Life in Christchurch stands still again today. The extension of the custody of Brenton Tarrant evokes the horrible memory of the massacre in the Al-Noor mosque five months ago. The perpetrator has since become an example for others.
The most hated man in New Zealand does not have to be present today from Judge Cameron Mander at the third Pro-forma session in Christchurch. That session only lasts a short time and only concerns procedures, says Mander. The substantive case will only be dealt with next May, once the preliminary investigation has been completed.
Moreover, if the court had decided otherwise, Brenton Tarrant (Australian, 28) would not have been in Christchurch’s court. He is being held in a heavily protected wing of the prison in Paremoremo, on the outskirts of Auckland. The last time that Tarrant did ‘join’, it was done using a TV connection. He listened with a satisfied face to Shane Tait, one of his lawyers, who declared on his behalf that he was innocent of all 92 indictments: 51 for murder, 40 for attempted murder and one for terrorism.
These are the cold figures behind the largest massacre in the history of New Zealand. On March 15, Tarrant emptied his weapons in two places of worship in Christchurch, in the Masjid Al-Noor and in the Linwood mosque. He deliberately chose Friday for these targets because he wanted to make as many victims as possible in the place that is most dear to Muslims, the mosque where they pray with family and friends. Tarrant broadcast the footage of the shooting live via Facebook. He also posted a 73-page manifesto in which the extreme right-wing nationalist calls Muslims “intruders” who “want to replace the white population.” The attack hit the heart of New Zealand, one of the safest countries in the world.
Five months later the visible memories are erased. In the Al-Noor mosque, there is a new thick blue carpet on the floor. The walls have been plastered and painted again. “We have replaced everything,” Murray Stirling (52) told a British newspaper. “In that regard, nothing reminds us of what he did to us then.” But the thoughts of the day back then are still alive. A young man is crying softly in a corner of the mosque. This is one of the reasons why today in the courtroom there are counselors who assist relatives and recovered victims – for whom dozens of places have been reserved – in dealing with all the emotions that will be released.
It also hurts Christchurch and the rest of New Zealand that Brenton Tarrant has become an example for other extremists. The young Norwegian Philip Manshaus who sat heavily armed in a mosque in Baerum near Oslo and could be overpowered was inspired by ‘Saint Tarrant’. The same goes for Patrick Crusius, the American who shot 22 ‘Mexicans’ in a shopping mall in El Paso (Texas) that same day and uttered the same extremist language as Tarrant in a manifesto. Security experts cite three reasons why his attack has become ‘an example’ for other white extremists: the attack took place in a mosque, was broadcast live on the internet and had a large number of victims.
“That others imitate him shows that this is a global problem. No one is immune to the violence of these madmen,” says Shamsideen Iposu who was able to escape the deadly fire of Tarrant on March 15. It is hard for others in Christchurch that there are ‘copycats’. New attacks rip their wounds open and again raise that one question: how do you put an end to these pointless attacks?
In the meantime, criticism of their own government is also growing. In the first weeks after the attack, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, in particular, was on hand. In and outside of New Zealand she made a big impression with the way she brought comfort and preserved unity. Ardern announced a major investigation in May. The ‘Royal Commission’, for example, must answer the question whether the security apparatus has not underestimated the danger of white extremism, focused too much on Muslim terrorism.
It soon became apparent that the committee itself also did not know how to deal with its own small Muslim community (about 1 percent of the total population). Hearings were held on important Islamic holidays, too little attention was paid to their interests, according to complaints from Muslim leaders and human rights lawyers. The litigation against Tarrant also takes far too long in their eyes. In June they were told that the trial will start on 4 May next year. It is then that the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan is held.
The fact that Brenton Tarrant has recently been able to send a handwritten letter from his cell also causes a great deal of misunderstanding in the country. In the letter, the shooter warns of ‘a major conflict’ and uses war language. The letter was published on the 4chan website, which is known for racists posting their opinions. The authorities acknowledged yesterday that it has been a major mistake to allow the letter to be sent.