What was your first feeling when you heard about the attack?
Anu: It was one, of disbelief. Shock, horror, then fear, despair, anger. All of those emotions, like a roller coaster within seconds.
Sher: What the hell’s just happened? What the hell has happened in this country? At first it was like, ‘Am I awake? Is it a dream? Is this really happening?’ Because, you know, especially for Aotearoa, no-one expects something like this. Straight after that, coming into the emergency meeting we had here [at Unite union], that’s when it really kicked in. Especially when our comrade said, ‘This is a terrorist attack.’ That just shook me from my head to my toes.
This instance has raised thousands of questions in thousands of people’s minds. It’s gone like a virus. It’s even in the little kids. My son, he’s shocked, he doesn’t know what’s happening. That fear, when I was in the meeting, my son kept texting me, ‘Dad, are you OK?’ ‘Dad, are you OK?’ It was that fear. Gradually that fear is dying in people now, but we shouldn’t let it affect us.
But we’ve got to forget the fear and remind ourselves that hey, overcome our fear and fight this. Because if we sit down and only fear this, they’re going to take advantage of it. I know it’s challenging, but we need to hold each other’s hand and educate ourselves that no, rather than fearing it, let’s do something about it. Because this is an opportunity. That guy has given us the opportunity of uniting. I can guarantee you that the change I’m seeing in the community, this is going to be a win for us. Aotearoa is like a flower: it hasn’t blossomed yet, but with this, the world is going to see the real flower, what we really are. Because everybody, not just the Muslim community, but the Christians, the Jews, the Sikhs, everyone is coming together on this.
The Sikhs are going to help the Muslims. I’m from a Sikh community myself. I try educating people that Sikhism and Muslim people go way back; they were brothers. Our teacher, Guru Nanak, his right-hand man was a Muslim. But people have forgotten that.
What in your view caused the aggressor to do this?
Anu: This is not a one-off lone incident. Not an isolated person who is sick in the head doing this. If we look at a global level there has been a rise of the white supremacist, the far-right wing supremacist racist terrorist. We all know about Trump, what’s happening in that sphere, how he wants to build a wall with Mexico. He’s Islamophobic and xenophobic.
In my home country, India, the ruling party since 2014, the BJP, is supported by RSS, a right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation. I have nothing against ordinary working- class Hindus, but it’s the staunch right-wing ideology this organisation is implementing. They are Islamophobes, there are mob lynchings where they will go after Muslims for no reason at all. They will target socialists, trade unionists, activists.
With all of that in the backdrop, we have noticed a considerable rise of these right-wing groups in Aotearoa as well. Last year, what caused us to launch Love Aotearoa Hate Racism was the invitation to the two far right-wing speakers from Canada. Then Pauline Hanson [of Australia’s One Nation party], but that was cancelled.
All these things put together have encouraged these people to be bold enough — I don’t want to use the word courage, that I hold sacred to a lot of true revolutionaries and radicals… so I am lost for words. That has given the confidence to these people to go out and attack. That is what is behind it.
Sher: At the end of the day, the person that’s done this, he’s a human being too. But it’s what people have put in his head, it’s the teachings. It’s whatever path he’s following. It wasn’t him that’s done this. There are people behind him who made him do this. He’s been used as a shield. It’s the big people behind it that’s made him do it.
Last night, there was an article about him. His family in Australia is a reputable family. They’ve got a town named after their surname, they’ve got a street named after their surname. Because his ancestors have done so much for the community in Australia. And this is the type of people that these so-called people target. Anybody with a good name, they’re going to target them. Because they can’t tolerate a name doing good things. So I just saw that article yesterday and I was quite shocked when they said there’s a town named after their surname. And that’s a big thing. And I can guarantee their ancestors or their grandfather has done something damn good to have that town named after them.
What message do you have for the victims of the attack?
Anu: Anything any of us say is not going to be fitting. In the last 24 to 48 hours I have heard this from so many people, leading politicians, activists, ordinary people — ‘We are lost for words’. I don’t want to sound patronising, to disrespect the victims, family and friends in any way. But what I want to say is that the whole of Aotearoa is with you right now. We stand with you. Looking at the events, the peace vigils, the peace marches, the flowers, the messages, looking at that in the past 24 or so hours, there is so much love and aroha out there. We all feel proud to say to our Muslim brothers and sisters: we are with you. Not just in this desperate hour of need, but we are with you for the rest of our natural lives and together, united, we will fight this terror and racism and hatred.
Sher: All people have been affected. It’s not only their family members that got killed, it’s our whanau that got killed in that event. Let’s hope we can help them see the real Aotearoa, see what’s happening here. What effect it has had on the whole of Aotearoa. We all need to see it and use this as a learning curve, and be strong, and stop this from happening ever again in this country.
How has this changed Aotearoa?
Anu: Something really precious broke on Friday 15th March. Something that I as a migrant, as a person of colour who arrived here about 16 years ago… Bear in mind I grew up in London with a lot of racism, being on the alert the whole time, this place — it still is special — but it was extra special. There was something precious about this country, I could freely be out and about and speak in my language and not worry about someone hurling racist abuse at me. I could with pride wear my traditional costumes and go out and hold my head up high. Aotearoa is full of love and innocence and this peaceful, beautiful place in the world… that seems to be shattered. We need to turn that around and show these racist scumbags that you will not ruin that precious place that people, especially migrants, hold in their hearts for Aotearoa.
