The politics of grief

David Merritt suffered a terrible loss in the London Bridge attack. But he’s still wrong about sentencing.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
Editor

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Topics Politics UK

The Guardian has reached a new low this morning. It hasn’t only weaponised the grief of David Merritt, whose son Jack was murdered in the Islamist terror attack on London Bridge on Friday – it has sensationalised it.

It has devoted half of its front page to this man’s mourning. ‘Exclusive’, it says, titillating readers with the promise of an emotional hit from a grieving father’s words. ‘Roll up, roll up’, it might as well have said. It feels invasive, cynical, and akin to emotional blackmail – after all, the aim of the Guardian’s sensationalised grief is to make the case for greater leniency for terrorists and to silence anyone who takes the opposing view that we need stiffer sentences and harsher punishments. ‘Are you disagreeing with David Merritt?’, is the undertone of this mawkish, exploitative affair.

Jack Merritt, 25, was one of two people murdered by the radical Islamist Usman Khan on Friday. Jack had been working with the prison-rehabilitation group Learning Together. So had the other fatal victim – 23-year-old Saskia Jones. Jack believed in prison reform, prisoner rehabilitation, and taking a less draconian approach in criminal matters. His father David is keen to continue pushing Jack’s message after his murder. That is an admirable thing to do. None of us can know the pain Mr Merritt is feeling; he understandably wants to keep his son’s memory and achievements alive.

Tragically, however, Mr Merritt’s pain has been politicised and even weaponised by the media elite. It has been used as a battering ram against Boris Johnson, the tabloid newspapers, and anyone who thinks terrorists should be dealt with more harshly. This has propelled a father’s mourning into the ugly realm of political contestation and effectively dared people to question it.

Corbynistas, columnists and others are now using Mr Merritt’s grief as a trump card in debates about how to deal with terrorism. They are marshalling his pain and his opinion to heap shame on Boris Johnson and to continue their ceaseless elitist war against the tabloid newspapers.

Mr Merritt’s tweet condemning the Mail and the Express for promoting ‘hatred, division and ignorance’ after the London Bridge attack has been retweeted tens of thousands of times. Cynics among the middle-class left have openly marshalled Mr Merritt’s grief to the end of censuring public discussion about terrorism. Ash Sarkar says: ‘Jack Merritt’s family and loved ones have specifically asked that right-wing newspapers and political parties not use his murder to advance reactionary demands. If you see it happening, call it out.’ Incapable of winning public support, in particular working-class support, for their agenda of Islamist apologism and moral cowardice, the degraded left instead uses a father’s grief to force their ideas through. ‘Disagree with me and you are insulting a grieving family’, is the disgraceful, censorious message of this morbid politics.

The irony in all of this is that even as the liberal media and the middle-class left exploit grief to condemn the tabloid newspapers, they themselves adopt the tabloid style. In the past, it tended to be the right-leaning tabloid press that weaponised grief, especially parental grief, to push a political agenda. Think of how often Jamie Bulger’s poor, haunted mother was invited to say that child-killers should be dealt with in a more forceful way. Or the way that parents of children who were victims of paedophiles were used to front campaigns calling for life sentences or even the death penalty.

The Guardian’s weaponisation of Mr Merritt’s grief is in keeping with this low form of politics. The only difference is that this newspaper is using personal pain to make the case for lighter sentences. The rest of it – the front-page exclusive, the sorrowful image of the victim, the parent’s pained words, the promotion of a political message – is entirely in keeping with an approach developed by the right over the years which is designed to politicise grief and silence dissent.

But there is much to dissent on here, and ordinary people – who are the true target of the media elite’s silencing tactics – should not feel discouraged from expressing their alternative views on terrorism. There is, sadly, something a little strange about Mr Merritt’s Guardian article. It avoids the words murder and terrorism. It refers only to ‘Jack’s death’ and to ‘the tragic incident of Friday 29 November’ – as if Jack died in an accident. But he didn’t. This fine, principled young man was killed in an Islamist terror attack, just as scores of people, including children, were in 2017, too. And just as hundreds of people have been across Europe over the past five years. We must have the right to talk about this without being shamed and silenced by the Guardian and other grief-exploiters.

Furthermore, it seems odd that Mr Merritt and the leftists marshalling his pain into public life should refer to the London Bridge terrorist attack as a mere incident while referring to tabloid coverage as an ‘agenda of hate’. This is moral inversion. One could be forgiven for thinking that the true hatred from this affair is coming from mere newspapers rather than from an Islamist ideology that openly advocates the slaughter of innocents and the degradation of Western society. Apparently, it is people’s anger over terrorism that is hateful, more so than the terrorism itself. People must have the right to push back against this odd idea without being told that they are disrespecting grieving families.

Islamist terrorism is not a normal crime. It is not like armed robbery, or serious assault, or even murder. Rehabilitation and redemption are fine ideas in relation to those offences. But Islamist terrorism is different. Its aim is to massacre people indiscriminately to the end of instilling terror in society and undermining society’s core civilisational values. These people are not just criminals, they are traitors. They deserve different treatment, harsher treatment. We are all deeply sorry for Mr Merritt’s loss, but that doesn’t mean we have to agree with his views on crime, terrorism and law. Mr Merritt is wrong.

Brendan O’Neill is editor of spiked and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

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Comments

Kevin Rafferty

9th December 2019 at 5:51 pm

David Merrit’s reaction reflects pathological altruism, a Darwinian cul-de-sac.

