Bad Words, Bad Timing: Considering Senator Anning’s Comments on the Christchurch Tragedy

Original photograph, Justin Knol, flickr

In his hot-take press-release following the Christchurch massacre, Queensland Senator Fraser Anning has covered himself with disgrace by blaming the victims. As he writes:

The real cause of bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration program which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand… The entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot masquerading as a religious leader.

The Senator finishes his statement with a quote from Matthew 26:52—“all who take the sword will perish by the sword”—to imply that this attack is merely a consequence of Muslim violence. If Muslims are attacked then they are simply reaping what they sow.

I would like to make three brief observations about Senator Anning’s statement.

1. Missing the Context

The first observation is that Senator Anning has shown a terrible disregard for the context of his Bible quote. When Jesus says these words, it is in the Garden of Gethsemane and he is about to be arrested, tried and executed. Simon Peter, always the most hotheaded of Jesus followers, has just attacked one of the guards and severed an ear. But Jesus immediately forbids him from further violence. In Luke’s account, he immediately heals the man. Jesus has no interest in the DIY justice of Peter’s violent vigilantism. His statement about living and dying by the sword is given to Peter to show the disciple that his efforts will backfire. If he tries to serve God with force, the only thing he can expect is more violence in return.

Jesus utters these words to check the actions of a would-be vigilante; Senator Anning redirects them to innocent people who have just been brutally attacked by a vigilante.

Given this context, we can see that Senator Anning has applied Jesus’ pronouncements to exactly the wrong party. Jesus utters these words to check the actions of a would-be vigilante; Senator Anning redirects them to innocent people who have just been brutally attacked by a vigilante.

2. Misdiagnosing the Problem

Senator Anning seems to believe that western society would be peaceful apart from the influence of Muslims. But the actions and words of this white Australian terrorist prove otherwise. Moreover, as Samuel Green points out in his post, the shooter was a fan of Dylann Roof who targeted black Christians in Charleston. This crime was not about religion, it was about race. The man who did this evil thing was acting out of a very nasty sense of racial superiority.

Tribalism is a besetting sin of our species. We love to make ourselves feel more righteous by judging our neighbours—and we love it even more when we can do it as a group. We draw our divisions along national, ethnic, cultural and political axes, as well as along religious lines. Exactly the same bigotry and collective self-righteousness that Senator Anning detects in radical Islam was at work in the heart of this murderer too.

Unfortunately, Senator Anning seems to be tempted by the same tribalism when he tells us that the “entire religion of Islam is simply the violent ideology of a sixth century despot.” This summation of the life of Mohammad is not entirely off the mark, but no human belief system or community is “simply” one thing.

3. Misjudging the Moment

The senator’s exploitation of this event for political purposes is bad taste and bad timing. And it has already given occasion for opportunists on the other side of the political spectrum to score their own points; to denounce those who deny that all religions are the same; to brand those who criticise Islam as bigots who must not be tolerated; to argue that challenging a person’s religion is tantamount to hating them or wishing them dead.

Well, all these views, along with Senator Anning’s views, should be openly discussed. Attempting to clamp down on political opinion is likely to produce more extremism and deepen the divisions in our society (again, see Samuel Green’s post).

But this is not the right time for it. In the wake of 911, Christopher Hitchens, atheist and leftist intellectual, warned against attempting to use the actions of terrorists as proof of the failure of Americal foreign policy. As he put it, “none of [our criticisms] means the same thing if prefaced with the words: ‘As Osama bin Laden and his devout followers have recently reminded us…’” 

This is good advice for Senator Anning and other ideological automata who are tempted to seize this moment for their cause. There is a time for speaking and a time to remain silent. There is a time to criticise and a time to mourn. There is a time for debating broad points about religion, culture and the direction of society, and there is a time for remembering that we are all in the same boat; all made by the same God; all in need of grace from our Maker and empathy from one another.

We pray for our Muslim neighbours and countrymen and wish them well at this time. May God extend his mercy to the people of New Zealand and Australia and to vulnerable communities (both Muslim and Christian) around the world and preserve them from further violence.

 

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