As the full horror of the shootings in Christchurch emerged, painful memories of the two 2015 Islamic terrorist attacks in Paris returned.

In January, a targeted attack on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket killed 17. Ten months later, an indiscriminate attack in and outside the Bataclan theatre killed 130.

There are many similarities between these attacks and the one in Christchurch.


In both countries, there was shock, anger, profound sadness and a determination not to be cowed by such atrocities.

In both, flowers became the common currency for these emotions.

In both, there was a strong identification with and support for the victims.

The New Zealand Prime Minister's first televised reaction to the Christchurch attack ended with strong support for New Zealand Muslims: "They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home. They are us."

This was the perfect response. "They are us" quickly became an international twitter hashtag.

In France following the January 2015 attack, the catchphrase heard and seen everywhere in Paris had been "Je suis Charlie (I am Charlie)".

Terrorism has many perpetrators, and it takes on many forms. While reactions in the two countries had many similarities, the nature of the Christchurch attack was fundamentally different.

Here, it was not an Islamic terrorist attack against citizens of a Western country, but an attack by a white nationalist extremist against Muslims at prayer. This difference is important in determining the responses of the two countries.


France's response to both attacks contained an ugly underbelly. Islamic terrorists had been the attackers. In the week following the Charlie Hebdo attack, a total of 60 anti-Muslim incidents were reported.

In New Zealand, Muslims had been the victims. The immediate nationwide response was to support and embrace Muslim communities.

Unfortunately, this does not mean that Muslims here can now feel safe. The message from many in the Muslim community is that New Zealand needs to stop being in denial about its anti-Muslim racism.

On the Sunday following the attack, two young Muslim women at an Auckland railway station were told to "go back to your f****** country". For some in this country, they are not us.

The January 2015 Charlie Hebdo attacks in France had been targeted and specific. There was outrage on behalf of those who had been under fire, but no real sense among Parisians that it could have been them in the crosshairs.

The Christchurch attack was similar. But had it been Islamic terrorists who attacked, with any and all New Zealanders the target — something that is now being chillingly threatened by whatever remains of Isis — the reaction here would have been very different.


That is what the November 2015 terrorist attack in Paris had been. It was an assault on everybody, an attack on an entire city. It could have been any combination of 130 people who were killed.

Most similar to Christchurch was the July 2011 attack in Norway by the Norwegian white nationalist, Anders Breivik. First he targeted the Government, killing eight people in central Oslo. He then moved to the island of Utoya, where he targeted the next generation's left-wing political elite, shooting and killing 69 participants at a Workers' Youth League summer camp.

Unlike France, such horrific events are new to us. It has been widely claimed that New Zealand will never be the same again. The good news is that life will "get back to normal", as Norway seems to have after Breivik. But our image of ourselves as a small country at the bottom of the world, happily immune from extremist right-wing political psychopaths and the more vicious edges of world politics, has gone. That will inevitably change us in ways yet to be realised.

Trevor Richards was national chairman of the Halt All Racist Tours movement from 1969-80.