News & Commentary

Christchurch: Reality TV from hell

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And so shock dies. This is the shock we used to know to define our state of being at witnessing or receiving news of a catastrophic event. Shock would rattle the bones, the heart and the head. We were in shock. Now, no more.

This latter vanishing is the collateral damage of the slaughter of the innocents that has been visited upon ordinary people too often in recent years. Mass murder equals a spreading numbness.

Now it is a battle to be shocked. Whereas once it was reflex, a reaction by decent, good people to evil, barbaric acts. Now, simply through the tide of death that washes over, it is an act of willpower to raise the head above water and say truly, I am shocked.

Thus it was when the news of the Christchurch massacre smashed into our lives across the Tasman. The shock index does rise with the number of casualties. This time it is 49 dead with dozens injured, some critically so. In sweet, beautiful, harmless Christchurch, at the bottom of the world. That is a shocking thing. What monster, what empty vessel of a human could sail into such a harbour and kill and maim. An Australian, as it turns out. This is also shocking. But then Martin Bryant was one of us and he murdered 35.

What manner of cold-blooded reptile could film as he murdered? Brenton Harrison Tarrant, aged 28, originally from Grafton, NSW. This is reality TV from hell. Live-streaming the flesh being torn apart of men, women and children in peaceful contemplation of their god.

One could write off Tarrant’s motivations, intentions and actions as simply that of an unhinged mind. It would be the easy thing to do. It would segregate the shock.

But, in Tarrant’s ramblings of infiltration, invasion, colonisation of Muslims over non-Muslims, he is following a familiar orbit. Now, through the assault rifle, he has entered the room occupied by others such as Norwegian Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people, Robert Bowers, who killed 11 at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Dylann Roof, who killed nine African-American churchgoers in South Carolina and Wade Page, who killed six worshippers and himself at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

White supremacists all. Tarrant has no problem with Muslims who stay in their own backyard. But if they move into other countries then their purpose is clear: annihilate the whites, destroy racial purity, destroy ‘‘us’’. Such thinking would be the mark of a juvenile mind, stunted of perspective, if it were not so life-threatening, and taking.

It’s legitimate to ask – as the funerals and lamentations begin – that if the dead are the endpoint, what was the starting point and what helped propel someone of a mind such as Tarrant’s to travel on the road to massacre.

Like minds.

Tarrant’s manifesto might refer to wars, battles and clashes through history, such as the Crusades, but there is nothing as likely to act as a catalyst as the contemporaneous words and actions of your own society. It is the great enabling. It says, tacitly at times, what you’re thinking is OK. To such a mind, it is only a short step to making real the thought.

At manifesto’s end Brenton Tarrant was evoking Valhalla. Self-glorification mixed with martyrdom. What a piece of work.

And, in this atmosphere of heightened tension about immigration, it comes as no shock that such a mind would pack a car with assault rifles and murderous intent, and drive to a mosque.

It is also not a shock, and depressingly so, that even after this tragedy, a senator in our Parliament, Fraser Anning, could blame the victims. While throwing a figleaf of outrage (“I am utterly opposed to any form of violence within our community, and I totally condemn the actions of the gunman.”), Anning then laid the boot in.

“The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place.”

Tarrant must have been smiling if he heard those words – immigration and Muslim fanatics. Ah, justification.

It is playing in the background, too, of others, such as redneck dropkicks draped in the flag or politicians seeking to stay or gain power through preying on voters with baseless fears. The conflating of the two is criminal and reprehensible. And, in recent decades, not surprising or shocking.

There are, at the time of writing, 49 lives blasted from this Earth. Tarrant quoted Dylan Thomas (‘‘Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night’’) as the start of his manifesto – in possibly the greatest perversion of a poet’s intent. It’s probable he was referring to himself.

At manifesto’s end he was evoking Valhalla. Self-glorification mixed with martyrdom. What a piece of work.

When the next massacre occurs . . . This is how it works, it’s no longer if but when. And in these times of rising white supremacism/nationalism, it is despairingly so, no longer a shock to think that way.

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