Analysis

The Killings in Christchurch Mosques

No religion or culture or country is exempt from evil that men do to each other.
18 Mar 2019 17:31
The Killings in Christchurch Mosques
Officers from the New Zealand Armed Offenders Squad after the shooting in Chirstchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019.

Analysis: 

Friday, March 15, cast a terribly devastating shadow across our immediate region.

Call it the Ides of March, the Darkest Day, Black Friday: Nothing captures the immense tragedy  of this deadliest attack in a place of worship for a community in Christchurch.

The assassins had their day.

Christchurch: How aptly and ironically the city of such diversity and beauty is named.

The citizens of this city, so named, suffered their massive natural tragedies in recent years.

But one accepts natural disasters: It’s the man-made ones that are unacceptable.

Of course, one hears and sees acts of terrorism in so many parts of our wounded world: Often one has to turn off the television set to bear the unbearable.

Man’s inhumanity to man can drive you to madness.

One may console oneself that these horrors happened far from our shores in the South Pacific.

People in New York believed such things until the twin towers were demolished.

This tragedy must shake us all in our beliefs that one’s security is guaranteed: There’s no such thing.

In this latest appalling episode, its main perpetrator is an Australian.

Terrorism has no religion; evil has no borders. It exists in so many of our fellow men. And especially men with many faces and ideological colourings.

It’s everywhere. Just like goodness too.

Those policemen and individuals who ran to protect and save the dying, those paramedics and nurses who rushed them to hospitals and those who confronted the gunmen are also men and women, ordinary like us, showing extraordinary courage in the most traumatic circumstances.

As I’m scribbling this: Reports indicate that 50 people are dead; 39 are injured; 11 of them seriously.

The death toll will rise as days go by and this massive, murderous tragedy will slowly sink into the depths of a nation’s harrowed soul.

The sorrow, shame and sadness will linger on long after worshippers begin to say their prayers again in their faithful tones in the same mosques.

The callous killings in Christchurch is particularly poignant and heart-rending: People — Children, women and men — had gone to offer their usual Friday prayers.

Being together, sharing the words of their God, gave them a fellow feeling: when everything fails, we all believe in grace — God’s or nature’s or one’s neighbour’s.

How else does one survive on the roads, in flights, in fires and floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, or while walking or playing with children in the parks?

And whenever one hears of a tragedy, one  whispers to oneself: But for the grace of God there go I.

For you realise it can happen to anyone, at any time, at any place.

If there are a billion ways of living; there are as many ways of dying.

What saddens me most profoundly is that in a place of worship, this murderous tragedy was enacted with such callous brutality and a casual intensity.

And that it happened in our region, so close to our daily consciousness.

One, of course, reads daily of terrorist acts in so many regions of our one and only world.

Mother Earth groans under the tyranny of tyrants, extremism of racist and religious fanatics: The catastrophic climate changes are one extreme expression of this pervading banality of evil.

That this most recent tragedy happened only two days ago in Christchurch adds a very special edge of grief to our minds and hearts.

These acts are no longer out of sight, therefore, out of mind.

They are touching our shores, our lives, our places of worship.

I’ve always believed that Australasia  — Fiji, the island-nations of the South Pacific, New Zealand and the Australian East Coast all washed by the Pacific Ocean — was a region that was blessed  in some special way.

And we were blessed to be born and living in it, sharing a common destiny in the largest ocean.

For me, despite the Fijian coups of 1987, the many hurricanes and cyclones of childhood and youth, this was the most hospitable region for the displaced people of our archipelago.

There was something deeply benign about it despite its scarred historical evolution.

And no country had been more hospitable or generous to the dispossessed Fijians than New Zealand.

Recently I’ve been to New Zealand twice: Once for a birthday party, once for a funeral; Next month I’ll be there for a wedding in the family.

It’s a place I love visiting with my wife to meet so many familiar faces, with familial bonds and welcoming voices.

I felt happy to be in Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and once even went to Christchurch for a conference, although I never studied or taught there.

No matter where I travelled, I always said this Australasian region was the most peaceful in the world.

But the world changes, even if one’s faith remains steady and stubborn. Like a lighthouse in a stormy night.

Seeing prime minister Jacinda Ardern, a fresh voice in national and international politics, one felt the anguish of a compassionate and caring leader from under whom the ground had shifted by the actions of a couple of mad, murderous individuals.

And the reassuring words of the Police Commissioner, Mike Bush, may give hope to many that they are safe in their country.

But the words, gun laws, and sharing of grief, will not give us the consolation of restoration of that shattered past of yesterday.

The dead are truly dead: 50 of them shot by the most modern weapons, one barely two years old.

The killers were not on any watch list. But they were radicalised by extremism and hate speech.

The roots of these evil acts go deep in our environment and in the utterances of many amidst us.

And who, you may well ask, are the terrorists in Christchurch?

No religion has a monopoly on evil: It lives among us and stalks our daily routine. From Melbourne to Sydney, Suva to  Christchurch, we’ve experienced the ugliness of men, mainly men, who damage, destroy our emerging civilisations.

Our faith in the decency of fellow men and women.

As the tragedy unfolded in the mosques, I was reading a most moving book No Friends But the Mountains, published last year, by an asylum seeker poet, Behrouz Boochani, who has lived on Manus island for more than five years.

He witnessed the horrors of self-immolation among people who had made their desperate journeys from many war-torn and terrorised territories.

They’ve been constantly dehumanise and demonise by so many in our society who should know and understand better the plight of these unfortunate people.

The book is a harrowing account of the survival of the weakest.

Luckily in Australia there are voices raised against this inhumanity. One such voice is that of Australia’s foremost contemporary writer Richard Flanagan.

Flanagan, in his foreword, talks about the prison islands  of Manus and Nauru in “situations of prolonged duress, torment, and suffering, the very existence of this book is a miracle of courage and creative tenacity. It was not written on paper or a computer, but thumbed on a phone and smuggled out of Manus Island in the form of thousand of text messages”.

“For one thing his jailers could not destroy in Behrouz Boochani was his belief in words: Their beauty, their necessity, their possibility, their liberating power.”

And what are our sacred scriptures but words, whether divinely inspired or composed by a group of men.

As the men were shooting innocent worshippers in the two mosques, I was trying to write a piece on Mahatma Gandhi: His glory, his grief and his global message of peace, love and the creative challenges and our humane capacity to live together believing in non-violence in a preposterously violent world.

Gandhi’s times were more demanding and difficult. Next month is the commemoration of the centenary of the Jalianwallabagh massacre.

But his unshakable belief in his God and fellowmen never faltered, even as his breath became air  on that cold winter evening in New Delhi. Falling, he uttered  two words and passed into immortality.

But this great soul,who never raised a finger or his voice in anger, wrote more than most with his hand. When you read his words, millions of them in a variety of texts, there’s only love for the Other, never hatred.

As the tragedy in Christchurch showed: For every evil act, there are numerous actions of the just and honest citizens in our region.

But there are also ugly voices in our part of the region that incite feelings of great hostility and hatred — and it is heard from Parliament to the pulpit.

It’s often mistaken for “freedom of speech and religion”.

Guns are not the only weapons: Words, too, can be used lethally to kill, maim, halt and blind.

  • Satendra Nandan’s book Gandhianjali will be published on October 2.

 

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