Stan Grant is an outstanding journalist. His capacity to undertake brilliantly forensic analyses and thereby discern meaning within the tumult of contemporary political behaviour sets him apart from most of his colleagues. So good are his political credentials that our PM invited him to enter politics, an offer Grant declined. I was fortunate to hear him speak on ABC TV afternoon news in the aftermath of the massacre of fifty Muslims at worship in two mosques in Christchurch.
I can do no better than to direct you to the opening video of this piece. It records him speaking with two ABC news presenters about radicalization. You can view the video here at the top of this ABC article.
His comments were influenced by his analysis of The Shipwrecked Mind: On Political Reaction a 2016 book by political scientist Mark Lilla, professor of humanities at Columbia University in New York City.
The essence of Grant’s analysis is a follows:
- Radicalized groups drink from the same well, poisoned with grievance, resentment, hatred, and the desire for vengeance.
- The grievance is rooted in a belief in some form of historical wrong, fear or anxiety.
Lilla calls this mental state ’The shipwrecked mind’
, where people see the future drifting by like debris from a shipwreck.
Grant described the behaviour of these radicalized groups as follows:
- They ‘catastrophise’ the world.
- They show no interest in finding things in common with others, in things that unite, in pluralism.
- They see those holding other beliefs as permanent enemies against whom they seek violent retribution.
He sees the world as becoming more divided, illustrating his thesis by reference to well-known groups that resort to violence as their remedy for perceived past grievances: Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, Far Right Extremists, White Supremacists.
It was easy to for him to advance contemporary examples of longstanding grievances:
Xi Jinping, President of the People’s Republic of China, who talks of ‘a hundred years of humiliation’ of China by foreign powers; Russian President Vladimir Putin, who paints the end of the Soviet empire as the ‘great catastrophe of the 20th Century’; and neo-Nazis who burn with deep resentment at the defeat of Germany in two world wars and the humiliation they suffered afterwards. They have evolved into the white supremacist movements that have infiltrated many countries around the world, no less New Zealand, where the terrorist that killed fifty Muslims at worship proudly paraded telltale white supremacist hand signals even as he was exposed in shackles before the media.
Turkey’s President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, still resents the collapse of the Ottoman Empire way back in 1923. In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre he revealed yet another long-standing resentment: what happened at Gallipoli a century ago. Using a video of the Christchurch massacre in his current election campaign, he criticized the Anzacs for their role in the Gallipoli operation and threatened Australians and New Zealanders who come to Turkey exhibiting anti-Islam sentiment with ‘being sent back in coffins like their grandfathers’. His minders said: ‘he was taken out of context’, a well-worn excuse. He has reassured New Zealand Deputy PM Winston Peters, but has he apologised, has he withdrawn the videotape of the massacre from his campaigning? An ancient resentment still burns in his heart, and for him retribution remains a current option. His words stand in sharp contrast the touching words attributed to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
, First President of Turkey, which reached out to the mothers of his enemies at Gallopili.
“Those heroes that shed their blood
And lost their lives.
You are now lying in the soil of a friendly country.
Therefore, rest in peace.
There is no difference between the Johnnies
And the Mehmets to us where they lie side by side
Here in this country of ours,
You, the mothers,
Who sent their sons from far away countries,
Wipe away your tears,
Your sons are now lying in our bosom
And are in peace
After having lost their lives on this land they have
Become our sons as well”.
The genesis of latter day terrorism is the deep-seated hatred internalized by those who zealously harbour long-past grievances, insults, wrongs, fears, and anxieties. Nothing can erase them. They have become the raison d'être
of their existence, their fervent cause.
Is there any remedy?
New Zealanders have pointed the way: replace hatred with love. The outpouring of empathy and love towards the victims, their families, and other Muslims, has set the example. In many countries others have followed. Tributes have been left, Muslims have been embraced, and comforting words have been uttered. The milk of human kindness has been on display the world over. For many, generosity of spirit has swept away anger and resentment. It has been replaced by a warm embrace of love for fellow humans, no matter who they are. ‘Love one another’ has become the prevailing sentiment, a catchphrase that has its origins in ancient writings. But how long will it prevail? Can it counter the anger, resentment, hatred and desire for revenge that still motivates radicalized groups? Who can we rely upon to sing the good song of love and reconciliation?
Once we could look to our religious leaders. Now few people give them credence, all the more so as their feet of clay have been relentlessly exposed. The people are deserting their churches, disillusioned. To whom can they turn?
Could it be that we have no one left but our political leaders? After Christchurch, we saw the leadership for which we long. The words, actions and demeanour of New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern have set a fine example, acknowledged the world over. Her empathy, her love, her kindness, her resoluteness, her purposeful actions, her calmness, together characterized her finest hour. If she can be such an inspiration to her people in their time of deep distress, could we not expect the same from our leaders? To whom else can we turn?
It is sad that we have no one of her calibre here. We do have politicians who understand the evil of hate and the balm of love. Several are active in their churches. Yet we see no Jacinda Ardern!
What we see is the mouthing of platitudes, the use of words that signal empathy and love, yet fail to counter the dog whistling, the oblique references to ‘others’ who are different to us, to those who ‘threaten’ to invade our shores, to those with ‘criminal’ records who seek medical refuge here whom our leaders tell us will bring all manner of trouble to our country.
The people are not mugs. They see our politicians deliberately setting out to alarm us about these awful ‘others’, who would do us harm. And we know why: they want to scare us away from their political opponents, who are monotonously labelled: ‘soft on border control’. It’s all political! To gain an advantage, they enthusiastically demean their opponents, scratching around for that extra vote. The damage they are doing to the electorate day after day is of no concern to them.
There are no Jacinda Arderns here! All we have is Scott Morrison, Peter Dutton, Tony Abbott, Barnaby Joyce, Pauline Hanson, Fraser Anning, Cory Bernardi, and their ilk; the pitiable list goes on. What hope have we?
The only hope we have is to rid ourselves of this pox upon our nation. We want an Ardern. As we can’t find one among our current crop of ministers, let’s start again when next we get the chance. We might not do much better, but at least it’s worth a try.