What did we expect?

Friday’s shooting in Christchurch New Zealand is tragic.

I have so many different thoughts around this.

This post is going to be fragmented and perhaps not particularly coherent, as a result. Snippets of ideas and thoughts.

But I feel compelled to write.

Firstly, I wanted to echo and wholeheartedly concur with the appraisal and sentiments expressed by my friend Tim Mansfield, so eloquently expressed in his post Pray for Christchurch.

Especially this:

“Finally, and perhaps toughest, I ask you to pray for the perpetrators of this crime, for those who encouraged them, for those in the media they listened to and for all those who share their beliefs that they may meet Wisdom, grasp justice and finally find compassion for all peoples and cease this hateful path.”

I was heartened by the early response by NZ Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, especially this:

“Many of those who will have been directly affected by this shooting may be migrants to New Zealand, they may even be refugees here. They have chosen to make New Zealand their home, and it is their home.

“They are us. The person who has perpetuated this violence against us is not. They have no place in New Zealand.”

There is so much power in that phrase: “They are us.” An acknowledgement of a sentiment of “other” the drives so much hatred. The “they.” And making it clear, there is no “they.” There is only “us.”

If only were would be so lucky to have a Prime Minister that could demonstrate such true leadership, and not just empty platitudes.

I was surprised that the term “terrorism” or “terrorist act” didn’t appear earlier in media reports. Why? I would venture because the perpetrator was white. Even yesterday, the Daily Telegraph’s front page didn’t cry from the rooftops that this was terrorism.

There’s no headlines proclaiming the gunman’s religious beliefs. Why? Because he’s white? Was he a Christian? An athiest? Surely we should know this, because if it was a Muslim person involved, this would surely be the lead… it would be a core part of the headline, no?

“Australian Christian migrant shoots dead 50 in act of terror”

But no. That’s not what we get.

We get the watered down language.

There is no condemnation of all Australians, or all Christians, or all white-folk, as being hell bent on taking over our country, or being violent, or hating us.

No. This was the act of some lone person. They couldn’t possibly represent the views of all Australians. Or all Westerners.

But if this were a Muslim, this would be presented without such nuance or distance.

This, is of course, indicative of a more widespread, clear, discernible and quantifiable bias in our media.

It is so reminiscent of what Noam Chomsky has highlighted for decades in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Where radically different language is used depending on “which side” is being referred to. “Rocket attacks” vs. “Incursions.” “Settlements” instead of “Illegal land occupation.” We hear it in the language used around asylum seekers arriving by boat: “illegals”.

(An aside: the Refugee convention EXPLICITLY states that an asylum seeker’s method of entry into a country is not grounds for discrimination. That is, they are under international law, LEGAL by definition. Contrast this with the over 60,000 people overstay their visa in Australia each year—these could be legitimately considered “illegal” vs. around 3000 people “processed” in offshore detention—note the lightened language we use here also).)

For many people who “consume” and don’t interrogate the media, these biases become invisible. It lessens the crimes of one, and heightens the crimes of another. I see this as yet another example of these biases plainly on display, and largely missed…

If it were a Muslim person that had committed the crime, there would be cries for all Muslim leaders to condemn the act. Instead, we get words like this reportedly on an “Australian parliamentary letterhead”:

“The truth is that Islam is not like any other faith. It is the religious equivalent of fascism,” or, “The real cause of bloodshed is the migration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate in the first place.” Or, “As we read in Matthew 26:52: ‘All they that take the sword shall perish by the sword’. And those who follow a violent religion that causes them to murder us cannot be surprised when somebody takes them at their word and responds at kind.”

(Waleed Aly’s full response is very much worth a read, btw.)

How is this even legal? It just goes to show the depth of the rot in our Parliamentary system that this could even be permitted, let alone go mostly unreported.

