What Victims Have to Teach Politicians

The terrorist attacks on mosques in New Zealand bring to mind Martin Luther King Jr.’s response to white-supremacist murders.

People lay flowers outside the New Zealand House following the Christchurch mosque attacks.
People lay flowers outside the New Zealand House following the Christchurch mosque attacks. (Henry Nicholls / Reuters)

About the author: Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of the Up for Debate newsletter.

At least one terrorist murdered 49 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, today as they gathered to worship at two mosques. The gunman is believed to have published a manifesto urging violence to achieve a white ethno-state.

Words offer little solace when innocents are murdered. But they can light the way forward, as Martin Luther King Jr. showed in the 1963 eulogy he delivered for the victims of another white-supremacist terror attack on a house of worship.

He declared that the slaughtered did not die in vain, for “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil,” and that the victims had something to tell us in their deaths.

“They have something to say to every politician who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism,” King said. “They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”

Do you support any politician who seeks power in part by stoking group hatred, or excuse internet posters who engage in demonization or calls for violence, telling yourself that they are just words, as if words are not actions that matter? If so, may this atrocity clarify the stakes and inspire a redemptive change.