WALEED ALY CAPTURED the response of many when he said that he was not shocked but profoundly gutted and scared by the hideous massacre at the Christchurch mosques last Friday. His heartfelt condemnation of those who had normalised Islamophobia, hate speech and action – or allowed it to happen on their watch – was a powerful reminder of the need to pay attention. And for all of us to act, to accept responsibility for shaping the public sphere, to condemn the hate speech designed to foster fear. He has done more than his fair share, but in the wake of the events on Friday he spoke of a feeling of hopelessness.
Within days his commentary had been shared twelve million times. Public sentiment was with him.
He also suggested that senior Liberal politicians had played with the idea of exploiting anti-Islamic sentiment to political advantage, and his claim was almost immediately met with the threat of defamation action.
Yet, as the Financial Review’s political commentator Phil Coorey remarked, since 2001 when the Howard government was returned to power in part by its skill in stirring racial discontent, the dog whistle has been replaced with a loud hailer. Now all Australians can have a taste of shame, as it was our countryman who has been arrested and charged with these hideous killings.
In times like these it is important to pay attention.
Ever since the first edition of Griffith Review in 2003, Insecurity in the New World Order, we have been exploring these issues – what it feels like to be the subject of racial and religious taunts, and worse; the political response to terrorism; the encroachment of freedom of speech; the rise of populism; the treatment of those deemed ‘other’; the debilitating power of shame. It’s sobering to realise how many of the essays and memoirs we have published remain current, and indeed merit rereading now.
In 2014, we published a special New Zealand edition, Pacific Highways, which I co-edited with Lloyd Jones. Most Australians think they know New Zealand, but even before Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister, it was clear to those paying attention that the country was more advanced in making sense of itself, of redefining itself in the twenty-first century than Australia. While Australians stopped looking, it became a diverse multicultural nation, one in which the Māori language is taught to every schoolchild, and the power of environment and culture drives a new sense of identity.
Pacific Highways was welcomed in New Zealand; it showcased many of the best of that country’s extraordinary writers. Australians were more diffident, perhaps preferring the shortcut of hanging onto old ideas about the land of the long white cloud, Aotearoa, and its people.
Now in the passion, grace and elegance of Jacinda Ardern’s response to the attacks in Christchurch, the world is watching and paying attention, and looking to learn as action will surely follow her words.
Meanwhile, although Facebook alone took down 1.5 million copies of the original video of the attack within 24 hours, questions about how it could have been so widely transmitted in the first place remain. As this demonstrated, the issue of how the new digital platforms might be regulated and controlled demands deeper consideration, and this is an issue we address in the next edition, The New Disruptors.
By showcasing the work of our New Zealand colleagues, and those who have been touched by hate speech and Islamophobia, Griffith Review grieves this tragic event and urges our readers to continue to pay attention and speak up for decency, respect and kindness.
18 March 2019