After Christchurch: I'm not in grief I'm just very angry


I spent two hours at my local mosque on Sunday afternoon. It was mosque open day in Victoria on 17 March, coincidentally just a couple of days after 50 people were gunned down at two mosques in Christchurch by a white supremacist.

I was planning to go to the open day before Friday’s mass murder, but my sense of outrage added a certain determination that I wouldn’t miss the opportunity.

I’m very glad I went. The local Muslim community was pleased to see about 100 infidels turn up to share lunch, to learn some of their history, to acknowledge their right to religious observance and to show solidarity. 

It was a solemn occasion, given that the horror of Friday is still, rightfully, on everyone’s mind, but there was also a sense of joy. The faces of the children were lit up with curiosity. It’s not every day that dozens of mostly white strangers turn up at the mosque.

The wife of the local Imam, Sister Mary, told us that the mosque elders had thought briefly about cancelling the open day out of fear that some gun-toting Nazi chud might want to attack them. But the community held strong and the open day was a commemoration of loss but also a celebration of its strength in the face of adversity and imposed fear.

I spoke to several of the men and they were all grateful that so many of their neighbours had made the effort to enter the mosque. I’m glad I went because it helped me find a place of some quiet after two days of restless agitation. I wrote on Twitter that I had been more profoundly affected by the Christchurch massacre than I thought possible.

I was searching for the reason I felt so sad, mournful even.

After all, I’m not directly affected. It’s heart-breaking to think of the families that will now forever mourn the violent murder of a loved one and who will be constantly reminded that vicious and evil white men wish them harm just because of their faith.

But I’m not affected. I didn’t personally know any of the worshippers who were gunned down mid prayer. My life goes on undisturbed by nightmares that it could have been me in that place at that time.

I’m not affected because I’m not a Muslim. I’m protected from the slaughter by reason of my lack of faith and the tone of my skin.

I’m not affected because I can intellectualise the awfulness of the killing of 50 innocents in the name of a political doctrine that I abhor.

But I am affected. Sitting in the courtyard of the Heidelberg mosque on Sunday afternoon I realised just how affected I am. I am actually sad.

It’s not grief I’m feeling, not real deep heart-rending grief like the Islamic community in New Zealand is feeling. It’s not grief like the worshippers at the local mosque were feeling; grief tinged with an edgy discomfort and an uncertain knowledge that it could be their mosque next.

No, it’s not grief; though I can feel a little bit of sadness. What I’m feeling is anger, rage and the overwhelming desire to lash out in some futile act of vengeance.

I’ve been feeling it since late on Friday afternoon when I first heard about the shooting and realised it would completely overshadow the powerful message of the students’ strike against the inaction of our political leaders over climate change.

I was angry because this single act of white nationalist terrorism would come to define the 15th of March 2019, not the actions of the tens of thousands of students, many of them in high school uniform and carrying hand-made placards, who were standing up for our dying planet to rescue it from the cold, grey hands of a political class that should have been put to rest a long time ago.

But that anger was mild compared to what was building.

I became angrier when I realised that the cartoonish news media we're saddled with was blithely sharing clips of the shooter from behind the barrel of his weapon and then even airing his death-wish video. At that point, I realised that for many journalists reporting tragedy and catastrophic loss of human life is all just a game, and they are the winners no matter the cost to anyone else.

I’ve been around enough newsrooms during times of high stress crisis reporting to know that the adrenalin rush and the competitive desire to get into the story any way you can drives journalists to do things without thinking of the consequences.

This was a text-book example of unthinking scoop-at-all-costs editorial decision-making and it will be in the book of journalism ethics arguments and case studies I'm writing with Roger Patching.

But even that feeling of profound professional disgust was not the real cause of my mounting rage. 

I reached a level of dull fury when Queensland Senator Fraser Anning chimed in with his disgusting hot take blaming the victims for their own deaths.. The fury grew when I realised that he was going to be in Melbourne on Saturday to speak at a gathering of the local Nazi gangs.

Later that evening and into the next day, I wanted to throw stuff at the television when I saw and heard Prime Minister Scott Morrison claim that he was saddened and horrified by what happened in Christchurch. I wanted to scream in his face that he’s a despicable hypocrite.

I wanted Morrison to know that I was personally outraged that he could speak words that were supposed to provide some comfort to the grieving when his own anti-Islamic rhetoric has fueled so much hatred.

I wanted Morrison to know that we won't forget his lies, his dogwhistling and his deep hostile racism.

Of course I nearly exploded, when on Saturday afternoon, Prime Sinister Peter Dutton chimed in on Twitter condemning Fraser Anning, I was close to apoplexy. 

Dutton of all people; the monstrous ghoul who delights in the torture of detainees on Manus and Nauru, the very architect of the suffering of Muslim men, women and children caught up in his demonic border security mantra. How dare that smug, arrogant monster claim the moral high ground. he deserves to be buried under an avalanche of shame.

I’ve been sitting in this simmering rage all weekend. Every time I look on Twitter there’s some apologist journalist or talking-head making excuses for the racism of Australia's leading politicians. There’s the usual stream of useless liberal hand-wringers and useful idiots condemning a 17 year-old kid for egging the Nazi-enabling senator from Queensland with the same outrage they used on the Christchurch killer.

I was in a white-hot fury on Saturday evening when I saw footage of Neil Erikson and his gang put that 17-year-old boy in a choke hold until he passed out. They could have killed that kid; they nearly did. They would have loved to do it and they would have created another martyr.

This has to be a watershed moment in Australia’s political discourse. The line in the sand is right there in front of us. 

Are you willing to stand by and watch as Nazi thugs try to strangle a teenager?

Are you willing to be complicit in a system that tortures refugees in indefinite detention while crying crocodile tears over the deaths of 50 people in Christchurch?

Are you going to continue denying that white Australia has a real problem with racist violence?

If not, what are you going to do?

Will you stand up and be counted?

Will you fight for real change?

Will you oppose our local Nazis next time they want to march or rally?

On one side are those who’ve known something like this was going to happen sooner or later and who know how the news media’s soft-on-Nazis ‘both side-ism’ has fostered hate crime and now this. We’re the ones who have called out Dutton, Morrison and Bill Shorten over their anti-terror actions and their scare-mongering around border security. We know their fear-mongering is all built on the same foundations of anti-Islamic rhetoric that fueled the Christchurch killer.

On the other side are those who want to give Dutton and Morrison a chance and who think one sympathetic headline in the Herald-Sun absolves News Corp of any responsibility for spreading Islamophobia and giving comfort to white nationalist gangsters who would love to shoot up my local mosque if they could get their hands on the guns.

On this side are the apologist journalists who think the answer is more state repression and surveillance of social media platforms.

These are the insiders who want you to think that cleaning up Facebook will make these hateful monsters disappear.

It won’t. To argue this is a technophile's wet dream. The real problem is that actual Nazis are organising and a Queensland senator is helping them out with logistics and support.

I was chatting to a woman at the mosque today; like me she was a local who showed up to give visceral expression to her horror at the events in Christchurch and her solidarity with a group in our community that is under attack. 

Like me she is white, middle class and middle-aged.

Like me she was angry and like me she thinks it's time to stand up and fight back.

I’m angry because enough is enough.

Which side are you on?

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