Editorial in the Sunday Observer of Sri Lanka, 17 March 2019, entitled “Christchurch and our own national experience”
Blood is being spilt with the claim of protecting one’s own ‘flesh and blood.’ It happened last Friday in Christchurch, in usually quiet New Zealand; it has happened in this country in sustained internal conflict over decades; and, it has happened all over the world throughout human history.
The gloom instilled by this litany is, however, dispelled by the bright success of societies in overcoming violence between communities, in managing conflict and, channelling social energies toward civilisational attainment. Happy are the societies that are warmly inclusive, that bravely embrace differentiation and unfamiliarity. Happy are those who celebrate co-existence and avoid or resolve the disruptions between groups, between people.
New Zealand had long lived out substantive elements of this good life – with careful avoidance of social marginalisation, facilitation of inter-group dialogue and sharing and, the societal stability ensured by such social management.
Friday’s demonic explosion of violence in Christchurch was accompanied by a diabolical Internet online broadcasting of that violence. Such is the fury of cultural hatred, such is the frenzy of the emotions that they must express, that the mass slaughter had to be shown on video even as it happened.
A caring world community, so shaken by the ferocity of this exhibitionist massacre, now strives to erase and block the webcasts of terrifying imagery of carnage, of targeted racist hatred.
Even as New Zealand recovers, we, in this country, can only empathise in both the horror and the immense sadness. Our own experience of past decades, as well as the reality of continuing pulses of race hatred, must surely enable us to understand fully the trauma and tragedy that the people of Christchurch are living through. Did we encourage or, try to block, similar webcasts of ethnic paranoia and ethnic hatred during the Digana violence?
The fear-mongering of the Christchurch killer is, surely, a disturbing echo of that same fear-mongering, that same hate-incitement that we have long experienced in our own society. How many of our politicians, big and small, how many of our intelligentsia, have propagated the same paranoia of threatened ethnic community extinction; espoused ethnic retaliation to ostensibly fend off such imagined threats?
In New Zealand, it was a lone gunman who propagated this fear of ethnic extinction as the justification of mass slaughter of another targeted ethnic community. In our own country we have gone far beyond, with organisations wreaking violence, whole townships targeted. In New Zealand, the actions and preaching of a single individual has prompted such global distaste and horror.
In Sri Lanka, we have had the same on a mass scale. We have had whole organisations and cohorts of robed clerics propagating imagined threats to a community’s survival and inciting retaliatory violence and social repression against other communities. If July 1983 is now only a distant memory, we have had continuation of such pogroms even in the present. Aluthgama is still recovering. Digana still simmers.
Worse, these organisations that propagate ethnic paranoia and resultant hatred of others are sponsored by politicians and even politically powerful bureaucrats at the very heart of the Republic. Even as the country recovered from the long-drawn separatist insurgency, rather than working hard to ensure social peace all round, we had none other than the Secretary to the Defence Ministry giving his blessings to mushroom organisations propagating ethnic fear and hatred of other communities.
It was almost as if one convenient ‘enemy’ community, having been dispensed with, there was need for a new ‘enemy’ to keep the fires burning. Important political constituencies and vote banks had to be kept in a ferment of fear of extinction and reactive hatred. The chief Defence officer not only gave his sponsorship to such fear-mongering organisations but made sure that he was publicly seen to be patronising these organisations and their cleric leaders.
First we had a newly created issue of Halal. Then we had vanda pethi. If Aluthgama was followed by Digana, we can be sure that new political ambitions will soon see more fear-mongering and hate targeting. Already, this same ex-bureaucrat is touring the country with ideologues of hate and fear in tow.
The mass murderer of Christchurch preached ethnic supremacy. In Sri Lanka, we are long used to the preaching of ethnic supremacy and the rationalising of the defence of such supremacy by the elimination of other ethnic communities portrayed as ‘threats’. Sundry professors and doctors and lawyers are now following that politically ambitious ex-bureaucrat, ever ready to spew out spurious arguments and fake history to justify ethnic supremacy, instil fear of community extinction and, the political need for ‘war heroes’ to ‘win’ this new war to defend the threatened community. Ethnic dominance, political repression and a battle-hardened state is being preached as the future of our national politics.
If the world is disgusted with the violence and violent propaganda of a single individual in Christchurch, how must whole ‘movements’ doing exactly the same or, propagating similarly, be perceived? How is the world perceiving the on-going politics of this country; the continued attempts to push electoral mobilisation along the lines of ethnic supremacy, fear and hatred?
All the leaders of New Zealand are utterly rejecting the racist propaganda of the Christchurch killer. Are all our own politicians shunning such supremacist preaching and fear-mongering? Will we see election candidates on the same track as the Christchurch killer doing politics on our resplendent isle?
A QUICK NOTE from Michael Roberts
The Sunday Observer Editor is making some important points and raising critical questions about the processes that aid the generation of hate against ethnic groups or particular categories of people; But he has completely misread the REACH and thus the IMPACT of Tarrant’s killings and his video broadcast of his work. That broadcast was directed at a small worldwide network of like-minded White racists and has therefore been referred to as a “meme”. Tarrant himself is an Australian with a history that indicates he was/is a loner. He seems to share the characteristics of the Norwegian killer Breveik(?). In any event the Editor of the Observer and others need to read Greg Sheridan’s article in the Weekend Australian of 23/24th March: “Gunman’s Dark World of Misfits and Voyeurs”
The video cast was immediately blocked by the authorities. Moreover, the reaction and responses in New Zealand were quite the opposite to the responses in some quarters in Sri Lanka after the Sinhala bus driver who was assaulted by some Muslim men in a road rage incident at DIGANA died in hospital and rumours were spread (and podcasts too if the Observer editor’s note is reliable) by individuals as well as chauvinist organisations.
In Christchurch there was an outpouring of sympathy and oneness for the Muslim victims and thus the Muslim immigrants in the nation as a whole. Selected sites near the mosque have been swamped by flowers and bouquets. Mourning hakas have been performed –some quite spontaneously — at the plazas and green areas near the mosque. This act is a quintessentially Kiwi cultural and political act: originally Maori, the haka is now cross-cultural and inclusive in its import and meaning: whether the haka appropriate to rugby or the haka meant for mourning, this act says “we are all Kiwi –all New Zealanders”. The Muslim immigrants in New Zealand could not ask for a warmer embrace.