New Zealand is dealing with the trauma of the murder of 50 Muslims by a racist white gunman by trying to erase him from public life.
First, by refusing to utter his name.
The gunman wanted fame, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern told her Parliament, but she was determined not to be part of his game. “He is a terrorist. He is a criminal. He is an extremist. But he will, when I speak, be nameless,” Ardern said.
“And to others I implore you: speak the names of those who were lost, rather than name of the man who took them. He may have sought notoriety, but we in New Zealand will give him nothing, not even his name.”
It’s a striking gesture, although it’s unlikely to diminish his notoriety. Apart from the fact that the government is powerless in the age of the internet to suppress his identity, nameless and faceless (the NZ media blur his face in photographs) criminals are even more sinister. Every director of horror movies knows that the less the audience sees of the monster, the scarier it becomes. Remember the mysterious, faceless criminal Keyser Söze in The Usual Suspects? Or Lord Voldemort, “he who must not be named”, in the Harry Potter series? Anonymity made them even more creepy.
And as a counter-example, Australia’s own mass murderer, Martin Bryant, who killed 35 people in Tasmania in 1996 for no reason at all, is regarded as a deranged, evil fool. Familiarity with his name and face did not gain him more sympathy. And Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011 has become more pathetic and contemptible the more the public knows about him.
Refusing to utter Brandon Tarrant’s name is a potent symbol of solidarity with the Muslim community but it will not erase him from the New Zealand consciousness.
The second step taken by the government to erase him is more objectionable. New Zealand’s chief censor, David Shanks, has banned Tarrant’s rambling 74-page internet manifesto, which he posted on the internet a few minutes before his rampage.
“It promotes, encourages and justifies acts of murder and terrorist violence against identified groups of people. It identifies specific places for potential attack in New Zealand, and refers to the means by which other types of attack may be carried out. It contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty, such as the deliberate killing of children.”
It is now an offense for New Zealanders to possess or distribute the booklet.
I’ve read the manifesto and all it manifests is the gunman’s colossal ego. I fail to see how anyone could be influenced by this rambling, delusional tract to commit more crimes. Banning a document which is freely available on the internet is a futile gesture and could even be an incitement for twisted minds.
Besides, as the New Zealand media promptly pointed out, Mein Kamp, Adolf Hitler’s game plan for eliminating the Jews, is on sale in Auckland bookshops. Why one and not the other? “One is specific,” Shanks explained. “One is directing people who are susceptible to creating this kind of carnage; the other is a reflection of evil ideas that needs to be out in society and debated and understood.”
Having read what the gunman titled “The Great Replacement”, I think that I can say that it is no more specific than a feature in a weekend newspaper about the danger of potential terror attacks. What is more specific, more likely to provoke susceptible people, are first-person shooter games.
The Gunman live-streamed his massacre on Facebook – probably living out one of the video games to which he was apparently addicted. If Mr Shanks wants to keep susceptible people (ie, young men) from learning how to mow down fellow human beings, why not ban Bulletstorm: Full Clip Edition? This sadistic “game” is available in New Zealand. It is described as follows:
Few sci-fi action games push the envelope as much as Bulletstorm, which focuses on players using guns, kicks, and an electric whiplike device to destroy their opponents. There's plenty of blood, gore, and dismemberment, and players get points for killing enemies in extreme ways.
However dangerous the hate speech in the Gunman’s manifesto is, forbidding Kiwis to read it is even more dangerous. Banning hate speech can become a habit for governments. With critiques of homosexuality, same-sex marriage or transgenderism routinely called hate speech, it won’t be long before the Censor is being urged to clamp down on these “disturbing” challenges to the established order.
Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.