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The Nation: Dr Chris Wilson and Aliya Danzeisen

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews conflict & terrorism expert Dr Chris Wilson and Muslim community leader Aliya Danzeisen

Simon Shepherd: Prisoners have a right to send mail, but not if it endangers safety or encourages violence. So where does the balance lie? We’re going to talk about this this morning. Joining me now is Aliya Danzeisen, a leader in the New Zealand Muslim community, and Dr Chris Wilson, a senior lecturer in conflict and terrorism at Auckland University. Thank you very much for your time this morning. It’s been a big story this week. Aliyah, first to you. This letter seemed to contain a call to action from the alleged Christchurch gunman. It came from prison. How impacted has this been on the Muslim community?
Aliya Danzeisen: Well, the first thing was shock, and it reverberated throughout our community; fear for our safety; fear for the safety of people around the world – not just Muslims, but all communities targeted by the alt-right and white supremacists. And it shook us, to be honest.

So you’re fearful that it could be an inspiration to somebody else out there?
Danzeisen: Well, we’ve got to get it right. There’s no room for mistakes, and this was a mistake to allow it to go out.

Chris, I mean, this is what you study. How dangerous… I mean, you’ve actually read the letter?
Chris Wilson: I have.

How dangerous is it?
Wilson: It’s very dangerous. It touches on all the key points of the white nationalist agenda and ideology. There’s misogyny in it; there’s talking about the threat to Europe, and he’s very concerned about Europe; and then, most importantly, talking about ‘a great conflict is coming, and you need to prepare to protect your people’. These are the key mobilising emotional points of the white nationalist agenda. So for that to go out to a supporter is incredibly dangerous.

Okay. Let’s talk about the broader chain here. There was the Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik, who was cited as an inspiration by the alleged Christchurch attacker, and then the El Paso attacker in the US did the same thing. So, really, is the genie out of the bottle, or is this just how it works – for them?
Wilson: There certainly has been a series of copycat attacks since Breivik. I mean, one thing to note, really, is there were quite a few copycat attacks after Breivik’s attack, and attempted foiled plots. And that was when he had communications from prison. And when the communications were shut down, those copycat attacks started to die off. And then recently, they’ve started to— with the migration, the crisis in the Middle East and Syria and elsewhere, there seems to have become an issue again, and these sort of attacks – people are being inspired by Breivik, and now the Christchurch attacker and others, so it’s very dangerous.

Right. So, Aliya, Corrections has admitted that a second unsuitable letter has gone out from the alleged Christchurch shooter and could pop up at any time. So are you concerned about that?
Danzeisen: We’re concerned about all correspondence not having been adequately reviewed and vetted. That’s been raised with Corrections and with the chief executive. I spoke with her yesterday, and we raised the concerns about that. And the fact that the first letter even got out, knowing it was headed to Russia, without extra vetting and reading, was shocking. However, we’re talking about ‘let’s get it right now’. Let’s make sure the processes are in place. We need experts who know what they’re talking about. This isn’t a place that people should be learning on the job about it. You need experts; get them in – and experts across the board, for all government agencies, to make sure that they know what people are out…

So this is what you’re putting to the chief executive, and her response was…?
Danzeisen: That they’re going to be doing it and that they have started. And the first thing is, if it’s going to incite violence, whether it’s here in New Zealand or around the world, it needs to be shut down.

Chris, is it relevant? I mean, you say that the content is dangerous, but the mere fact that he could get these letters out – is that also important?
Wilson: I think any letters from him out to his supporters, no matter the content, are dangerous, because I would imagine if you monitored the websites, like Gab and 4chan and so on, you’d see a spike of discussion around him. And not many people are going to focus on the content of the letter; they’re quickly going to turn their attention to what he did, his manifesto and so on. So any letter is giving him oxygen, if you like, in the public sphere. So, to my mind, it’s dangerous, no matter the content.

What do we say to the argument that prisoners have a right to be able to send out mail? Is it a human right to be able to do that, Aliya?
Danzeisen: He lost his rights when he acted in a way— He lost his rights to freedom of movement; he can lose his rights to freedom of communication. And the fact that he denied 51 people the ability to communicate means that he can be shut down. Human right – obviously we believe in people having rights and fair due process, but in this case, he wants to inspire other people to do something wrong, and we need to stop it.

And the law does say that correspondence is allowed unless it endangers safety or encourages violence. So would you be happy— are you happy that the law is there? It’s just not being applied.
Danzeisen: Right, and we need people inside of Corrections, inside of the police, across the board in whatever agency, making sure that they are getting it right regarding the alt-right. They have focused on the Muslim community for years, and they know us well, but they haven’t focused on the alt-right. They need to be focusing on them; they need to up skill really quickly; and they need to get experts, who already know what they’re doing, in now.