Given the above, it perhaps is little surprise that I share the anger, and agree with the ALL CAPS sentiment, in this response from another friend, Meredith Schofield (reposted here in case the Facebook walled garden hides it from the rest of the world):

Australia we need to own up to our part in this terrorist act. This c$%t was clearly radicalised here in this country. If our gun laws were like NZ he would have committed this terror act here. No doubt. Our culture of hate towards Islam, Muslims, middle eastern people and asylum seekers has bred this level of violence. When you like share or retweet an anti-immigration or anti-Muslim sentiment YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you make flippant comments around the dinner table about ‘Mussies’ or ‘Queue Jumpers’ YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. When you support parties or politicians with anti immigration, anti-refugee or anti-Islam views YOU ARE PART OF THE PROBLEM. And 100% of the time I hear shit like this from people online and people & family I know – they never ever ever have had a Muslim friend or met a refugee.

Don’t be part of the problem be part of the solution. Reach out, educate yourself, look within at some views you have that are deeply racist at their core. We are all different we come from a nation that is the most multicultural in the world it’s time these views left our society.

I like that Meredith uses the language we commonly associate with reports of Muslim terrorism—”radicalisation.” We do need to own up to that fact. What’s scary is that this person wasn’t radicalised in some terrorist camp. They were radicalised through publicly available and accepted mainstream media and social sentiments.

THAT is the scariest part of this whole episode from my perspective…

And it’s also, for me, the call to arms…

Plainly, this could have been avoided.

Not by extra security, or additional Police power, or foregoing our rights and handing them over to the State.

It could have been avoided by not perpetuating and propagating the culture of fear and hatred. The type peddled by the shock jocks, the mainstream media, our politicians, our so-called “thought leaders.”

I find it hard to acknowledge that our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, might have had anything poignant to say about this incident (which reportedly he did), in the face of his and his party’s, and successive Governments’ over the past 20+ years, treatment of Aboriginal people, of migrants, of people of ethnicity, of asylum seekers. Treatment that is effected both through policy and public statements.

All of this contributes to this culture. All in pursuit of a victory in the next (News)poll.

I am waiting for the shock jocks to decry this act of violence, then spout some tripe about “but it’s easy to understand the sentiment.”

Update 18 Mar 2019: Seems I spotted the argument correctly, but missed where it would come from—a Senator instead?!?

This is the underlying “problem.”

We need leaders that actually respond to the real issues that are affecting us, instead of peddling fear and intolerance.

Like owning up to the fact that one woman a week dies as a result of domestic violence.

Like keeping things in perspective: 1,143 people die on our roads each year. Or that 29% of Australian deaths in 2014 had Cardiovascular Disease as the underlying cause—that’s 45,000 deaths a year—many of the drivers being preventable: “being overweight, lack of physical activity, poor nutrition and smoking.”.

Contrast this with terrorism—that big fear that drives our inhumane, abusive, illegal, and obscenely expensive (1, 2) detention system—where just 12 people have died from terrorism-related incidents on Australian soil in 36 years.

Which is the bigger threat?

I want to see our political priorities, and the same vehement language and sentiment, addressed at the real, not imagined, issues and threats.

How can we achieve that?

I feel strongly that focusing first on your circle of influence is the critical “first step.” Don’t let racist, fear-driven comments or sentiments stand in your family and friendship circles. It doesn’t cost a cent, but does take a lot of courage. Don’t just laugh it off. Step into it.

Have the conversation (or argument if it comes to that.) Importantly, let them know you don’t think it’s ok, that you think their fear and anger is misguided. Seek out the source of the fear beneath the comments, and encourage them to look harder at what’s actually going on, where the truth really lay, and not to rely on the headlines for making up their mind.

Write to or otherwise speak to the politicians in your electorate and tell them that you don’t think it’s ok that they perpetuate this, neither through policy nor in public statements and comments.

And consider joining or financially supporting organisations doing work in creating a more inclusive and just Australia. There are many, but I am a fan of one in particular that is working hard on the underlying drivers—All Together Now. Their vision is “a racially equitable Australia … [achieved] by imagining and delivering innovative and evidence based projects that promote racial equity.”

IMO, we need more of this positive action to combat the megaphones in the media peddling fear and hatred…

My thoughts and heart is with the people of Christchurch, and Muslim communities there and here in Australia especially. And I hope that this jolt genuinely triggers some serious reflection of the deeper issues at play. Though, sadly, I can’t say I have much expectation it will…