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Pittsburgh's hymn of hate



When I was a child, expressions of hatred were very frowned upon. Even a statement as innocuous as I hate rice pudding (I still do) received short shrift, especially from our nana. 'No hymns of hate,' she would declare, and frown severely. She was deeply religious in her Nonconformist way, and had strict standards with regard to conduct and ethics.

Flowers and an Israeli flag sit at a makeshift memorial down the street from the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded six at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on 28 October 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)For decades I thought this ruling about hate was one of her own inventions, but I have recently learned of a poem written in 1914, the year of the outbreak of World War One, when Nana was a young woman, and when times were simpler.

The poem was actually called 'Hymn of Hate', and was written by German Ernst Lissauer. The main idea expressed is that Germany has one foe 'and one alone: ENGLAND'.  Unsurprisingly, the poem was immensely popular in Germany: school children learned it by heart, and the Kaiser honoured Lissauer. The British, running true to form, treated the whole thing as a joke, and set the poem to music; when the choir of the Royal College of Music sang it, however, laughter interfered with their rendition.

By 1926, Lissauer regretted writing the poem, and regrets deepened when his beloved Germany turned against him, maintaining that hatred was 'unGerman'. And unluckily for him at that period, Lissauer was Jewish.

As I write, the western world is trying to cope with news of yet another episode of gun violence in the United States, the worst anti-Semitic outrage in recent US history. The event in Pittsburgh is particularly horrifying because of the number of dead and injured, and because a congregation was attacked in a synagogue during Shabbat services.

The perpetrator, one Robert Bowers, reportedly yelled 'All Jews must die' as he began to shoot: 11 people died. This heinous act is not being treated as a terrorist attack, but as a hate crime, with the police trying to come to a conclusion about Bowers' motivation.

As is usual these days, Bowers' usage of social media is undergoing close examination by the investigating authorities. He seems to have convinced himself that Jewish people are assisting the so-called caravans of would-be immigrants, especially those from Central America, whom he refers to as 'invaders', and then conceived an irrational desire to protect Americans from this imagined threat.


"Hate itself is not a crime. But in its pathological form, it is a complex business, often involving a troubled childhood background of violence and abuse."


Analysts have commented often and at length on the divisive nature of politics in today's USA, citing President Trump's anti-immigration policies and inflammatory language, while one commentator has gone so far to say that Trump did not 'pull the trigger on Jews in Pittsburgh, but he certainly prepped the shooter'.

Bowers now faces 29 hate crimes charges. Hate crimes and their penalties were first formalised in America in 1968, when President Johnson signed them into law. Discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, religion and national origin became punishable; President Obama later extended these laws, so that discrimination on the grounds of gender, disability and sexual orientation was also forbidden. Many western countries have followed suit: Australia, for example, forbids hate speech.

Hate itself is not a crime, and is felt by all of us at some time or other, and for many reasons. But in its pathological form, it is a complex business, often involving a troubled childhood background of violence and abuse. Its basis appears to be fear: fear of difference, and also fear of helplessness.

Bowers seems to have resented Jewish people being a 'different' group with an imagined agenda that he disapproved of, and he also, it seems fairly safe to say, felt helpless in the face of their perceived power and influence over 'the invaders'. It was easier, at least in the deluded moment, to inflict the most extreme pain on others rather than endure it himself. So the psychological reasoning runs.

How would Nana have reacted? She would certainly have been horrified, and then she might have murmured about forgiveness, but I'm afraid I cannot join her there. At least not at present.

She would certainly have repeated her frequent lament: 'Oh, the sin in this wicked world,' and then I would have agreed with her. But I might also have asked her age-old questions: What do we do about damaged people? Will hate win?



Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.


Main image: Flowers and an Israeli flag sit at a makeshift memorial down the street from the site of the mass shooting that killed 11 people and wounded six at the Tree Of Life Synagogue on 28 October 2018 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Pittsburgh, mass shooting, Jewish, migration



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Existing comments

Mass murder is most certainly a horrifying and, in many ways, an unexplainable crime. Those who commit these atrocities are damaged people. When a particular group is targeted then 'hate' crime becomes the mantra - perhaps a way to explain it. What do we do with these damaged people? I think our sympathy for victims should be predominant. And sometimes (often?) murderers are victims themselves. It's complicated.

Pam | 29 October 2018  

A very good question Gillia : what do we do about damaged people? I do not believe that just showing examples of loving behaviour is enough but neither is incarceration. I am reminded of the massacre in Norway and the attempts to understand the motivation of Anderson Brevick who justified his actions by saying it was to protect his country. Trump has sowed the seeds of hatred, fear and nationalism and fanned them into a cause. Maybe all we can do is remember we are all flawed human beings and strive to maintain our humanity.

Maggie | 30 October 2018  

First charge Trump for every instance over the past two years in which he has incited violence or feelings of negativity against minorities of one sort or another. He is very definitely monster number one in the U.S. I find it incomprehensible that he can slip easily (so it seems) beneath the radar every time his own behaviour results in such ugliness. The same incomprehensibility that I feel each time I contemplate the names Tony Abbott, George Pell, Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton - I cannot point fingers at the US without a fistful of fingers pointing back here. The ugliness is there and it is here. Maybe it's only the concept of mass shooting which is missing so far here in modern contemporary Australia. I love your Nana's injunctions against the starkness of the word "hate" and I seem to recall a similar reticence from my own upbringing about its use. These are sad times - and leaders of nations who call for hatred themselves must be held accountable. There may be divine retribution one day - but we need to see it served in these times right now! Thanks for the salutary Ernst LISSAUER story!

Jim KABLE | 30 October 2018  

I strongly support the views already expressed. Those of us that watched 4 Corners programme dealing with the power of the gun lobby in Australia should be disturbed by the intention by the gun manufactures and their supporters to force politicians at state or federal level to water down John Howard's gun control legislation, following the Port Arthur massacre. Basically America is at war with itself as antigovernment forces multiply and Trump continues his spiteful diatribes against minorities and "bad people". Banning of all guns , particularly high powered military style weapons should continue and be reinforced in this country to prevent us going down the same horrific road.

Gavin O'Brien | 31 October 2018  

Whenever I think of Donald Trump I think of those words from Life of Brian: 'He's not the Messiah. He's a very naughty boy.' There is a certain infantilism about Trump's politics but he is not anti-Semitic so he cannot be held responsible for the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Robert Bowers is a deeply disturbed man who had something like 21 guns in his possession. The wildest conspiracy theories have far greater credence in the USA than they do in Australia and extremists mix and match them. As far as working out what moved Bowers to do what he did I think you'd have to have the psychiatric skills and long prison experience of Theodore Dalrymple to begin to understand. Bowers is a sad, sick man who needs to be in a facility for the criminally insane for the rest of his life. If Pennsylvania has the death penalty he may well be hanged. People like Bowers and Anders Behring Breivik exist. We need to prevent their access to weapons. That is sometimes harder done than said, even in countries with similar gun laws to Australia.

Edward Fido | 31 October 2018  

There's no doubt in my mind that we're headed for international fascism, something we would have found unimaginable only 20 years ago.

Juliet | 01 November 2018  

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