How have anti-racist movements successfully beaten this ideology before?
Anu: Growing up in the UK, there were people from all walks of life, people from different organisations – trade unionists, socialists, the Indian Workers Associations, they all came together in the late 70s. I think straight away of Blair Peach – this is an irony as he was a New Zealander in England for a short time, he was a teacher. At that time, 1978 I think, there was a lot of racism. The Nazis, the National Front, were very active, roaming the streets. They announced they were going to hold a meeting in Southall, in Middlesex just outside London, where there was a huge migrant population. That is the audacity they had. There was a huge outcry from every quarter. At that gathering the police brutally murdered Blair Peach.
But we did drive the National Front out of politics at that time. That is what I think of when I think, how can we counter this? How can we rid out beautiful society of these awful movements.
What are you personally and the organisations you are part of doing in response?
Anu: Personally I have tried to reach out to as many organisations as I could, especially Muslim organisations, The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), offering them a group of voluntary counsellors and positive psychology coaches. I have a half a dozen volunteers who were kind enough to step up and offer their services on a voluntary basis. And yesterday the Migrant Workers Association, we offered our sound services at the Vigil in Aotea Square.
And just generally making people aware. Myself and my family, we network with a lot of trade unions in India and Canada and the UK too. We are making them aware that, comrades this is what we are going through as a country and on a personal level as well. They have all been very supportive, and they have been passing the message in their networks. We are getting messages of support. They are sending condolences to the victims and their families.
My partner and I we do a regular radio show on Mondays. This will be our topic in our show. We will be informing our community in Aotearoa, and the show goes out internationally as a podcast. We will have Joe Trinder, who is tangata whenua and a member of Love Aotearoa Hate Racism, who will be our guest speaker.
I have a daughter, 20, who has never lived through anything like this. So we are just supporting each other as a family. Just generally looking after each other and offering support. She is at AUT [Aucland University of Technology] so she will be putting the message out there. She will join us at as many vigils and actions as possible.
What should people who want to act, but who don’t have experience of politics, do next?
Anu: This is a very important matter because the whole of this country wants to do something. Going to a vigil is probably a good start. So people can get a feel for it and be surrounded by others who feel the same way. Also just doing research. That may sound out of the ordinary, but just making yourself more educated. What does a white supremacist mean.? There will be a lot happening over the next few weeks and days so just keeping an eye on each other. Going along to actions. If you are inexperienced, watch and learn. That way we can have more of us fighting this.
Sher: Joe [Carolan, Unite Union organiser] said to me about this Love Aotearoa Hate Racism group. This organisation has been hidden away like a shadow. It’s time to bring them out and put an actual state to it. Give it a presence. A lot of people have heard it, but it was hidden. But I want people to look at it and make it into a real image rather than a shadow. This should’ve happened years ago, but we need to use this opportunity to make this thing big. Because the more people who join this, the more fear those bastards are going to have. They’re going to have this fear that they’ve done this, because this group was a shadow. But once it becomes an image, they’ll think 10 times before doing anything like this in Aotearoa.
And the only advice I can give is we need to learn from this event, rather than building hatred in our hearts. I know there’s a lot of hatred in the community, but we need to learn from this and fight it with love rather than hate. The title says it itself: Love Aotearoa, Hate Racism. If we have hate in us, there’s no difference between us and them. We need to build love in us, that’s when the real war is going to start.
But hate for racism. Yep, totally have that hate. Hate racism, but to overcome the fear that people are going through, all we need to do is spread love and listen to one another and hold each other and support one another. Don’t look at the colour of the person, don’t look at the height of the person, don’t look at the shape of the person. If you see somebody who is in need, put your arms out and grab them and hold them. That’s the only thing.
Is there any cause for hope?
Anu: Yes absolutely. There is always cause for hope. I am the optimist who is always the glass is half full. This is not the way people should have been alerted to the rise of the right-wing and terrorism here. We launched Love Aotearoa Hate Racism in July last year. We have been consistently working on this, trying to raise awareness. There were people at the time who thought ‘hate’ was too strong a word — now they don’t feel it is strong enough. It’s unfortunate that it has taken this terror attack for people to realise.
But there is absolutely hope. The numbers I saw at Aotea Square [at the emergency protest on the day of the attack], maybe up to 10,000 people. I have never seen that number of people in that square. Today watching the news — mosques around Auckland, there are so many bouquets of flowers. Even young children with their placards. And also the student climate change protest we had on Friday morning. That gives us hope that the next generation are serious about doing something. If all these campaigns join forces, we can turn this around. We can prevent further attacks.
Anu Kaloti is a leading organiser of the Migrant Workers’ Association, one of the founders of Love Aotearoa Hate Racism, the co-host along with her partner Bharti of Radio Inqilaab, and the General Secretary of Socialist Aotearoa.
Sher Singh is a union organiser with E tū, and a supporter of the Migrant Workers’ Association and Love Aotearoa Hate Racism.
Elliot Crossan is a writer, the Membership & Recruitment Officer of Socialist Aotearoa, and the Editor of the Socialist Aotearoa website. He volunteers for Unite Union and for Love Aotearoa Hate Racism.