The therapeutic rituals of communal grief cannot triumph over terrorism. The post-Princess Diana cult of conspicuous compassion will not defeat radical Islam. Rather, it will only serve to anaesthetise further a culture steeped in snowflake sentimentality.
Just hours after Khalid Masood turned his Hyundai into a Panzer, mowing down pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, and then brandishing his bayonet, knifing PC Keith Palmer to death outside Parliament, the avalanche of collective grief is picking up momentum.
Over the next few days, it will swell into a full-blown liturgy of pseudo-lament. The rubrics for the ritual have received a canonical imprimatur from the Synod of Virtual Signallers. Breitbart editor Raheem Kassam catalogues the sacred accoutrements: ‘Teddy bears, tears, candles, cartoons, murals, mosaics, flowers, flags, projections, hashtags, balloons, wreaths, lights, vigils, scarves, and more.’
A papal indulgence in the form of a blessed organic tissue wipe is granted to the inconsolable devotee who sheds a tear, lights a candle, signs a card, attends a vigil, tweets 140 characters affirming “our” unity, or shares a Facebook post reeking with the goo and gunk of postmodern ‘sanctimonious pap.’
Historic landmarks become cathedrals of communal catharsis. The Eiffel Tower plunges into its dark night of the soul tweeting its Parisian tears, ‘I will turn my lights off tonight, at midnight, to pay tribute to the victims of the London attack.’ Brandenburg Gate lights up with the colours of the Union Flag. City Hall in Tel Aviv twins the Israeli flag with the Union Jack in splendid illumination.
The power of this liturgy to defeat Islamic terror is reflected in a tweet sent by a Gareth@thehandofbeadle who has 5,626 followers—all infected with the virus of wishful thinking and all prepared to wage a social media duel unto death with jihadists. ‘ISIS will think twice when they see Dean from Wigan has stuck a union jack over a Facebook photo of him necking jagerbombs in Magaluf.’
Oooh! Isn’t that so brave? Can you imagine the terrorists shi**ing in their pants as Virtue Signalling Combatants open deadly Twitter fire from smartphones with hashtags #LondonisOpen, #WeStandTogether, #WeAreNotAfraid and #UnitedTogether? Can you visualise the Holy Warriors queuing up to convert to the European religion of universal brotherhood as Facebook posts carpet bomb the virtual world with a BBC-beatified icon of people of different faiths standing together against a backdrop of London?
The mysterium tremendum et fascinans moment in the liturgy that solemnises the ‘triumph of the therapeutic’ is the sermon. High Priestess Theresa May evolves overnight from politician to grief-therapist, moralist, Islamic theologian and Pontifex of Politically Correct Preaching. ‘It is wrong to describe this as Islamic terrorism. It is Islamist terrorism. It is a perversion of a great faith,’ declares the newly appointed Defender of the Religion of Peace.
Now why am I so contemptuous of such a sacred ceremony? Am I suffering from Compassion Deficiency Syndrome? Do I, as a pastor, not value the venerable rites of passage—the noble traditions of bereavement and grief? Do I not honour the bravery of those who paid the ultimate price in services on Remembrance Sunday? Have I never read, prayed and preached from Israel’s Psalms of national lament and the biblical book of Lamentations?
In fact, I had the privilege of delivering a lecture on the heartbreaking book of Lamentations at Auschwitz. Over the last few years, I have been pleading with congregations to restore the genre of lament to liturgy—for lament has often been jettisoned in favour of a feel-good, foot-tapping, happy-clappy worship.
While our postmodern rituals of public grief are designed to anaesthetise, the ancient traditions of communal lament—common to many ancient Near Eastern cultures—are devised to move grieving communities from catharsis to analysis and from analysis to action by using elements of introspection and imprecation.
First, the genre of biblical lament is potent with self-examination. The question that punctuates its poetry is one of introspection. ‘Why has this disaster come upon us? We are to blame!’ Apart from a few courageous voices like Nigel Farage who was speaking to Tucker Carlson on Fox News, the postmodern liturgy of lament sanitises self-examination completely. It blames poverty or education or radicalisation—rather than our stupid policies of uncontrolled immigration and uninhibited multiculturalism—in tandem with our wholesale repudiation of our Judeo-Christian heritage and our cult of unbridled hedonism.
Second, the genre of biblical lament is punctuated with incisive imprecation. Enemies are named and shamed—imprecation is a form of ritual cursing. The curse against the foe is directed at God. This prevents the nation taking revenge but at the same time empowers the nation to action against the enemy. The poetry of lament gives free rein to voices that wish to name its enemies. There is no politically correct code of restricted speech imposed on the speakers.
Only a few politicians like Paul Nuttall and Islamic scholars like Robert Spencer dare to identify “unreformed” Islam with its clarion call to ‘slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them (captive), and besiege them, and prepare for them each ambush’ (Sura 9:5). They are categorised as untouchables by the touchy-feely mob of crocodile-tear-shedders, who ritually camouflage the enemy by turning Islam into Islamism—a sleight of hand pious Muslims themselves reject as the imposition of a newly concocted category found nowhere in the Koran or Hadith.
Ancient communal lament is dangerous poetry, not domesticated prose. And ‘poetry,’ as American poet Robert Frost puts it, ‘is a way of taking life by the throat.’ But the infantilised rituals of mawkish sentimentality are constructed to achieve the Orwellian goal of a numbed populace that denies rather than defies the reality of Islamic terrorism. Our empty rituals of feigned empathy will not triumph over terror because they will not empower us to change the world but merely to ‘be nice.’
In 2004, Patrick West ridiculed the rituals of ‘conspicuous compassion’ as ‘displays’ of ‘sheer opportunism.’ Judging by the ‘outpourings of grief over Diana in August 1997, one would have thought her memory would have remained firmly imprinted on the public’s consciousness. Yet, on the fifth anniversary of her death in August 2002, there were no crowds, tears or teddies. Diana had served her purpose. The public had moved on. These recreational grievers were now emoting about Jill Dando, Linda McCartney or the Soham girls.’
Mr West’s ‘recreational grievers’ might as well stock up on teddy bears and scented candles. Tragically, there will be many more services of ceremonial weeping, mourning and gnashing of teeth for them to attend, if introspection and imprecation do not become vital elements in our liturgies of communal lament.