Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Catastrophe In Christchurch

New Zealand.jpg

What can one say about the grizzly, incomprehensible catastrophe in Christchurch that has not already been said? What words can be added that might alleviate the shock and pain, the anger and disbelief that are now pervading the hearts and souls of a vast majority of people on the planet? I for one am, as they say, “up to here” with all those proclaiming that their “thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and loved ones.” It’s not, of course that there’s anything wrong in thinking about the 4-dozen plus men, women and children who were hideously and heartlessly gunned down by a deranged, self-styled “eco-fascist,” or in saying Kaddish - the Jewish prayer for the dead. No, there’s absolutely nothing wrong in this. In my book, one can say Kaddish for anyone, be they Muslim, Christian or Jew, Jane, Buddhist or Sikh. I know that for some of my coreligionists, to say Kaddish for non-Jews - and especially for Muslims is a shanda - a bit off heresy. But truth to tell, the Kaddish, despite being universally known as “the Jewish prayer for the dead,” does not - with one exception, Kaddish d'Ithadata [קדיש דאתחדתא which is said at an open grave - does not say word one about death or dying. Rather, the essence of the other 4 forms of Kaddish is marvelously universal, expressing the profound hope that “May G-d, who makes peace in the universe, grant peace to us, to all of co’s* nation, Israel, and indeed, to all those seeking peace, and let us say Amen.” (*co’s is my gender-neutral possessive pronoun for the Divine, understood in this case as “His/Her.”)

What gets me about the “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” response is that it is just too damned easy. It has always seemed to me that at times like these, the best prayer is one in which we beg the Divine to give us the all the strength and wisdom it will take to do more than pray . . . to pull together to do whatever we can to repair a world gone mad. In the case of New Zealand, Kiwi Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s immediate response to the massacre was one of action; she immediately called for her government to meet today (which by the time this is posted will be yesterday) to make changes in the nation’s relatively lax gun laws. “There will be changes to our gun laws,” she said at an afternoon news conference within hours of the shootings.

Gun ownership rates in New Zealand are much lower than in the U.S., and the country's rates of gun violence are generally considered very low. As Radio New Zealand reported: “In 2016, there were nine gun murders or manslaughters in New Zealand, a rate of 1.87 per million people. By comparison, Australia had nearly 10 deaths per million in 2016, Canada had 5.4 deaths per million, and the United States had 106 deaths per million.”

Christchurch, New Zealand’s 3rd largest city (population just under 400,000) is often called “The most English City outside of London.” It is a truly lovely place filled with greenery, artistry and the Avon River, which wends its way through the city center. New Zealand itself is one of the most isolated countries in the world. Made up of two major islands - one created largely through volcanic activity, the other the offspring of ancient glacial formation - is a peaceful, progressive, statutorily nuclear-free country. The shock of last week’s Christchurch mass murder is incredibly palpable; such things simply do not occur in New Zealand - a country where low crime rates are a part of its identity and mass shootings simply do not occur.  Hell’s bells: few - if any - of their Bobbies regularly carry guns.

And yet, a horrible catastrophe has taken place in Christchurch. Prior to going on his ghastly shooting spree - which he live-streamed on social media - the alleged mass murderer, a 28-year old Australian native (whose name I will not mention) issued a rambling, often incoherent 74-page manifesto. In it, he wrote "The origins of my language is [sic] European, my culture is European, my political beliefs are European . . . . My philosophical beliefs are European, my identity is European and, most importantly, my blood is European." He declared himself to be pro-Brexit, both a racist and what he called an eco-fascist “though not a xenophobe” (!), admitted an affinity with the aristocratic mid-20th century British fascist Oswald Mosely, denied being an anti-Semite, and claimed that China is the country which comes closest to aligning with his political and social values. Even ‘45 got a brief mention in the alleged murderer’s manifesto, much of which is a self-interview. Asking himself whether he was a Trump supporter, he responded: “As a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policy maker and leader? Dear god no.”  It should be noted that no other president, autocrat, prime minister or dictator received so much as a single syllable of mention.  Only ‘45.

And although in responding to the Christchurch massacre, ‘45 could not bring himself to unequivocally state that white-nationalism, racism and Islamophobia were a growing, organized international threat to all civilized nations, he is not - I repeat, is not - the cause of what went down last week . . . or just a couple of hours ago in Utrecht. Rather, ‘45 is a sickening symptom. Whether or not he’s a racist, anti-Semite or Islamophobe is, to my way of thinking, pretty much irrelevant; that racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes believe him to be one of their gang is of great relevance.

Responding to all those in the mainstream media (AKA in Trump-speak as “Fake News”) who found ‘45’s response a dodge, presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway urged members of the 4th Estate to “. . . dial back the scope of the coverage.” Speaking further of - and to - the media, Ms. Conway exploded “They insert themselves ― ‘I must speak! I must say something!’ No, you don’t. You can actually shut up and pray for people and wait for the authorities to make their judgments.” Once again, the “thoughts and prayers” meme where concerted action is the true requirement.

It is well beyond the scope of logic or rational thought to assign a single reason - or two or three - for the frightening worldwide growth of anti-Antisemitism, anti-Islamist and gross Xenophobia accentuated by military-grade arms throughout the world. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t engage in a vigorous discussion about what we can do.

  • First and foremost, we must admit that we have a terrible problem; that it’s far, far more than “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems, I guess” in the words of POTUS.

  • Next, the media should stop running the names, faces and histories of these wanton murderers. Part of their motivation in carrying out mass murders is to go out in a blaze of glory . . . thereby granting themselves a fair measure of satanic immortality.  I am happy to report that National Public Radio has stopped referring to the alleged murderer by name.

  • Next, here in the United States we must do everything in our power to get rid of Citizens United - which holds our politicians in thrall to NRA dollars. Without Citizens United, the NRA loses much of its power over politicians . . . who then could be free to  restore an assault weapons ban, severely restrict the number of rounds in any single ammo magazine, institute universal background checks, or any of a host of other measures carried out in other countries.

  • Use the president’s bully pulpit to call in the tsars and moguls of the social media world to engage in serious - and I mean serious - conversation about what safeguards they can institute within their various platforms to keep violent bigots of all stripes from using the internet as a heinous clubhouse for evil.

Above all, we must insist on leadership . . . real leaders, not mere Tweeting rhetoricians. We must confront and eradicate the immoral equivalence of war with actions that identify, contain and eliminate the purveyors of mass murder.

Not just thoughts and prayers . . .

596 days until the next election.

Copyright©2019 Kurt F. Stone