Indian American community organizations along with political leaders roundly condemned the March 15 terror attack at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which an avowed white supremacist gunman killed at least 49 people and critically injured several others.
Four people have been taken into custody following the shootings, which were timed to occur at noon during Friday prayers. Among the suspects is 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, who had written a 74-page manifesto on his support for white supremacy and his anti-immigration views.
Tarrant live-streamed on social media the mass shootings, the deadliest in New Zealand history.
New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern quickly described the incident as a terrorist attack.
In the U.S., Muslim and Sikh organizations warned their Indian American congregants about keeping themselves safe from possible copycat acts. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, the U.S.’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, asked local mosques to follow its best practices for safety. CAIR recommends that mosques have a written safety plan known to its leaders, and that gaps in security are addressed, such as alarms, barriers to entryways, exterior lights functioning, and security cameras. The recommendations are available in a down-loadable booklet: https://bit.ly/2TLHdNS.
“We mourn the heartbreaking killings of men, women and children gathered for prayer in their houses of worship and urge leaders in our nation and worldwide to speak out forcefully against the growing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hate that appears to have motivated these white supremacist terrorists,” said CAIR national executive director Nihad Awad. The organization noted that the shooter called himself a supporter of President Donald Trump, and sees him "as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose."
Writer Wahajat Ali said in an op-ed in The New York Times March 15: “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. These attacks are the latest manifestation of a growing and globalized ideology of white nationalism that must be addressed at its source — which includes the mainstream politicians and media personalities who nurture, promote and excuse it.”
The Sikh Coalition released an alert March 15 morning, warning its supporters to “remain vigilant and know your rights.” The coalition has developed a gurdwara security toolkit which can be downloaded here: https://bit.ly/2kHWPgF. The toolkit has similar recommendations to the one produced by CAIR, and also encourages Sikh leaders to engage with local law enforcement to develop and implement safety plans.
The Sikh Coalition’s guide also has instructions on how to respond if an active shooter is in the vicinity.
“This horrific recurring pattern and epidemic of hate must end. No community or faith should ever feel unsafe in their house of worship,” said Sikh Coalition executive director Satjeet Kaur. “We ask that gurdwaras and all communities in the United States remain vigilant and always report cases of bias, bigotry and backlash.”
The Sikh American community experienced the worst-known instance of mass violence against the community on Aug. 5, 2012, when white supremacist Wade Michael Page walked into the Oak Creek, Wisconsin gurdwara, as preparations were being made for Sunday morning prayers, and killed six people, wounding four others before killing himself. Page was a member of the Hammerskins, a known white supremacist organization.
South Asian Americans Leading Together also issued a bulletin, encouraging Muslim Americans to seek out the support they may need via mental health clinics and community actions. “White supremacy, xenophobia, and Islamophobia fueled the shooter’s act of mass violence,” stated SAALT.
“Islamophobia and white supremacy are a global phenomenon. We know that Islamophobia and its ripple effects in the U.S. are real and continue to deeply affect our communities' safety and sense of belonging in the U.S.,” stated the organization, noting that one out of every four incidents of hate violence are fueled by anti-Muslim sentiments.
The organization blamed Trump for using his “bully pulpit” to stoke and fan the flames of racism.
Suman Raghunathan, executive director of South Asian Americans Leading Together, said: “Houses of worship should be places of refuge and peace, not scenes of a massacre. We are standing with Muslim communities in the U.S. and worldwide as the world mourns and we seek to keep our communities safe.”
“As hard as it is not to cave into fear at times like these, we have no choice but to keep fighting against Islamophobia in all its forms,” she said.
The White House did not send out an official response to the tragedy. But Trump said during a press briefing March 15 afternoon that he had spoken with Prime Minister Adern to “express the sorrow of our entire nation following the monstrous terror attacks at two mosques.”
“These sacred places of worship were turned into scenes of evil killing. You've all been seeing what went on. It's a horrible, horrible thing,” said Trump at the press briefing.
In Fremont, Calif., home to the largest population of Indian Americans and South Asians in the nation, Police Chief Kimberly Petersen has requested officers to conduct extra patrol checks, with emphasis during prayer times, at the town’s mosques.
The New York Times reported that security has been stepped up at the city’s mosques. At some mosques in New York, clusters of police officers wearing tactical gear and armed with semiautomatic rifles stood sentry as worshipers entered for prayer. Mayor Bill de Blasio said that the city had increased its police presence at mosques “out of an abundance of caution.”
Indian American Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, said in a statement: “Today, we mourn the loss of 49 lives tragically taken by acts of Islamophobic, white supremacist terror in Christchurch, New Zealand. Those murdered in these acts of hate at their own mosques, and those wounded with them, were attacked in an hour of prayer as their communities came together.”
“Across the world, people of every faith, creed, race, and background must come together as well and speak with one resounding voice against the violent forces of hate, bigotry, prejudice, and fear. This is a day of mourning for the Muslim community, New Zealand, and all the world, but it must also be one of uniting to build a more diverse, more peaceful, more open, more compassionate, and more tolerant world. Hate must not and will not prevail,” stated Krishnamoorthi.