John Walker's Electronic House

Cameron Proclaims: No Sympathy

by on Jul.15, 2010, under The Rest

It has been decreed by our Prime Minister that no one should feel sympathy for Raoul Moat. In a comment made in Prime Minister’s Questions today, he said:

“As far as I can see, it is absolutely clear, that Raoul Moat is a callous murderer. Full stop, end of story. And I cannot understand any wave, however small, of public sympathy for this man. There should be sympathy for his victims, and for the havoc he wreaked in that community. There should be no sympathy for him.”

Just to be clear, obviously Moat’s crimes were terrible. And his victims of course deserve abundant sympathy. The “wave of public sympathy” to which Cameron refers is the much publicised, and obviously ludicrous, Facebook groups in which people are supporting Moat as a hero. No matter what the circumstances of someone’s life, perhaps it’s reasonable to suggest that at the point they start murdering people one should cross them off the hero list. Unless they’re Batman.

However, the idea that in not supporting/endorsing a murderer’s actions one must backflip to the opposite extreme, and exhibit no sympathy at all, is quite extraordinary. It is, in fact, inhuman.

Whether Moat became so awful after an idyllic or abusive childhood and life isn’t really relevant. Although the chances are that someone who was so frequently in trouble with the police, someone capable of assaulting children, someone whose response to a girlfriend’s leaving him is to attempt to murder her and her new partner, did not have a great life. People don’t wake up one morning and think, “I’ll be evil from now on. Muah ha ha.” But of course many people have shitty lives, and they certainly don’t go on to be the sort of person Moat was. Nothing, at any point, excuses such actions by an adult. Other than, of course, mental illness.

But why does any of this exclude Moat from sympathy? He certainly has my sympathy. To be so broken, so damaged, so pathetic – that earns my sympathy.

I don’t doubt for a moment that Moat could have been quite a different person if given a different life. It appears even he was conscious of this, the latest stories revealing his own denied requests for a psychiatrist. He told social workers,

“The more you block things out, the more numb you become in the heart you know. You get to a point where happiness to you is just like, you know, neither here nor there.”

I feel sympathy for him for having felt this way.

The most remarkable thing to come out of the Moat story has been the response from the policeman who was shot. David Rathband, likely to be permanently blind after being shot in the face, said something extraordinary.

“I bear no malice towards the man who shot me, but now wish to move on with my life.”

To have this response highlights the grotesque nature of Cameron’s remark.

It’s much easier to demonise a murderer than to consider them a human. To cast them as a one-dimensional monster lets us feel much safer about ourselves. To consider otherwise is to consider that it could have been us. Because, of course, it could have.

To reject sympathy is so horribly dangerous. Perhaps it’s partly because so many people conflate sympathy with endorsing something. Anyone suggesting that Moat’s actions were in any way valid is clearly ridiculous. But to sympathise has nothing to do with such suggestions. It is, instead, to recognise Moat as another human being. When we stop recognising people as human beings we enter into a dark and dangerous territory. One our Prime Minister is suggesting we should all be in.


13 Comments for this entry

  • The Hammer

    Thanks for posting this, John. I feel exactly the same way. At some point Moat’s emotions became vulnerable enough for thoughts of violent vengeance to treacle in. He was obviously not a happy man – he was upset, he felt his life was terrible and hardly worth living, and he was obviously very scared indeed of being lied about (judging by the threats he made towards members of the public after the media “lied” about his personal life).

    To hear Cameron, our Prime Minister and leader, say that this man deserves no sympathy makes me fret. It doesn’t speak highly of the social justice that we’ll experience under Tory-Lib Dem rule. Cameron, from his pampered upbringing and affluent, secure lifestyle seemingly does not have the empathy required to relate to the people in this country who are less well-educated, with less social and financial security, and with fewer prospects.

    This is the roll-up-your-sleeves-and-sort-the-country-out-our-way ideology that was always going to happen.

  • Skusey

    The statement from the policeman reminds me of the slightly less recent shootings, where one of the victims was a friend of the gunman. When interviewed he just talked about how nice his friend was and how he wanted to remember him for that, and not the shootings. I’m glad that in both of these events some people have been so sympathetic.

    Although I understand what Cameron was saying, and expect most people to react that way.

  • Alex

    I think it’s the same at the other end of the spectrum, when people blame the victim. If someone had it ‘coming’, if it was their own fault, then the virtuous types have nothing to fear because they could never end up in that kind of situation.

    If you dismiss someone as evil or deserving of punishment it’s a lot easier to just put them in a box and stop thinking about why something happened.

  • coyote

    I completely agree with this article except for one thing: Batman doesn’t kill

  • James Campbell

    Excellent post – I was worried when I clicked on the link that it would simply be furious anti-Tory stuff (not that that’s inherently wrong of course…) but you said exactly what I wanted to about Cameron’s comments – so much so that I’m go to say to people who don’t read your blog!

    Also, batman has been know to kill people, no matter how much later writers might like to pretend he hasn’t.

  • Ian

    I suspect for many the knowledge that he’d actively requested help won’t help them sympathise. It’ll be painted as “Well why didn’t he try harder”, “why didn’t he try and arrange some for himself”, etc. It makes it seem as though he was far more in control of his actions than he possibly was, makes the “war” he’d supposedly declared look even worse.

    @ The Hammer: There’ll be thousands and millions of people living on council estates who also think Raoul Moat is deserving of no sympathy. I don’t think “David Cameron’s a cold-hearted bastard because he’s rich” is a particularly fair assessment. If he’s a cunt it’s just because he’s a cunt.

  • Xercies

    I think going to jail, finding your girlfriend is with another bloke, there using the house you used to live in and you can’t go back to them would turn anyone funny. But even more so if your a troubled person like Moat.

    We should feel sympathy for him, we should realise why he did it. Just saying hes a monster is 2 dimensional thinking and it really really does not help and actually worsens it. if you thhink anyone who kills is a monster you have no hope.

    i think there are people who are troubled and well the punishments we have don’t really work to these people. But I guess thats another really big argument.

  • The Sombrero Kid

    No Sympathy is the absence of extremism, it’s indifference and tbh at the risk of defending a smiley weasel of a man i don’t think what David Cameron said was particularly out of order, it was not decree as you put it.

    I wouldn’t presume to say no one should have sympathy for someone else but I personally feel little to no sympathy for people who are weak in the way Raoul Moat was weak, the fact that i can’t empathise with a man does not mean i wish him ill will and to Sympathise is absolutely to excuse, it’s to reduce free will as a component of behavior.

    It’s important to remember that the views of David Cameron and the Policeman are not mutually exclusive, it’s likely they both share the same opinion but coming from 2 different perspectives they verbalised it differently.

  • Rebecca

    Sympathizing with the weak isn’t to excuse their actions, but to recognize that weakness in ourselves. Recognizing that weakness in ourselves doesn’t make us murderers, or make Raul Moat less guilty of murder. It’s recognizing our need for grace, from God, from our friends, our family, our fellow humans that enables us to extend grace to others. Some people, even when extended grace, will still commit horrible acts: they are the most in need of grace. Others, on receiving grace, may find peace in turmoil and strength in weakness.

  • Iain

    Could Cameron have said anything else?

    I have to say, I’m not feeling a lot of sympathy for Moat right now. He deserves some, but not as much as this policeman.

  • El Stevo

    John, I had exactly the same thoughts when I read Cameron’s comment. I think I am going to consider you an ally.

  • Kieron Gillen

    Batman doesn’t kill!


  • Ian

    Rappers do!