The soul of the great 20th century Welsh poet Dylan Thomas would be turning over in his grave if he knew that the alleged assailant and terrorist who murdered 50 innocent Muslim worshipers and injured as many inside two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, quoted the entirety of his famous poem “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night” as an introduction to his profane diatribe against human decency, which he entitled “The Great Replacement.”
This evil individual also attributed his inspiration to the writings of Dylann Roof, the infamous murderer of the worshipers in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
He even paid tribute to the actions and statements of the Norwegian mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered over 75 young people in July 2011.
As for the final words of the Dylan Thomas poem: “Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
The fact that the murderer perverted the meaning of these lines, which exalt the human spirit, to justify his murderous rampage is not only a desecration of great poetry but, more importantly, represents a renunciation of life itself.
Clearly, the title of his manifesto, “The Great Replacement,” points to the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017 and who chanted, “The Jews will not replace us.”
In addition, this term refers back to a radical right-wing philosophy popularized by the French writer Renaud Camus, who believes that the mass immigration of non-white populations from the Middle East and North Africa into European nations, France in particular, threatens to dissolve the white culture of Europe.
This shooter in Christchurch has put together a tapestry of hate and the interwoven colors of hate speech that now hang on the walls of our society.
The global significance of this act of horrific violence is that, first, if it could happen in New Zealand, such violence can occur anywhere around the world.
Second, this is not about the religious doctrines of Islam. It is all about different so-called unwelcome races who are unwelcome in his world and who represent a threat to the white race. In other words, religion itself is not the threat, rather, the threat comes from the people who practice their faith. Religion, on the other hand, is the easy target to express the perverted “rage” that the shooter proclaims in his manifesto.
There are some who mistakenly believe that these criminals represent lone wolves or just a few people who are failures in their lives. They refuse to accept the reality that there is a real worldwide movement of these hate mongers, and they should rethink their characterization of this act because it suggests a degree of naivety about hate and bigotry in the world. The internet provides them with the network to create a movement. This is what we are fighting today.
It is also important to acknowledge that both the radicalism of hate, which we have seen in groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda as well as the white supremacist hate groups whose beliefs apparently motivated the Christchurch killer, all belong in the same cauldron of poison that has introduced a moral and spiritual sepsis into the body of our civilization. They are racist, anti-Semitic and anti-religious in every aspect of their thinking and actions.
Religious leaders throughout the world, as well as people of faith, should be out in the lead condemning these actions, and sending this message to the world and especially to their local communities.
It is true that we have witnessed mass migrations of non-European peoples into Europe and, to a lesser degree, into America. The suspicion and the fear that surrounds these peoples have become the occasion for expressing hatred and fear of the “other,” leading to the claim that such peoples and faiths will trigger the demise of the white majority culture in these nations.
This is the time when we need religion to stand up against this kind of blasphemy and work to keep the peace in our communities.
When we on Hilton Head Island had a community-wide service of consolation after the killings in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue, religious leaders from all faiths joined us, including Muslim clergy. Do we not have a responsibility to stand up in solidarity with Americans of the Muslim faith? If we do not, then how will those purveyors of hatred interpret our silence? Surely, they will say to themselves, “See, they support us after all.” Will our silence and our apathy be used by bigots as an expression of assent to their movement?
We read in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 about the admonition to blot out the memory of Amalek, who attacked the Israelites from behind at their weakest point. The Torah says, “Blot out the name of Amalek. You shall not forget.”
We cannot make this alleged shooter a martyr, but we also cannot forget his actions. All these killers who have taken human life in our nation and around the world because of hate, regardless of religion, race or ethnic origin, must not be allowed to become folk heroes.
The conclusion of Dylan Thomas’ poem reads:
“And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”
Can this great poet’s words be interpreted today as a warning that if we do not act, if we do not condemn this violence, and if we do not bring these terrorists to justice, then we will contribute to “the dying of the light”?
The light is our humanity and our future. Let the memories of those who perished at the sordid hands of unbridled hatred be remembered by their loved ones for blessing, and may those who are in the hospital recuperate from their wounds — body and soul.