I want to ask you about that, because the Muslim community has been saying, ‘Treat it all the same; treat every form of terrorism the same,’ and yet, this has now happened. You must be gutted.
Danzeisen: Well, we’re gutted— Yeah, of course. We’ve been saying all along, ‘Everybody needs to be treated equally.’ And if this had been a Muslim sending out something like this, you know it would have been shut down before it had even got out. And saying ‘we didn’t know’ isn’t an excuse.

Okay, now, this is not the end of the matter, though, because the alleged Christchurch gunman has received 48 letters in prison — 14 have been blocked, 16 still under scrutiny, 18 delivered. So, Chris, as an expert on terrorism, what do you think is in those letters that are going to him?
Wilson: I would imagine that they would be support letters. They’ll be from people who see him as some sort of leader for the movement and a martyr for the movement.
So this is part of him developing a cult following, as awful and horrendous as it is, in the same way that Breivik did. So him receiving letters is all part of building this following, but the main thing is to stop him corresponding with people, particularly in ways that are going to incite violence.

And yet they haven’t. Aliya, there were, like, five letters sent out — one’s been deemed as unsuitable — what about the other four? What do we know about the other four letters?
Danzeisen: Well, my understanding with my conversation with the chief executive is that they do know where they went and they do know the content. However, I haven’t seen those, so I don’t know. In what the purpose is for them going out, I’m not sure. You know, if the content’s inappropriate, then they should not have gone out.

So you’re telling me that they actually know what is in the other letters that have gone out and where they have gone?
Danzeisen: That’s my understanding, yes.

The Corrections Minister said this week that they’ve known about the letters being sent for five months, Chris, and the fact that they know where they’ve gone and what’s in them — what does that say to you?
Wilson: I’m confused. I heard the Corrections Minister say that they didn’t know where they’d gone, which would be surprising to me, and I find it more believable that they— and I hope that the security services have— were monitoring all the communications that he had since he’s been incarcerated, but I’m still confused about why they would allow the letters to go out rather than just find out who they were intended to go to and pass that on to security services in that country rather than allow the communications to continue. So I’m a little bit confused about the process, and I think there needs to be a lot more reflection on it and more experts involved.

Yeah. If you’ve got letters that are being sent out and you know where they’re going, you know what the content is and you’ve had this kind of thing— this current letter with its call to action, as it were, what does that say to you, Aliya, about what they’re doing with this kind of monitoring? Are they using it?
Danzeisen: Well, they clearly— The chief executive has apologised and said they got it wrong and that they are working to get it right in the sense of going forward in future communications, and I do believe in New Zealand working to get it right. We have something to protect, which is a good reputation as a nation, and we have to get it right. This has been a safe country; we are going to get it back to a safe country, and so people need to make sure that those who are handling this gentleman, who are handling all communications — not just of this white supremacist, but a variety of others — need to make sure that their communications are not inappropriate.

So, Chris, should the GCSB and the SIS— should they have been involved from the start for this? I mean, because it seems Corrections have now called them in to help them out.
Wilson: Absolutely, they should be involved. It’s astounding to me if they weren’t, but I can’t imagine that they weren’t, to be honest.

Wilson: I mean, if that’s not at the key of, you know— the core of their role, then what is?
Danzeisen: I’d like higher and more expert people than our GCSB.

You don’t have confidence in the GCSB?
Danzeisen: Well, they got it wrong in Christchurch. I want people who are in the know, who have been getting it right to be advising. And they’ve already admitted that they weren’t focusing on them, so they weren’t prepared, so we want people prepared.

Well, Chris, where are going to find the expertise? If our own spy agencies don’t have the expertise, where are we going to find this expertise?
Wilson: I mean, there’s expertise in civil society and academia. There’s expertise overseas. A lot of countries overseas have a lot more experience with this type of movement than we do — in the United States, in Australia — so it’s, you know— there are experts—
Danzeisen: Canada. The UK.
Wilson: Canada. Everywhere. Yeah.

Right. Okay, so, if we’re talking about monitoring all terrorism or suspected terrorism or levels of threats equally — I mean, Chris, what would you—? Is this where we should be focusing our attention or should it be possible Islamic terrorism? Or are there other forms of terrorism in New Zealand that we should be looking at?
Wilson: I think those are the two main forms of terrorism, and there has been too much focus on Islamist terrorism, that is clear. There needs to be a recalibration and balance, but that’s not to say that Islamist terrorism has gone away. That’s… In terms of other forms of terrorism, I don’t— I’m not—
Danzeisen: There is eco terrorism. There are a lot of different terrorisms, and people need to be focusing on them, but we need to up skill regarding the alt-right and the supremacists out there, and they haven’t upskilled, and therefore, they’re behind the eight ball, and they need to be investing in it and doing it well and doing it right. And you’re right — going to academia is one area that they should be going to, and Kiwis have been doing things right, and we need to have a Kiwi approach. But we’ve got to bring in people who are in the know.

Okay. All right, Aliya Danzeisen from the Muslim community and Chris Wilson, thank you very much for your time this morning.
Wilson: Thanks.

Transcript provided by Able. www.able.co.nz

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