From Performance to Performativity: The Christchurch Mosque Murders and What Came After
On Friday 15th March 2019, a white Australian man armed with assault weapons attacked Muslim worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Fifty-one people were murdered. Another 49 were injured. Families and their communities were devastated. Almost a year later, they are evermore deeply into the hard, impossibly sad process of recovery. The city of Christchurch, still reeling from the catastrophic earthquakes of 2010-2011, took the blow to its determinedly imperturbable façade hard, but is now moving on. Aotearoa New Zealand likewise. Staged as a series of performances, the attack and its aftermath were also acutely performative. The gunman transmitted the images and sounds of his white-supremacist-fuelled, assault-weaponized violence via livestream on Facebook: himself the protagonist, his victims the unwitting antagonists in a filmed performance for an unseen audience. In response, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern immediately took centre-stage: meeting the media, comforting the victims, commending the first responders, and leading two commemorative events on public platforms set up in the park across from Masjid Al Noor, the primary target. There were other, more ad hoc, performances, too, including haka (ritual chant/dance) by school groups, gang members and other odd individuals in front of Masjid Al Noor. Almost immediately after the mosque murders, plans for films, television specials and serials, and theatre performances began proliferating exponentially. This essay reflects on questions of performance and performativity in the wake of the mosque murders.
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