About this time last year I was visiting my son in Melbourne and I remember reading a newspaper article that made several references to Brenton Tarrant.
The piece wasn't particularly about him and the references didn't bother to explain who he was.
Obviously it was a name that had become so familiar to Australians the newspaper didn't need to elaborate, but I didn't immediately recognize it. I really didn't.
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It was some time later that it came to mind - oh yeah, the Christchurch mosque murderer. And it struck me how successful we had been in deliberately obliterating him from public discussion since the massacres in March.
Jacinda Ardern deserved the credit. When she declared she would never to utter his name she struck a popular chord. Newspapers largely followed suit, giving him minimal personal publicity just as they would not publish his cause.
New Zealand media comply with rules against prejudicial publicity more assiduously than media in similar jurisdictions but even here a crime of this magnitude would normally push the boundaries. The effacement of the person responsible for this atrocity has been a singular and remarkable achievement. I don't recall anything like it before.
But I think most people in the media – most older hands anyway - would agree that while it was easy for a Prime Minister to blank this man it was not as easy for journalism. It goes against the grain of our instincts and training to tell a complete story.
One consequence of taking the spotlight off the perpetrator has been to make our commentary on the crime sociological rather than psychological. Rather than examine how an individual turned into a mass killer, which was freely discussed in his homeland, we had a silly debate about whether the massacre proved our society was racist.
Yet for all that, I think the coverage here reflected the public interest, or in this case lack of interest. I had no wish to read much about him and I doubt that many New Zealanders did. Now that he has been put away out of our sight for life, I doubt there is any more interest in him.
Where violence is used for a political purpose I think we should always minimize the publicity it seeks for its cause. I just wish the same principle was applied when the cause is considered more worthy.
I'd like to see the names of perpetrators also downplayed in atrocities that have no political purpose. Sick individuals looking for some sort of personal significance should not see others be able to make a name for themselves by causing death and destruction.
We can be eternally proud of our present Prime Minister and ourselves that this slaughter of people at prayer has had exactly to opposite effect to that intended. New Zealanders have embraced Muslim immigrants and the country is better for it. The world noticed and its discussion changed.
But we should not allow the shock of this crime to silence those who fear multicultural immigration and racial diversity. I am not one of them, I enjoy the cosmopolitan character of Auckland today. I rejoice in the immigration we have attracted in recent years after so many decades when we lost more people than we gained. I shudder to think New Zealand might keep its borders closed and try to become an isolated sanatorium in a world living with Covid-19.
But it is futile and dangerous to muzzle those who take the opposite view. They have not been muzzled in private conversation, only in mass media, as distinct from social media. Mass media are still powerful platforms of politics and suppression of public discussion on them has resulted in the disasters of Brexit and Donald Trump.
I have spent painful nights this week watching the Republican Convention on TV. It is sad to see a party that once practiced respectable, classy conservatism reduced to a carcass crawling with Trumps. The young ones are even worse than their father. They spit the same invective but without the humour.
If the coronavirus has a silver lining it is that it might rid the world of this presidency. The election is now being fought mainly on issues favourable to the Democrats – the pandemic and Black Lives Matter. But there is one strange phrase the younger Trumps are using that they clearly think is antagonizing many of their generation: "cancel culture".
I had to look it up. It's what we did to the mosque killer. It's what Auckland's mayor and the media did to two Canadians barred from council venues. It's what Massey University's vice-chancellor wanted to do to Don Brash and what too many in universities today want to do against views they call "unsafe".
The trouble is that people denied a voice eventually vote.