As the families of the 50 Muslims gunned down at two New Zealand Mosques on Friday mourned, Senator Fraser Anning of Queensland put out a widely condemned statement that effectively blamed the victims:
I don’t think I have ever seen a statement like this from an elected official after a terrorist attack: pic.twitter.com/83RCLcM7Mg
— Seema (@LATSeema) March 15, 2019
Later, as Anning was being interviewed by media, a teenage boy smashed an egg on his head. Anning responded by throwing punches at the young man.
All this was caught on camera, of course, much as the massacre itself had been livestreamed on Facebook. Media and social media have undoubtedly exacerbated this tragedy. National Review’s Theodore Kupfer has noted the fascistic murderer’s “sh**posting” (online trolling which blurs the line between jokes about violence and actual violence) and his sadistic sense of irony, suggesting that he “wanted to deepen existing conflicts in a way that will prompt a cycle of overreach and radicalization.”
If that was his wish, some people seem to be granting it.
Whatever one thinks about the political “lessons to be learned” from this incident — guns, immigration, technology — the first response should surely be to console the grieving and to bury the dead. Instead, politicians and journalists have been scrambling to win another battle in the culture wars.
Senator Anning tried to score points for his radical agenda with a heartless, knee-jerk response. In the U.K., Guardian journalist Nesrine Malik got to work on Twitter, juxtaposing commentators’ past moderate criticisms of Islam with their statements of sympathy for the Christchurch victims, arguing that they were in some way to blame for what happened. In the U.S., Chelsea Clinton was confronted by a protester who shouted that her criticisms of Representative Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitic comments were to blame for the attacks. Everywhere, the politically active seemed to be losing their minds.
It was hardly surprising, then, when a teenager soon joined in. You could not make this up: #Eggboy was the top trending topic on Twitter on Saturday. His smashing an egg against Anning’s head while filming it for the purposes of social media was an expression of adolescent rage — inappropriate, yes but more excusable than Anning’s response. It was all a perfect microcosm of the wider cultural response to the shooting.
Readers may recall Heath Ledger’s terrifying Joker in The Dark Knight. As well as a sadistic sense of humor and bloodlust, he had a disturbingly accurate understanding of human psychology. He knew how to bring out the absolute worst in people, to create chaos and sow hatred. In doing so he would rob people not only of their lives, but of their humanity.
To be clear, it would be a grave mistake to attribute either cunning or sophistication to the bigoted thug behind the New Zealand attacks. But if it took neither cunning nor sophistication to produce such a shabby response from our politicians and pundits, what does that say about them?
Before it became unfashionable, people used to offer prayers in times of tragedy. Whether or not they meant the gesture literally, it signaled a somber thoughtfulness and a hope for the future that are both sorely needed now. Of course, prayer won’t bring back the dead, it is no substitute for policy, and when used as a type of virtue signaling it can be irritating. But in the immediate aftermath of violence, it can — if nothing else — serve to remind us of a civilizing force.
That is especially true in this case, where the slaughtered themselves were murdered while at prayer, cut down in the middle of a sacred communal ritual by an alienated, nihilistic, savage gunman. In the immediate aftermath of such horror, the least we can do is honor their memory.