Who owns the horror?

My latest piece at MercatorNet simply tries to sift through the confusion and conflict in the aftermath of the Orlando massacre.

When responding to a tragedy, people generally and the media in particular turn to pre-existing narratives to inform their responses. And despite the obviously homophobic nature of this attack, mass murder of homosexuals is simply not a common or contemporary narrative for the public to adopt…

In other contexts we are applauded for showing solidarity with the LGBT community, for being “blind” to sexual orientation. But in this instance otherwise well-meaning and ideologically aligned people have picked the wrong kind of solidarity, a solidarity that normalises the LGBT community but in the process diminishes the specifically homophobic nature of the attack. This conflicts with the LGBT community’s own narrative of victimisation, in which the massacre is an extension of homophobic violence more generally.


Uncommon voices

One of the problems with our present media culture is that we are inundated with the thoughts, opinions, and, deeper still, the tone of a class of people with broadly similar backgrounds and skills who write to match an established genre, whose works are validated in large part by being not too dissimilar from those of their colleagues.

So when someone from a very different background writes – and writes well – the contrast is startling.

At least that was my impression on reading the following piece on ABC’s The Drum; effectively a eulogy for a former Australian soldier, killed while fighting against Islamic State in Syria:

There is a great quote from the mountaineer Bill Denz, a former New Zealand army commando, who, having been jilted by the military and never sent to Vietnam, rationalised why he had chosen to climb mountains instead. “Young men must go into the mountains because they long for war,” he said.

Like Bill Denz, neither myself nor Ash had found a worthy “struggle” in the military. So, like all young men of our generation, we sought struggles elsewhere. I chose to pursue a life of mountain climbing and the life of a struggling writer. Ash chose to go and fight with the Kurds on the frontlines of Syria.


The piece is worth reading regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the author’s argument. It intrigues me that voices such as these can be all but forgotten in the clamour of day-to-day publishing, and shock us with an almost foreign certainty and conviction.

Reading the comments – panicked comments lamenting glorification of war and debating moral relativism in response to Islamic State – illustrates how easily we can slip into a comfortable familiarity with opinions that, despite our love or hate for them, rarely challenge us.

Do we really understand the breadth and depth of opinion our society? Do we really know how things stand, apart from opinion polls and self-referential media?  I suspect that the conventions of our social discourse are more tenuous than we realise, a superstructure that could all too suddenly fall away in the midst of real conflict because most of us – the agents and advocates of this discourse – have no real desire to defend our positions with anything more than words, or else would find that our positions offer nothing of substance to defend.

I hope I can stick close to what is real and ideal, against the heat and vanity of empty opinion.


What ISIS really wants

If you only read one epic, exhaustive essay on the religious ideology behind ISIS, let it be this one from The Atlantic’s Graeme Wood:

The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS), follows a distinctive variety of Islam whose beliefs about the path to the Day of Judgment matter to its strategy, and can help the West know its enemy and predict its behavior. Its rise to power is less like the triumph of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt (a group whose leaders the Islamic State considers apostates) than like the realization of a dystopian alternate reality in which David Koresh or Jim Jones survived to wield absolute power over not just a few hundred people, but some 8 million.


Know your enemy…