The virtuous and the vicious

On Friday all over the world children skipped school to rally against the politics that have led to careening climate change. For many this was controversial. Politicians on the wrong side of that argument warned they should be kept at school. They were ridiculed as being too young to really understand, or as being puppets of the left. In truth, these accusers are the people the children are rallying against – the blind, the conservative, the corrupt and the inept. It’s come to the point that our children are protesting at what their parent’s generation failed to do.

It may be too late, but now there is such momentum that the naysayers are losing their influence. The organiser of this event, Greta Thunberg, is a formidable schoolgirl from Norway. She has managed to do what so many others well intended have not: she has electrified an issue and given it into the hands of those who will be most affected by its evil.

The tide has turned, I think, and it’s heartening to see such passion and commitment in those so young. There was a time when kids of that age would engage in the playful, mindless fun that comes easy when life is good. What need of passion or ideals if life is served warm to you on a plate? Times have changed and become more immediate. The pendulum returns, as it always must, having reached one extreme – the extreme being an era of poor, weak or corrupt leadership. It has led to the situation we find ourselves in now and our children roused, won’t have it anymore. If they survive the climate coming at least we can begin to hope our world might be in better hands.

For me, this was reason for hope and inspiration. But then came the other side of that.

I was at work Friday afternoon when the first reports of a shooting in Christchurch came through. Anyone who’s been in this situation knows how odd it seems. At first, you tend to think it’s probably nothing much. We have become inured to everyday violence, and there are so many nutters out there it comes as no great surprise. But then updated reports come through. Up to nine dead, you read. People begin to turn to each other. Have you heard what’s happening in Christchurch? And you go back, seeking more news, and it comes. It was a mosque that was attacked. Hospitals preparing for forty or fifty casualties, you read. Wow, you think. You catch eyes with someone. You start to feel it in your stomach: something awful is happening.

You go about your work nonetheless. Computers hum, phones ring, emails come and go, meetings are called. On Friday we had a late function. Going into it I saw the latest update – 29 confirmed dead, dozens feared to be. And you think: dozens?!

Finally, when I got home, I saw – 49 dead – and as I watched the full story unfolded, about how the gunman live-streamed his rampage to Facebook, about the garbled, racist manifesto he wrote, finally, that he was an Australian.

Such terrible events are hard to comprehend, but it was the news that the killer was an Australian from Grafton that gave it another edge. I felt fear and shame as well as sorrow and anger. I didn’t feel the surprise knowing he was an Australian that I did at the event itself.

Naturally, there’s an upwelling of grief and compassion across the globe at what has happened, mixed in with anger and despair. That’s been the case here too in Oz. New Zealand is our closest neighbour. We are cousins to each other. We know each other well, like family. But then one of ours has gone there and murdered so many of them and, unfortunately, it’s easy to see why.

This is a problem all over the world, divisive extremities, not just in Oz. Here though, as in some places, it has been leveraged for political purposes. It started with John Howard here, may he burn in hell, the first man to politicise asylum seekers and turn it into an election issue. He changed the conversation, and in so doing changed Australia. We went from being an open, warm society to a society protective of its good fortune and closed to the sorrows of others. That’s been exploited since by Abbott and Morrison, and throughout, by Dutton, aided and abetted by a media either complicit to the point of cheerleading (Murdoch) or being too weak or cowardly to properly stand up against the cold-hearted values being espoused.

When that becomes the language, when human life has been devalued to that of a statistic, when those poor folk caught in the crossfire and seeking a better life are demonised as either terrorists or opportunists, then it is easy to dismiss the woes of others. In a world where everything has become polarised everyone who is perceived as being not ‘us’ must, therefore, be against us. Multicultural as we are in Australia, in the eyes of the bigoted it means every one of colour, everyone not Christian, becomes suspect at least. And so in the demented minds of a few the events on Friday loom as a crusade against so-called enemies.

There’s no point saying not all Australians, just as there was no point proclaiming not all men. Most Australians aren’t like that, are horrified by what happened – but this lives within our society, and has been encouraged and been allowed to thrive when it should have been stillborn. We all have to take responsibility for that.

When the news came out Friday the deplorable Fraser Anning came out effectively blaming the victims for being Muslim, guilty of their own murder. Yesterday he attended a right-wing function only a few kilometres from where I live. Famously – now – a 17-year-old kid smashed a raw egg into the back of his head. It’s a moment that will go down in folklore, and ‘eggboy’ has been hailed since all over the world.

It’s an instructive moment. Here was Anning with his white supremacist cronies, swathed in swastikas, swaggering and pitched towards violence. These are dysfunctional, damaged members of society, drawn towards a toxic ideology because of a lack in themselves (if only being intelligence). They’re the sort of men who commit violence against women and others weaker than themselves. That’s the disaffected breeding ground for those who one day will resort to violence on a broader scale.

Then there’s the kid, perhaps a kid who marched on Friday, a kid who believes in an inclusive world and better selves, a kid engaged in what it means to be a part of a true society. Some of decried what he did as some sort of violence, but what I see is a kid who has made a mockery of Anning in this silly act, and revealed Anning for what he truly is. Anning turned and attacked the kid before his cronies piled on top of him and got him in a choker hold. The kid lost consciousness – he’s okay – and what the world saw was the gleeful violence so easily adopted.

We saw it too, in Australia. I’m always hopeful, even after such a terrible thing. This is our moment to be properly ‘woke’. They’re not just a ratbag few. They’re among us, and can’t be tolerated any longer. I reckon fully 95% of Australians are horrified by these people and are now just waking up to the danger they represent. It’s a harsh lesson, but the actions on Friday I think will rebound on the supremacists. We want to say, as the Kiwis have, this is not who we are.

I should add that I think it’s pulled the teeth from the government ahead of the election as well. Before this – sad to say – they’d have sought to exploit the divisions between us and them, lead by those good Christians Morrison and Dutton. They can’t do that now. Hopefully, no-one ever can again.

It’s a hard thing to say after fifty people are dead, but I think the pendulum is shifting back. I think the act on Friday was a sign of that, evil as it was. That’s poor comfort for the families of those murdered, but a small thing the rest of us can hold onto and hope is true. Better times will come.

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