What’s in a name? Ardern’s pledge

Jan 30, 2023
Patsy Reddy laying flowers at the Christchurch Botanic Gardens on 19 March.

In the applause showered on Jacinda Ardern at the close of her term there’s one credit missing: The NZ PM swore to never mention the name of the 2019 Christchurch mass murderer.

After High Court Judge Cameron Mander’s sentencing to life imprisonment without parole she added the harshest of punishments: The Biblical curse of casting-out.

When Ardern struck the Islamophobe’s name off her register of humans the Australian killer was no longer a proud boy, oath-keeper or a bro to be worshipped by other twisted men. He became a castrate, a nothing, a nonentity.

Not an influencer but a loser, a number in a Paremoremo prison cell where he’ll die.

George Orwell understood the potency of erasure. His hero in 1984 is reduced to ‘6079, Smith, W’. Staff at the vile English public school I attended only used surnames and slurs. Forenames would diminish the boys’ manhood, make them softies.

They also taught teens to bayonet sacks of straw swinging from gibbets and twist the blade so the blood could run down its gutter, let air rush into the wound and speed death. That was to make us upright citizens fit to civilise the colonies, though it turned some into brutes.

Ardern’s pledge has been maintained by her government and the serious media. That doesn’t stop commenting on the crime, but it sucks out the oxygen of notoriety that the vainglorious so clearly seek.

The paths to worthy fame and remembrance are hard and long, those to infamy short and easy. For the killer of 51 Muslims at prayer in the Al Noor mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre craved attention. He wanted his name to be etched on a granite plinth, a celebration of evil like the Marquis of Sade.

The loner imagined it set in dictionaries, an inspiration to other white supremacists desperate to make hate a virtue.

In another time and place he might have been dealt with by the device of two other names embedded in the language: Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, the French physician who ignored the Hippocratic oath to do no harm, and the 18th century US judge Charles Lynch.

Either would have guaranteed his rapid departure. Instead the terrorist escaped those fates by slaughtering in civilised Aotearoa led by a woman who preached kindness but recognised its limits.

His road not taken would have been a tougher test of Kipling masculinity than buying guns and plotting a massacre of women, men and kiddies on their knees. That’s the work of cowards, the gutless.

Taking the other road in the yellow wood would have demanded years of study, hard work, determination, nurturing gifts and refining ideas. It would have meant using failure to keep exploring in the quest to create something marvellous, to motivate others to make all lives better.

The eponym models he might have copied and so be forever remembered with thanks include Louis Braille and Samuel Morse. Had he chosen science he could have read about Rudolf Diesel or James Watt or Andre-Marie Ampere, maybe Jean Nicot.

To be fair when the French diplomat presented tobacco to his king in 1560, the weed was thought to have curative powers. Like Alfred Nobel his discovery has killed millions, though that was not the intent.

But there was no benign motive, no intellectual inquiry required in scrawling obscenities on gun butts in a scruffy flat ahead of a drive through green Otautahi on a mission to massacre.

In medicine we’ve long forgotten the full monikers of Alois Alzheime, Bernard Crohn and James Parkinson though we know the diseases they identified so they can be understood and treated. We should call X rays (Marie) Curies, which is how radioactivity units are measured.

Thank you all. Peering down microscopes, not gunsights, is the work of warriors fighting germs. They are heroes.

The Bard asked: ‘What’s in a name?’ It can be everything or nothing. Ardern has ensured that while the monster’s crime will be remembered his name will not.

Even her most malicious detractors must concede that’s a legacy to be admired and an example to be followed.

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