.”

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