Fifty lives. Gone. Just like that. Fifty dreams and possibilities. Gone. Just like that. In a matter of minutes, in a hail of bullets, 50 people who had gone to find peace in prayer at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, were no more.
What a tragedy.
I’m trying to picture how the family members of the 50 would have felt upon learning of their deaths in such a manner; and how they would be feeling even now. Honestly, it is difficult. My pain is no where near that being felt by the family members.
I can talk about it; think about it; write about it. They… they feel it. How the tears must have flowed; how the heart must have wept.
Naturally there are expressions of shock and anger from people all over the world, particularly Muslim groups as the victims were of the Muslim faith.
This was not the first attack on a house of worship. On Oct 27 last year, for instance, a lone gunman stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, US, killing 11 congregants who had gathered to pray.
News reports and television anchors keep telling me that 50 Muslims were killed in the rampage by a lone gunman at the two mosques in Christchurch on March 15. I say that 50 human beings were killed that Friday, some of whom could have enriched this world if they had but lived.
Following the Tree of Life synagogue rampage, news reports had said the victims were Jews. They forgot to mention that the victims were human beings first.
This is probably our greatest problem: we always see Muslims being killed, Christians being killed, Hindus being killed, Americans being killed, Syrians being killed, Jews being killed, Palestinians being killed, blacks being killed.
And then we get worked up against this or that group, depending on which group we belong to. Often, we become enraged when a member of our religion or race is killed by a member of another religion or race but when a member of our religion or race kills someone else, we don’t show the same level of shock or rage. Often, we just ignore it and move on.
It’s because we don’t see, or are too obstinate to see, the human beings behind these identities, behind these social constructs that make it easier for us to handle the practicalities of living in a world of diverse nations and peoples.
And that is our greatest failure.
We are fast to see the differences but blind to the commonalities, the essence. And the essence is that we are human beings.
There have been many mass killings of human beings in recent years, including the one in Nice, France, and the one in Norway.
On July 14, 2016, a man drove a heavy-goods truck into a crowd of people celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, mowing down 86 people. Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, the 31-year-old perpetrator of the dastardly attack was a Tunisian with French residency status.
On July 22, 2011, Anders Behring Breivik massacred 77 people when he set off a car bomb in central Oslo before shooting down young people attending a camp in Utoeya, Norway.
And as I write this, news is coming in about a shooting on a tram in the Dutch town of Utrecht. Initial reports say one person is believed dead and several wounded and that Dutch police are looking for a 37-year-old man who was born in Turkey. I hope it is not someone’s answer to the Christchurch shooting.
Bouhlel, Brevik, Robert Bowers, the man charged with attacking the synagogue, and Brenton Tarrant, the alleged perpetrator of the Christchurch killings, were all fueled by hate.
There may be many reasons for hate to develop, but I believe that hate based on religion or race is predicated on difference and an inability to understand and accept that difference. So long as we continue to stress on our differences, so long as we claim that our religion or race is superior and denigrate other religions or races, we create gaps for hate to flood in.
Too often we fail to realise that just because a madman who goes on a rampage happens to be a Muslim or a white or whatever, it does not mean that all Muslims or all whites are evil or terrorists.
If we see the human rather than the Muslim or Christian or white or black or whatever, we will not be quick to jump to conclusions. I admit I may be overly optimistic about this, or be seen as oversimplifying it. Also, I’ll admit, it is easier said than done.
However, the fact that such tragedies are not everyday occurrences gives me the confidence to say that there are still many humans among us. And the fact that over RM20 million has been raised for the Christchurch shooting victims on just four online fundraising pages, much of it from non-Muslims, adds to that confidence.
Having said that, I fear that the Christchurch shooting will add to the feeling among some Muslims that they are under siege. And, sadly, some among them will use this tragedy to push the narrative that Muslims are under attack by the West or that Islam is under threat from non-Muslims to further their own agendas.
Those who are confronted by such people or such talk should look back at other similar killings and ask themselves if it is true. Let’s look at the situation with the eyes of a human being – not that of a Muslim or Christian or Hindu or Buddhist or whatever.
I believe you will agree with me that the deaths of these 50, and others before them, will not be in vain if we learn to accept differences and if we learn to see ourselves as human beings first and foremost.
While the biggest failure is our inability or refusal to see the human behind all the socio-cultural identities we wear, the greatest tragedy is that we have not matured enough, are not civilised enough, to stop killing each other over race or religion or over some other socio-cultural excuse.
Fifty lives. Gone. Just like that. But if we learn to see the human, we can save 50 lives, and more, in future.
A Kathirasen is an executive editor at FMT.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.