Opinion: The Black Friday Massacre: The New Zealand LGBT Response

From Craig Young, 16 March 2019

On Friday 15 March, 2019, a murderous racist gunman coldbloodedly massacred fifty people at two Christchurch mosques.

As a mark of respect, LGBT organisations have cancelled Wellington Pride activities scheduled for today. For those asking why this is the case, New Zealand Muslims are not our enemies, nor have they ever been. Apart from civil marriage equality, which consisted of a Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand parliamentary submission against that, inter-community relations have been mostly civil and respectful in this country. There are no vocal Muslim social conservative counterparts to Family First and the "New" Conservative Party.

Christianity is no better than Islam when it comes to sanctioning anti-LGBT atrocities and interpersonal homophobic and transphobic violence, as well as excusing or condoning the maintenance of gay male criminality and discrimination against LGBT individuals within employment, accomodation and goods and services provision, legitimising hate crimes against LGBT individuals and giving credence to anti-LGBT hate propaganda. Nigeria, Uganda and Russia are no better than Iran, Iraq and Brunei when it comes to these issues. In New Zealand, our primary opponents are the Christian Right. Moreover, we also need to recognise what the opponents of pluralist co-existence with mainstream Muslims are actually saying, and the fact is that they're endorsing these extremist racist and sectarian stances mostly because of the abject failure of their anti-LGBT agendas, so they are seeking new pariahs and new excuses for social exclusion and discrimination within western societies. They are drifting further and further to the far right (as opposed to the centre-right. One can only applaud Hutt National MP Chris Bishop's adamant revulsion at the perverted and sick racist outburst of right-wing extremist Australian federal Senator Fraser Anning.

Sanitising Christianity's role in this tragedy is the last thing that LGBT New Zealanders should be condoning. Over the last millenium of western history, there were the anti-Muslim Crusades which began in the eleventh century, anti-Semitic pogroms aplenty, German Catholic and Lutheran anti-Semitism and its responsibility for fomenting the environment that culminated in the Nazi Holocaust, European colonialism and its brutality against countless indigenous people, and today's radical fundamentalist Christian Right movements, which preach that it is okay to attack feminism, conceal Catholic clergy pedophilia, ban abortion and maintain criminalisation and discrimination when it comes to gay men and sex workers. In terms of foreign policy, some conservative Christians also argue that torture is an 'appropriate' solution to terrorism, the death penalty is okay even if it is based on institutional racism, and that there are no shades of opinion or nuance or political diversity within Islam (so moderate Muslims "don't exist".) Some of them are even making common cause with neofascists and right-wing extremists when it comes to Muslim immigration and mitigate or ignore the scale of horror that was committed in Christchurch on 14 March, 2019.

By saying this, I am not excusing or condoning conservative Muslim homophobia or transphobia in Malaysia, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria or Brunei. However, just as there are liberal Christians who actively resist the perversion of their faith against feminism, LGBT rights, abortion rights or other religions, there are also liberal Muslims, albeit mostly within western societies, who also do so. In any case, our quarrel is not with the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), whose only act against LGBT rights has been their parliamentary submission against the Marriage Amendment Act in 2013, which went no further than that.

LGBT New Zealanders have been the victims of hate crimes, social exclusion and discrimination ourselves. We should not encourage or condone it, given that Islamophobic fundamentalist Christian or white supremacist opportunists who condone and advocate such draconian attacks on Muslim civil liberties, human rights and democratic freedoms within a pluralist society have never been our allies either. And now, with the terrorist attack on peaceful Muslims who were going about their Friday prayers, possibly including Syrian refugees according to one account, and with forty nine people dead, New Zealand faces the worst terrorist attack in our history. LGBT communities need to unreservedly condemn and demonstrate our solidarity with New Zealand Muslims at this time of tragedy and work wholeheartedly and alongside them to comfort them, express our personal and collective solidarity and uproot the poison and rancor of right-wing extremism from New Zealand society.

Looking at the overseas responses, they appear to fall into two categories. One of them is the better side of valour under such circumstances, with condemnation of the terrorism, interfaith outreach and heartfelt LGBT declarations of solidarity with our fellow Muslim citizens at this time of deep personal and collective tragedy. But the others... I wish I could say that these were restricted to (frankly) idiotic sectarian fundamentalist Christians and conspiracy theorists. There don't seem to be any of the above in New Zealand, or else they seem to be exercising restraint in the current context. I see the "New" Conservatives now realise the folly of exploiting the 'alt right' for cheap political gain and have refrained from any further racist and sectarian commentary about current affairs. Predictably, most of this racist and sectarian rancor has come from Australia and the United States- far right Queensland Senator Fraser Anning (who also opposes marriage equality and transgender rights) blamed the tragedy on New Zealand's liberal and inclusive attitudes toward Muslim immigrants, while Milo Yiannopoulis, a virulent gay alt-right figure has been banned from Australia for engaging in racist and sectarian abuse that I refuse to replicate here. According to one extremist fundamentalist Christian, Bill Muehlenberg, the 'real victims' of these killings are somehow 'conservatives and Christians.' However, some conservative New Zealanders and other evangelical Christians would beg to differ. They include National's Hutt South MP Chris Bishop, who expressed his contempt for Anning in no uncertain terms, and Leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges, who joined Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in an expression of solidarity toward New Zealand Muslims at this time of tragedy, and Ilam National MP Gerry Brownlee, who said he personally supported a ban on the firearms used to perpetrate the massacre.

One other thing needs to be said in the current context. New Zealand neofascist groups are not large in scale, and although they crested under the authoritarian rule of former populist and authoritarian opportunist Rob Muldoon, New Zealand Prime Minister in the seventies and early eighties, their numbers have shrivelled in our national context. They tend to consist of individuals with substance abuse, mental illness and violent criminality problems, with no steady employment record who are marginalised from mainstream New Zealand society. One can only hope that these foul and retrograde sects take the opportunity to disband altogether. They have no place in this country.