On 15 March, New Zealand suffered the deadliest mass shooting in its modern history. Fifty were killed and a further fifty injured when a gunman opened fire on two mosques in the city of Christchurch, another assault on Islam to add to a growing global list.
In the aftermath of the shooting, Australian senator Fraser Anning blamed the attacks on immigration and claimed that: “while Muslims may have been victims today, usually they are the perpetrators.” Anning’s remarks went beyond Islamophobic, and were disrespectful to the dead and their families whilst practically excusing the murderer. He was condemned by both New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Australian premier Scott Morrison. In our world of fast news, it is not inconceivable to think that, after a few days weathering a media storm, Anning could have returned to his position, damaged but not necessarily disgraced. That we are still talking about him is down largely to a teenage boy armed with a raw egg.
17-year-old Will Connolly, now known internationally as ‘egg boy,’ has been hailed as a crusader against bigotry after a video was posted online in which he cracked an egg over Anning’s head as the latter made a public appearance the day after his initial statement. This incident was the latest in a long tradition of political ‘eggings,’ a mode of dissent more about humiliation than violence which has previously claimed the likes of David Cameron, Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband as victims.
More shocking than the egging was the response of Anning and his acolytes, as the politician twice slapped Connolly, before a group of five men tackled the teenager to the ground, choking and allegedly kicking him. Public opinion has sided resoundingly with the food-wielding assailant, and, at the time of writing, over 78,000 Australian dollars has been raised by a GoFundMe page for Connolly, geared towards covering his legal costs and providing him with ‘more eggs.’ By contrast, 1.5 million people have signed an online petition to remove Anning from his role, while many others have called for him to be charged with assault.
This creates a dilemma, though. While we may feel no reluctance about ridiculing Fraser Anning, it is difficult to argue that he is guilty of violence and that Connolly, who was taken into custody then released without charge, is not. When John Prescott punched a man who egged him in 2001, the then-Deputy Prime Minister’s actions were laughed off, perhaps because he is a more genial figure than Anning. Now, with the death of Jo Cox in 2016, the picture has changed, and violence against politicians has become a more pertinent issue. This is not to conflate egging with murder, but simply to suggest that, moving forward, we must deal in absolutes.
No matter how incendiary Anning’s remarks, regardless of whether he is encouraging extremism, we cannot respond with physical violence every time a public figure says something controversial, even something undeniably hateful. When Jeremy Corbyn was egged earlier this month, the perpetrator was charged with assault; letting off Connolly renders the law guilty of double standards. ‘Egg boy’ has become a viral sensation, the subject of internet memes which have arguably overshadowed the tragedy to which he was responding. Survivors of the massacre have lauded Connolly, and he has vowed to send the majority of his GoFundMe donations to those affected by the terror attack, but his act of disrespect only blurs the lines between gentle pranks and political violence.
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