The findings of the Royal Commission into the Christchurch mosque shootings will be released tomorrow. But an extensive investigation that formed a submission into that inquiry is already out, and it foreshadows the result. 

Six hundred and thirty-four days ago, 51 Muslim worshippers were killed at two mosques in Christchurch.

Tomorrow, the findings of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the shootings will be released to the public.

One of the many documents informing that inquiry is a report, commissioned in the aftermath of the shootings by FIANZ – a Federation of Islamic Associations in New Zealand, one of the important voices of Islam here.

Today on The Detail, Emile Donovan speaks to Newsroom’s Christchurch reporter David Williams about that report: why it was compiled; the areas of societal neglect and blindness it highlights; and its recommendations, from those most affected, for making sure such an event can never happen again.

The blame

“We are not blaming anybody here. We found some structural deficiencies across the board – in various government agencies, as well as civil society, as well as the Fourth Estate.”

Those were the words of convenor Abdur Razzaq, speaking on RNZ’s Midday Report the day FIANZ released its submission.

The organisation tasked some of the best and brightest young Muslims to examine how Islam had been portrayed, largely in mainstream media reports, in the leadup to the shootings.

In short, it found screeds of bias.

You could, charitably, describe this as unconscious bias.

But nonetheless, the report found an almost single-minded focus on the threat of Islamic terrorism blinkered Aotearoa’s intelligence agencies to the rising threat of far-right terrorism – despite mounting evidence of this among our international allies.

That blinkered attitude meant authorities missed possible alarm bells over the Christchurch terrorist, says Williams.

“If you think well okay, here is a guy that came to New Zealand, he didn’t have a job, he didn’t really know anybody, he didn’t have a history of gun collection or didn’t even belong to a gun club; yet he is applying for a gun licence. Also, what about Customs – he had fairly unusual travel habits. He went through Europe and he went to some of the sights where Christians and Muslims over the centuries have clashed. And he continued his travelling after he moved to New Zealand. There’s an argument to be made perhaps that someone who visits place like this might be worth having a look at if you’re an intelligence agency.”

David Williams says this could be influenced by the September 11 attacks, which perhaps instilled an oversimplified narrative in some countries’ minds: that terrorist attacks were perpetuated by Islamic extremists; that they should be the focus of counterintelligence agencies; and that this led to a sort of inertia when it came to threats from other areas.

“The argument now is, yes they should have been looking in that direction, and it’s important to do that because look at what they’re turning up since March 15, in all of the arrests and convictions that have happened after that.”

Want more from The Detail? Find past episodes here.

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