Everything feels sick and sad and kind of pointless.
This is what national mourning feels like.
New Zealand is at half-mast: half-ashamed of itself, half-mad with grief – there’s a lot of halves going on, a lot of unfinished, unresolved feelings of rage and blame and anguish.
But that’s nothing. That’s beside the point. The real mourning, the actual grief, belongs to the only people who truly matter in Friday’s lout rampage.
The survivors, and the families of the 49 victims, are the most important people in New Zealand right now. They will gather at funerals. They will attend memorials. They will experience the long, constant fact of something which Christchurch, more than anywhere in New Zealand, has got a fix on: absence.
The earthquakes made it the city of the missing. The mosque shootings have taken away another 49 people who were simply going about their business. Kiwi Muslims, at the Friday prayer at their mosque, banded together, united in worship and faith: they were in the right place at the right time.
Until along came death in the shape of no one special. It takes someone supremely ordinary to subscribe to junk thinking about racial supremacy and to act on the need to do something about it. The chances are really rather high that everything we’ll learn about the shooter over the next few days and weeks will remind us not just of the banality of evil – but also just how thick it generally is, and how deeply worthless.
The far more interesting stories to watch for will be the ones about the 49 victims. Their names, their lives, where they came from, what they enjoyed, what they contributed, who they knew and loved.
One of our foundation myths as a people is that New Zealanders rally around their friends and neighbours in a crisis.
We’re there for each other, we lend a hand, we’ll see each other right, eh, e hoa. There are going to be countless examples of it – sometimes in the media, mostly behind the scenes – as New Zealanders pledge their support to the families of the 49 dead.
There is also going to be a deep, lingering sense of confusion about just what the hell is going on in New Zealand for this to happen and for the whole world to be looking at us with shock and horror. Yes, yes, the killing isn’t about the rest of us, it’s about the men, women, and children directly caught up in it – but it’s as much our business and our concern as any tragedy. We’ve been there before. Pike River. The Wahine. The Christchurch quakes. It’s just that we’ve never remotely been here like this.
The closest precedent was the Rainbow Warrior bombing in 1985. That was political too; the ship was engaged in anti-nuclear protests, and the French government, back then committed to nuclear testing in the Pacific, ordered a hit. A man was killed in the explosion. His name was Fernando Pereira.
But the spies bungled the job – they didn’t intend to kill anyone. The attacks on the Christchurch mosques were carried out with the express purpose of killing, maiming, injuring, traumatising.
We don’t have any form with something like this. Now and then our artists have imagined a state of siege. CK Stead wrote his vision of violent resistance to a right-wing dictatorship in New Zealand in his 1971 novel Smith’s Dream, later filmed by Roger Donaldson in the movie Sleeping Dogs; Craig Harrison’s 1974 play, Tomorrow Will Be A Lovely Day, was a pretty good drama about armed conflict between Māori and European.
Ancient fictions from a time before 9/11. In 2019, out of the blue, an armed moron caught everyone by surprise.
It seems spurious to draw a line back to the agitations rarked up by last year’s visit from those two alt-right grifters, Stefan Molyneux and Lauren Southern, and while acts of racially motivated nastiness may well be a fact of everyday, unreported life, nothing comes close to the actions of Friday’s shooter, with his combat fatigues, his sat nav, his worthless 73-page manifesto.
New Zealand will revert to its natural state of ka pai and all good. We’re really good at happiness; we insist on it, make a fetish of it – happiness is a national pastime. But it won’t return for a while.
The national mourning, too, is real. We all live here. The 49 victims had the same rights as us. We shall remember them.