N Anon

4th December 2019 at 6:56 pm

He was my friend. I loved him so much. Your article made me sick in my mouth more than the Guardians ever did. His closest friends and family wrote that article. And deserved to have it published. You are the one politicising this. Leave us all alone.

Ven Oods

4th December 2019 at 7:58 pm

You can’t opine in a newspaper then expect to be left alone. Grow up. (But, I’m sad about your loss.)

Michael Kellett

7th December 2019 at 12:22 pm

I entirely agree with you.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 8:12 am

It’s called freedom of speech. Wouldn’t your best friend support that, or did he just believe in rights for terrorists?
I find it distasteful the way you hide behind a death to silence others.
Grow up.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 9:13 am

That is if he’s was your friend of course, which is highly unlikely as he was a Cambridge bod and your grammar suggests you are not.Too many full stops and Guardians should have an apostrophe.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 9:14 am

‘he’ but I don’t claim anything !!

Rufus Armstrong

5th December 2019 at 2:50 pm

You’re doing exactly what you claim others shouldn’t be doing. The Guardian and the self professed communist Ash Sarkar used this tragic event to put out a political message then used the trick of claiming no one else should comment on it for respect of the family to close down any right to reply. People are not stupid and can see right through this nasty manipulation by the left.

Michael Kellett

7th December 2019 at 12:24 pm

Agreed!

Noel Mac

26th December 2019 at 12:20 pm

Your comment is vile. You are probably a liar to boot. How dare you call out those who abhor this maniacs behavior. I’d say shame on you but you have none

H McLean

4th December 2019 at 11:07 am

Surely it’s got to the stage where no-one should give a flying fig what the Guardian thinks. They’re a bad faith publication who have no interest in truth, only power. I used to read the Guardian as my primary news source, years ago, until I began to object to their regressive politics and was eventually banned from their website. I moved on and didn’t look back. They employ Owen Jones, for goodness sake, which tells you everything you need to know about them.

The sad thing is Mr Merritt is so satisfied in his ideological ignorance not even having his son brutally murdered is enough to make him reassess his beliefs. If even that isn’t enough to make you stop and think, nothing will. The Guardian is guilty of what they are accusing others of doing, they are the ones using these deaths as hateful propaganda.

Ven Oods

7th December 2019 at 4:17 pm

“They employ Owen Jones, for goodness sake, which tells you everything you need to know about them.”
Every august establishment needs a mascot. Why not little Owen?

H McLean

4th December 2019 at 11:07 am

Surely it’s got to the stage where no-one should give a flying fuck what the Guardian thinks. They’re a bad faith publication who have no interest in truth, only power. I used to read the Guardian as my primary news source, years ago, until I began to object to their regressive politics and was eventually banned from their website. I moved on and didn’t look back. They employ Owen Jones, for goodness sake, which tells you everything you need to know about them.

The sad thing is Mr Merritt is so satisfied in his ideological ignorance not even having his son brutally murdered is enough to make him reassess his beliefs. If even that isn’t enough to make you stop and think, nothing will. The Guardian is guilty of what they are accusing others of doing, they are the ones using these deaths as hateful propaganda.

Jerry Owen

5th December 2019 at 9:15 am

H MCLEAN
The Guardian and the BBC deserve one another… oh hang on!

Puddy Cat

4th December 2019 at 9:43 am

I used to be a Guardian reader, its investigative journalism was superb. Unfortunately it has sunk to infantilism and innuendo. It’s stock in trade is to blame as a matter of course and then to lose the refutation in the next confection it dreams up. Working on the principal that the first punch is the decider it probably impresses some.

Alas, whatever paper you read it is a case of preaching to the converted and what they hope to gain by it is anyone’s guess; telling the committed what they already want to believe, how does that move the agenda?

However, the great tragedy of that paper is also attached to an even greater calumny, its incestuous relationship with the BBC. Whereas you can, as I have, not buy a newspaper it is difficult to avoid the Corporation. The brazen manner in which it has insinuated ‘someone’s’ opinion on the general public is that of a rebel band seizing the means of broadcasting. Somewhere along the line a putsch has taken place and something that was redolent of the ‘Home Service’ has taken the mantle of a social liberal activism.

It is not so much about what it says, although much of it seems to be contemptible and apologies or corrections avoided, it is what it chooses to promote as being of general interest. The mores of immature minds and political affiliations that are usually the preserve of the private individual. Its sense of self importance attached to its intrusion leads to mere front men like Andrew Marr being prosecutors in staged trials victims barked at and their purpose humbled, talked-over in an effort to what, to test their strength of their patience?

So when Mr Marr alighted on the tragedy of the recent stabbings he could castigate Johnson to the point of suggesting that the PM was an accomplice or at least an enabler! British law and the conduct of the nation are a confection brought about by the dabblings of all our political parties. They are the detritus of a few hundred years of imposition, self-aggrandisement and inconsequential diversions. That this inverted pyramid should be on one man’s head is a ridiculous sentiment, which weaponises intolerance in that a new Prime Minister whose minsterial leanings are yet to be tested should be rounded upon for the tangled misdeeds of others, sentenced with glib rhetoric and verbal assailing.

It was a lesson to us all that the victim did not respond in kind. It was instructive that instead of declining into dudgeon and ranting, so emblematic of our society, Johnson maintained his dignity and informed of what HE would do. The media used to be our servant but now propagates the story of unseen hands who probably think that it is all great sport and worthy of a close up

Michael Lynch

4th December 2019 at 8:04 pm

Extremely well put.

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