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'People as things': a new story after Christchurch



'People as things, that's where it starts.'

'Oh, I'm sure there are worse crimes — '

'But they starts with thinking about people as things ...'

[From Carpe Jugulum, by Terry Pratchett]


No one can walk into a mosque and kill 50 human beings.

Locals lay flowers in tribute to those killed and injured in the Christchurch attack. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty ImagesThink about what that would involve. It would mean walking into a place of peace and community, taking in all of the life and hope and possibility of the people in that place, and making a decision to bring all of those lives to a bloody and abrupt end.

There's no human idea, no line of human logic, that leads to a person walking into a mosque and killing 50 human beings. Who could think that there's any human idea that might be given life amid such devastation? That any human person might be convinced of your truth after it led to such horror?

But a person can be taught not to see human beings in that mosque. That's how human beings have been committing such atrocious acts since the beginning of human history.

It takes communities where poisonous worldviews can be shared and reinforced. It takes leaders who propose solutions that come out of those poisonous environments. It takes media organisations lining up for or against those solutions, offering both allies and enemies to rally around.

All this can help convince a person that their hateful truths are widely and deeply shared. That their hateful solutions are not only acceptable, but necessary. It won't matter to them that others will react with horror. Only those who understand, only those in the circle of hate, matter.

In the wake of the Christchurch attacks, I'm not interested in learning how the person who killed those people was radicalised. It's the oldest story in the world. It's what happens when you decide the humanity of a group of people no longer matters. I'm tired of that story.


"I need to refocus on our shared humanity, because that’s the one idea that will expose the lies at the heart of this hateful act."


What I need right now is a new story, one that focuses on the life-givers not the death-dealers. I need to refocus on our shared humanity, because that's the one idea that will expose the lies at the heart of this hateful act.

What I need is to feel a connection to the human beings whose lives have been taken from them. To mourn the loss of their life, their hope, their possibility. To feel diminished by the space that they will leave behind.

I need to open my heart to the courageous and inspiring people in these besieged Muslim communities, who will continue to hold onto their faith and humanity in the face of this hatred. I need to join the thousands of people who are showing their love and support in various ways to Muslim communities — visiting mosques, attending prayer vigils, standing in solidarity.

I need to encourage those leaders who used this tragedy to emphasise our shared humanity, those like New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinta Ardern who called for 'sympathy and love for all Muslim communities'.

The story of renewal, of life sprouting out of the ashes of death, is another story that we've seen throughout history. In the wake of these Christchurch attacks, I dearly need that story to be told again.

I need that story to be told because I need to believe that someday we'll find an enduring place of peace and community, where we can live together as one human family, without having to worry about someone bringing it to a bloody and abrupt end.



Michael McVeighMichael McVeigh is senior editor at Jesuit Communications, publishers of Eureka Street.

Main image: Locals lay flowers in tribute to those killed and injured in the Christchurch attack. Photo by Fiona Goodall/Getty Images

Topic tags: Michael McVeigh, Christchurch attack



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Existing comments

Dear Michael, a sensitive, poignant and deeply moving sketch. I'm so much in sympathy with your dream of: "an enduring place of peace and community, where we can live together as one human family, without having to worry about someone bringing it to a bloody and abrupt end." Some of the Amish communities in the USA have lived for generations in ways close to your ideal. Yet, in 2006 a shooter (with a grudge against God) took the lives of 5 children in an Amish school-house in Pennsylvania. Books have been written and movies made ('Amish Grace') about the incredible love of the school-girls (two offered themselves to be shot if he would let the others go) and of the forgiveness and love of the Amish community who made a collection for the wife and children of the shooter, who committed suicide after shooting their children. For me the lesson is that evil is inherent of this contingent world and that it's how we respond to it that counts. The gracious and measured responses of the deeply grieving Muslims of Christchurch is a another signal example for us, that after hatred has done its worst love has the final word.

