The New Zealand Memory Hole

In the wake of the horrible massacre in Christchurch, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced in parliament that she would never pronounce the name of the perpetrator, and forever refer to him only anonymously. In some quarters she has been taken almost as a secular saint who has covered herself with a thick mantle of virtue, but from now on I shall refer to her as Mrs Pecksniff, in honour of Mr Pecksniff, the character in Dickens who introduced his two daughters, Charity and Mercy, by adding ‘Not unholy names, I hope?’

Mrs Pecksniff’s decision was sentimental,, stupid and self-important. The name of the perpetrator, Brenton Tarrant, is by now known to all the world and can hardly be effaced from the public record. That particular genie will not go back into the bottle. Whether or not she pronounces his name cannot make the slightest difference to his notoriety.

Her decision not to pronounce it, though, was taken because (she said) she wished to deprive him of what she alleged he most wanted, publicity. Either she was guilty of primitive magical thinking, the belief that one’s thoughts, words or wishes can by themselves bring about events that by normal standards of causation they cannot, or of gross overestimation of her own influence. It is not by failing to pronounce words or names known to everyone that evil will be stopped in its tracks.

Instead of pronouncing his name, Mrs Pecksniff asked people in her country to pronounce the names of his victims. What was this supposed to achieve, even were it possible? It is a fact that fifty unfamiliar names will soon be forgotten, though it would of course be appropriate to inscribe them on any monument erected to commemorate the massacre. Mrs Pecksniff is thus a practitioner of that modern and lamentably increasing genre of politics, gestural mass psychotherapy.

Strictly speaking, even her gesture was somewhat less virtuous than she herself clearly took it to be. Brenton Tarrant has not yet been found guilty of any crime, and it is an ancient principle that a man is to be considered innocent until he has been found guilty. No one can seriously doubt that he committed the actus reus, the guilty act, but he needs also to have had the mens rea, the guilty mind, for his act to have been murder. While I think it is extremely unlikely that he did not have it, yet this has still to be fully determined. In effect, however, the Prime Minister of the country in which he is to be tried has already pronounced on the subject. She has pronounced him guilty before he has been found guilty.

She is almost certainly right that he is guilty, of course, but that is not the point. It was not for her to prejudge the issue in public, and the principle of innocence until a verdict of guilty is passed is of greater importance than any personal display of virtue. In the circumstances she had to say something, but should have confined herself to a belief that, if found guilty, she thought that the perpetrator should be punished with the full rigour of the law. Self-righteousness is no substitute for the rule of law.                   

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9 Comments on The New Zealand Memory Hole

  1. Poor New Zealand – it is going the way of Canada. Not enough the mighty All Blacks to be beaten, but now to endure the witterngs of a female version of Trudeau. We know the feeling!

  2. I’m sure she’s lovely, but she does seem to suffer from the usual purblind schizophrenia afflicting those of her type. This from her Wiki page:

    ‘On social issues, Ardern voted in favour of same-sex marriage and believes abortion should be removed from the Crimes Act. In 2018, she became the first prime minister of New Zealand to march in a gay pride parade.’

    None of which would normally own her a standing ovation in any of the world’s mosques. Now, recast as a headscarf-toting foison of our collective grief, she will never be able to utter a single word of criticism against the religion of peace and its followers, no doubt blaming any of its afflictions upon racism or a lack of largesse on the part of whitey.

    It is, of course, mens rea that provides evidence of a guilty mind; something that in the case of this particular gunman may be hard to prove. I doubt though that any submission of insanity would be accepted by a judiciary that will be under extreme political pressure to bang him up as a criminal. As I recall, the killer of Jo Cox had a long history of severe mental ill-health, irrelevant in his case as it turned out.

    • All the handwringing and grieffest! Where were the muslim marchers and crowds with placards and flags protesting against the atrocities of 9/11, 7/7, and countless other acts of mayhem in the name of Allah? Where the Muslim disgust at the rapes and abductions of Yazidi women – the beheadings and stonings – the shameful arrest and threat of capital punishment for poor Bibi who drank from a well? Where the rejection of persecution of apostates in Muslim families in UK? Nothing from the followers of the “Religion of Peace”.

  3. There is undoubtedly a great deal of rather Trudeau-esque humbug about her, and I have long found her irritating. But I admit that her handling of the shooting, and her mastery under pressure of the many technical points her brief in a fast- changing situation, was impressive.

  4. I agree with everything in this article and the above comments. However, in the aftermath of such a bestial crime, one can make errors of judgement while in a state of shock. I’ve been face to face with victims of atrocities in a professional role, and it can scramble your soul. Maybe we should cut her a little slack.

  5. While watching recent sporting fixtures, I noticed that a minute’s silence was observed before all games in memory of the victims in Christchurch, but no mention was made of the victims in Utrecht. Has Mrs Pecksniff donned wooden clogs and intoned, with the best Dutch pronunciation of which her tiny indoctrinated brain is capable, “Want alzo lief heeft God de wereld gehad, dat Hij Zijn eniggeboren Zoon gegeven heeft…”? No, of course not. #MahometanLivesMatter, and #DutchLivesDon’t.

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