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The perils of playing the blame game


Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern speaks to the house at Parliament on March 19, 2019 in Wellington. Photo/Mark Tantrum/Getty Images.

Jacinda Ardern’s approach of limiting responsibility for the mosque attacks to the accused gunman is an example we should follow.

Thank god for Jacinda Ardern! In the wake of the Christchurch massacre — which has already been called “our 9/11” — she has shown herself to be consummately compassionate and surefooted in a crisis that would test any leader’s mettle.

Her calm and measured approach has been rightly lauded overseas by politicians, celebrities and many Muslims, as well as commentators here on both the right and the left.

Integral to that approach has been her attempt to soothe fractiousness and dampen division. She has deliberately not apportioned blame for the killings beyond the pitiable, sick creature responsible for them, whom she has decided not to mention by name.

She has reminded all of us: “We — New Zealand — we were not a target because we are a safe harbour for those who hate. We were not chosen for this act of violence because we condone racism, because we are an enclave for extremism. We were chosen for the very fact that we are none of those things.”

Her words are an affirmation of everything that is good about living in New Zealand, which mostly rejects the extremes of both left and right in favour of centrism and moderation.

The vast scale of the grief, shock and disbelief that consumes us is ample evidence of that. Unlike so many other nations, we are not yet inured to the inevitability of mass violence in our midst and all of us hope we will not have further cause to be.

Ardern has emphasised that the accused gunman wasn’t born and bred here, even though she acknowledges there are obviously a few people in the country who think along the same lines as him. 

But while the Prime Minister has risen above politicising the slaughter by stating “This is not us”, others have decided “No, this really is us.”

Instead of looking for the good in our communities as Ardern has done, some commentators have raced to identify any utterance or action that could be construed as being even mildly racist — presumably on the grounds that a good crisis shouldn’t go to waste in furthering a political narrative.

That narrative at times seems to want to portray many of us — and particularly those perceived to be on the right — as somehow complicit in being enablers of an assassin.

Some commentators are gleeful that the National Party has removed the online petition opposing the UN Global Migration Compact as if objecting to it is inherently racist. While some objections to it are undoubtedly for racist reasons, opposing it is a perfectly reasonable political position to take if you believe, as some do, that it could eventually put our immigration policy into the hands of a supra-national body.

A photo of Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking holding up a T-shirt with a symbol of a forefinger and thumb curved in a symbol of approbation — that happens to also be a white supremacist gesture — has been taken down from an NZME site after complaints. The Spinoff filed this information under the title: “The Quiet Deletion of the Islamophobic Archives” even though Hosking’s employer, NZME, “assured us that neither Mike Hosking or his team were aware the symbol used held an alternative meaning”. 

North & South has been singled out as being racist for an excellent article in 2016 by the magazine’s deputy editor, Joanna Wane, simply because the cover line asked whether New Zealanders should fear radical Islam. As it happens, Wane’s approach was cleared with members of the Muslim community but it would have been an entirely reasonable question to have asked even without that endorsement. 

So the list goes on. And it is clearly not a reaction confined to New Zealand. As British writer Maajid Nawaz — a self-confessed former extreme Islamist — points out on The Daily Beast: “A mere day after 50 of my fellow Muslims were so publicly and tragically killed, while the blood was still wet and the bodies remained unburied… the ideologues had circled like vultures. Opportunistic Islamist and far-left extremists began calling for a purge of people whose politics they disagree with, and started publishing McCarthyite lists of personae non grata to target.”

Among our public figures, Greens co-leader Marama Davidson has been the most inflammatory in her attempts to spread the blame far beyond the killer by linking the massacres to colonialism.

At a vigil in Auckland on Saturday, she told the crowd: “New Zealand was founded on the theft of land, language and identity of indigenous people. This land we are standing on is land we were violently removed from to uphold the same agenda that killed the people in the mosques yesterday.”

Then there is the persistent claim that last week’s violence occurred partly because New Zealand has a substratum of casual racism that allegedly “normalises” such depravity. According to one schematic pyramid circulating among the woke on the internet, the spectrum of hate includes “racist jokes, denial of white privilege, a Eurocentric school curriculum, anti-immigration policies” and yes, “cultural appropriation” (which presumably includes wearing a sombrero to a fancy dress party).

By this rationale, anyone who has ever argued that the nation’s infrastructure simply can’t cope with the number of people pouring into our country is automatically an enabler of hate by advocating “anti-immigration policies” — even though Ardern herself, who has been beatified in the media, promised to reduce the influx in the 2017 election campaign.

However, the nadir of the casual racism argument has to be the claim by a Herald reporter: “That friend who puts on a fake Indian accent? That’s what a racist looks like. Racism is a violation of human rights. Do not let that happen in your life and go unpunished.” 

Most people will remain deeply sceptical of a causal link between private, idle mockery and mass slaughter even as they acknowledge that they could often do much better in their dealings with, and attitudes towards, minorities.

Long-standing National MP Gerry Brownlee eloquently summed up in Parliament what many people will conclude in reflecting on their approach to others: “I think we have become more aware of our own actions, our own omissions, and our own oversights, and aware too that they are more pronounced at the more unattractive edge of what is us.

“We should not engage in self-doubt though, but recognise that small change in each of us can make a big difference.” 

In short, we could be kinder and gentler and work to make New Zealand a better nation yet without feeling somehow responsible for a massacre.

The real danger in politicising the attacks and spreading the blame far beyond the perpetrator, of course, is that we open the door to the same approach against Muslims if there are reprisals on New Zealanders here or elsewhere — as Isis spokesman Abu Hassan al-Muhajir has demanded

Moderate Muslims would be caught unfairly in the backlash, even if they have no connection with or sympathy for jihadists but simply because they share the same religion. Will those who have politicised the Christchurch massacres have any credibility in trying to depoliticise a reprisal if such a terrible thing occurs?

Brendan O’Neill has a good analysis on Spiked of the double standard at work in the aftermath of the Christchurch mosque attacks and of what he describes as “the most cynical exploitations of mass murder in recent years”. He argues that after Islamist attacks Westerners are always encouraged to put politics aside and simply grieve whereas after this white supremacist slaughter we are being asked to “get political”. 

In New Zealand’s case, we might conclude that if we agree that we shouldn’t blame anyone except the jihadis and their organisations involved in Islamist terrorist attacks, we should equally restrict blame for the tragedy in New Zealand to the Australian national accused of importing such horrific violence into our country — even as we try to do better in the way we treat those of various faiths and races.

Exactly, in fact, as Jacinda Ardern has been doing so admirably.

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