Dr Marty Rice | 19 March 2019  

Actually, I do think we need to know how the Christchurch shooter got the way he did to living in a sort of alternative reality, where other people became demonised 'things' to be 'taken out' as if in some video game because they offended his pathological world view. We need to understand his psychopathology and how it developed so that we can attempt to prevent others from going down that dreadful path. This is the real 'Battle for Civilisation', Human Civilisation. The people he murdered were worshipping God, an archetypal thing for human beings to do, an attempt to connect with a higher power to direct their lives. Brendan Tarrant had, to me, lost any spiritual direction he might have had and fallen to the depths of becoming a mass murderer. This is what the Nazis did. The reasons the German and other governments have not bulldozed Dachau and Auschwitz is so that future generations can see and learn what happened there so, hopefully, it will not be repeated.

Edward Fido | 20 March 2019  

Thanks Michael. In class here I am encouraging the boys to look to the good - the people who ran towards trouble to help, in whatever way they could. Regards, Anne

Anne Slingo | 20 March 2019  

Michael thank you for your deeply felt personal response to these sad and tragic events. I feel the same and also a hunger for ‘an enduring place of peace and humanity’. It seems to me that most of us humans of all colours and creeds hunger for the same world, the same values. I have a hope that this time will become a watershed moment, a turning point where attitudes will shift as people recognise the goodness in those Muslims who offered love and forgiveness to the perpetrator and governments begin to take heed of the compassionate yet firm response of the inspirational young woman who leads that small country in the South. Pacific. We must live in hope and be prepared to embrace our sisters and brothers regardless of our perceived differences.

Anne Doyle | 20 March 2019  

Thank you too, Michael, for your most heartfelt comments of this terrible tragedy which has again touched all of us who care as deeply as you do. I agree with all the comments made and can only say, sadly, as we prepare for the ultimate sacrifice, this Easter. which Jesus made for us through his cruxifiction, the solution is not going to happen in the near future, so we have to continue to believe, trust, forgive and pray for one another. Peggy Spencer

Peggy Spencer | 20 March 2019  

Michael, "No one can walk into a mosque and kill 50 human beings." Yet Cromwell slaughtered 3300 people at Drogheda during the Reformation and ordered the throats cut of 112 women and children in the Cathedral. From SMH L. Murdoch 11/7/08 Timor Scorched Earth "Baquin (Timorese) reported that the day after the attacks he and other villagers were rounded up by the militia, tied in pairs and herded towards the East Timorese border (the enclave is surrounded by Indonesian West Timor). In the early hours of September 10, just after the group had crossed the border into East Timor, 74 men in the group were killed en masse. "The witness stated that most victims fell under the machete blows administered by Indonesian Commander Gabriel Kolo and his militiamen, as well as being shot by Anton Sabraka." In Myanmar Buddhist soldiers conduct "Clearance Operations" burning villages. Tens of thousands of people in the Rohingya Muslim minority have to flee with nothing but stories of rape, murder and persecution. We are all deeply saddened by the events in Christchurch, but history shows atrocities committed on unarmed targets happens with monotonous regularity and we need a paradigm shift in our way of thinking.

Francis Armstrong | 21 March 2019  

Brendan Tarrant was born a Catholic, had a sad, bizarre and lonely life and went over to the dark side. He could, here or in Europe, have converted to normal, sane, mainstream Islam and been welcome as a brother in the two mosques he terrorised. It is possible he may attempt suicide in prison, which would be another opt out from real life. What, I wonder, will happen if, at some later stage in prison he comes to his senses, sees the enormity of his crimes, wants to repent and change his ways and sees the Catholic or Muslim chaplain in prison? He certainly has restitution to make or at least attempt, but what would that chaplain do if he considers Tarrant to be sincere in his repentance? Christ and Muhammad certainly forgave and accepted former criminals. There were ex-Nazis brought up or converted to Catholicism, who, before their executions, asked to see a priest for Confession. Almighty God was the final judge of whether their contrition was sincere and whether, if they had lived, they would have changed their ways. Does Tarrant have the right to repent? Of course he does. He will probably die in prison, which is remarkably similar to the Hell he lived in. What he did was horrendous but is it impossible he would repent?

Edward Fido | 21 March 2019  

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