PADDY GOWER received the answer he was seeking from Christchurch mosque attack victim Wasseim Alsati. “It’s okay to hate, it’s okay to love. This is beyond hate.” Sadly, Gower failed to grasp the meaning of “beyond hate”. It does not mean “extreme hate”, or even “insane hate”. Beyond hate lies the territory of dispassionate political and/or military calculation. A state of being in which a person is able to commit the most appalling crimes because they are intellectually convinced their actions are both justified and necessary.
Actions that are perpetrated in the place “beyond hate” are as old as human history and as contemporary as the drone strike which wiped out most of an innocent Afghan family just a few days ago. Gower went looking for hate as if it was a criminal that could be brought to justice. He talked about hate as if it was something that could be brought to an end. In short, his televised meditation “On Hate” missed the point entirely.
The crimes of Brenton Tarrant are no better or worse than those of Mohammed Emwazi – also known as “Jihadi John” – the ISIS terrorist who allowed himself to be recorded beheading defenceless individuals. Both men killed people publicly and dispassionately because they were absolutely convinced that the deaths of their victims would contribute to the final triumph of their cause. The restoration of the Caliphate was Emwazi’s cause. The precise nature of Tarrant’s cause has been kept from New Zealanders because the Chief Censor deemed his manifesto “objectionable”. That it encompassed an extreme form of ethno-nationalism is, however, indisputable.
Tarrant and Emwazi were presented to the world as monsters because their actions were unsanctioned by any recognised nation state. Had they been sent on their missions by the government of a country New Zealand is friends with (the USA, UK or Australia) they would have been called “special forces” soldiers and their deeds (assuming we ever got to hear about them in any detail) would have been assessed very differently.
That Gower’s programme opted not to explore this aspect of New Zealand’s response to the Christchurch tragedy is unfortunate. It is, surely, important to examine why our shocked and horrified response to the mosque massacres is not repeated when we learn of a wedding party being blown into bloody pieces by a Hellfire missile. Is it really only because it happens far away to people “not of our tribe”, and because we never get to watch, for hours, on live television, the distraught faces of traumatised eye-witnesses; the comings and goings of ambulances and police cars; or hear a prime minister declare: “They are Us”?
Reviewing “On Hate” for The Spinoff, Anjum Rahman, came closest to answering this question, observing in her closing paragraph:
“Since March 15 2019, I’ve often thought about how our community has suffered so much from a single event, and what must it be like in those countries where an event like this happens almost every other day. In the name of liberation and spreading democracy, in the name of revenge and retaliation. There are countries who face this number of dead regularly, with no mental health support, no welfare payments, no way out.”
At the heart of the monstrousness of the crimes of Tarrant and Emwazi was their determination to let the world see what they were doing. Both men exploited ruthlessly the extraordinary reach and power of the Internet. Conveying to their comrades, via social media, the furious purity of their belief. And, to their enemies, terrifying images of unbearable and unforgettable horror.
Only very rarely are the actions of state-sanctioned killers broadcast to the world. Only very rarely do we get to see the President of the United States and his key advisers watching in rapt attention as the execution of their most wanted enemy is beamed into the White House Situation Room, in real-time. If Gower wants to know what the world “beyond hate” looks like, then he has only to look at that famous photo of Barack Obama, Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton taking-in the killing of Osama Bin Laden.
It’s not that the foreign correspondents and their trusty videographers don’t try to make us understand the horror of suicide bombs and drone-strikes. They send back the images: blood and gore coating everything, shattered limbs, ravaged faces; but they never make our screens. Not suitable for families watching the six o’clock news. Not when people are eating dinner. Gower deserves full credit for allowing Tarrant’s victims to communicate something of the awful reality of defenceless people coming under armed attack.
But going after “white supremacists” and Mark Zuckerburg’s amoral algorithms will not bring an end to hate. Tarrant wasn’t radicalised by the Internet, he was radicalised by reading histories of the Crusades. He was radicalised by his deep-seated fear that “Western Civilisation”, from which he derived so much of his personal identity, was under mortal threat.
Hate is fear externalised. If one would eliminate hate, then one must first eliminate fear. Can Gower promise to do that? Can anyone?
Fear is everywhere in these perilous times. Fear of the Coronavirus. Fear of Climate Change. Fear of Terrorism. But there is another fear that permeates Gower’s televised meditation “On Hate”. Fear of ourselves. Fear that we are not the people we want to be. Fear that all the fulminations against our “colonialist” ancestors are entirely justified. Fear that “White Supremacy” isn’t an extreme ideology embraced by a handful of angry misfits, but basic to the way this society works. Fear that the “the good guys” are actually a pitifully weak minority which “the bad guys” can flick away anytime they want to.
Who is gripped by this fear? Well-meaning people. Loving people. People who believe fervently in equality and social justice. They fear that their hopes will not bear fruit: that racism, populism, fascism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, transphobia will defeat them. And how do they respond to these fears? With hate, of course. They hate what inspires their fear. More than that, they believe that it is their moral duty to rid the earth of it. To wipe it out – by any means necessary – even at the price of transforming their country into a police state.
In the grim service of their love, they have moved “beyond hate”.