Foreign Minister Winston Peters is heading off to two critical Muslim countries to try and prevent a foreign relations backlash against New Zealand over the Christchurch massacre.
But in the process, he may need to be careful that in defending New Zealand by continually pointing out that the shooter was an Australian, he doesn’t provoke a backlash here against Australia.
Peters said yesterday that he was going to a special Ministerial meeting of the 52-nation Organisation of Islamic countries the invitation of the Turkish Government and he would use the opportunity to “put the record straight”.
“I certainly intend to put New Zealand’s record as being an innocent party to an act of a foreigner in our country.”
There were more subtle references to the fact that the shooter was not a New Zealander — he was someone “imported” — in his speech in Parliament yesterday afternoon as part of the Leaders’ tributes to the dead.
“The sickening scourge of terrorism imported to Christchurch was the work of a coward,”
Further on he described last Friday as: “a day when someone from outside our shores attempted to terrorise us and tear us apart.”
The Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, as she did at her press conference on Monday, subtly differentiated herself from Peters’ comments.
“Yes, the person who committed these acts was not from here,” she said.
“He was not raised here.
“He did not find his ideology here.
“But that is not to say that those very same views do not live here.”
Peters met with Turkey’s Vice President, Fuat Oktay and Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday in Christchurch and Cavusoglu said the purpose of the trip was to “to support our brothers and sisters targeted by this heinous terrorist attack, and to show our solidarity with the people of New Zealand.”
The pair even laid a wreath at Christchurch’s Bridge of Remembrance to commemorate “all our martyrs, who sacrificed their lives for our future as well as all terror victims.”
Among the battles the Bridge commemorates is the 1915 landing of the ANZAC troops on the Turkish peninsula of Gallipoli.
The Turkish pair posed for a picture with that in the background.
Back in Turkey, the country is in the throes of a hotly contested election campaign for local mayors and councils, and President Recep Erdoğan is currently on the campaign trail trying to boost support from his conservative Islamic base.
Both he and Presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, have been quick to connect the Christchurch killings to worldwide Islamophobia.
Kalin has called on world leaders to march together to protest the Christchurch massacre as they had done when Islamic extremists killed 17 people in Paris in 2015.
Erdogan, who is seeking to rally support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party, has invoked the massacre as evidence of global anti-Muslim sentiment.
Perhaps, unfortunately, he was speaking at Canakkale on the Gallipoli Peninsula opening a mosque there which commemorated the whole Gallipoli war.
“They are testing us from 16,500 km away, from New Zealand, with the messages they are giving from there. This isn’t an individual act, this is organised,” he said, without elaborating.”
And he went on to directly address New Zealand and New Zealanders.
“We have been here for 1,000 years and will be here until the apocalypse, God willing,” he said.
“You will not turn Istanbul into Constantinople,” he added, referring to the city’s name under its Christian Byzantine rulers before it was conquered by Muslim Ottomans in 1453.
“Your grandparents came here… and they returned in caskets,” he said. “Have no doubt we will send you back like your grandfathers.”
Peters said that the Vice President and Foreign Minister were on their way back to Turkey and would have a chance to put the record straight when they got home.
But Peters is likely to get a warmer reception in Jakarta at the High-Level Dialogue on Indo-Pacific cooperation, hosted by Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi.
“While the visit to Indonesia was scheduled for some time, the importance of it now cannot be overstated,” he said.
“First and foremost, it will be an opportunity to mark our appreciation for the sympathy and support of Indonesia and other countries in the region and update them on how this country is responding.
“We will also express our deepest condolences. Many of those killed or injured in this despicable act of terrorism were originally from the region or maintain family connections.”
The Indonesian Ambassador to the UN coordinated efforts by Security Council members to make a statement condemning the shooting and he also issued a statement expressing condolences to New Zealand.
And New Zealand also got a sympathetic response from Saudi Arabia.
The country’s RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel Al-Jubeir said on Monday that the world stood united in solidarity with Muslims after the terror attack.
Taking to Twitter, Al-Jubeir also said that the incident proved that terrorism had “no religion or race.”
He added: “New Zealand is a safe, peaceful and open country for all, and what the prime minister, the government and the people of New Zealand have done is proof of that.”
But if the reaction of most countries towards New Zealand has been to express sympathy and not to seek to apportion blame, POLITIK has learned there are some tensions within the Government over comments made by Greens co-leader, Marama Davidson, at a Vigil in Auckland on Saturday.
“New Zealand was founded on the theft of land, language and identity of indigenous people,” she said.
“This land we are standing on is land we were violently removed from to uphold the same agenda that killed the people in the Mosques yesterday.”
A high-level Labour source told POLITIK that at a time when the Prime Minister was trying to bring the country together these kinds of comments were unhelpful.
But undeterred, Davidson, repeated the same theme, albeit, slightly toned down, during the Parliamentary tributes to the victims.
“I note the Muslim voices highlighting the truth that New Zealand has a long history of colonial policy, discourse, and violence that sought to harm indigenous peoples,” she said.
But, as she has done each day since the shooting, it was left to the Prime Minister who captured the mood of the country in her speech in Parliament.
“There is one person at the centre of this terror attack against our Muslim community in New Zealand,” she said.
“He sought many things from his act of terror, but one was notoriety, and that is why you will never hear me mention his name.
“He is a terrorist, he is a criminal, he is an extremist, but he will, when I speak, be nameless, and to others, I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost rather than the name of the man who took them.
“He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing—not even his name.”