I feel incredibly distraught over the shootings that happened in Christchurch last night. I’m sure many others are unsettled as well. Two close friends that I was having dinner with last night said that they won’t be visiting the Melbourne CBD anytime soon (they live in the suburbs). I can relate to their sense of terror, and feeling like public spaces are not safe anymore.
If someone like me who isn’t Muslim or geographically close to Christchurch at the time of the attack, feels this disturbed, I can only imagine what my Muslim and Kiwi brothers and sisters are going through right now. Earlier today I attended a rally protesting Islamophobia in the city. Some people were weeping openly, and the sense of grief was palpable. It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like to potentially be targeted for murder solely on the basis of your religious beliefs. The acts of one person can cause so much suffering around the world.
I couldn’t help but spend a bit of time thinking about what causes people to commit acts like this. And while obviously things are complex and there aren’t simple explanations to why these incidents happen, I believe a large part of why the attack happened is because the perpetrator believed, on a fundamental level, that the people (if he even thought of them as people) he killed were different from him, and that their interests, values and goals are fundamentally at odds with his own. In the document the terrorist in question posted (I won’t go into too much detail because I am personally in two minds about whether or not the material should be read or not) went on about Islam “taking over” European/”white” lands and that being a huge issue. And that really strikes me as something that only someone who doesn’t have many friends would say. Because if you go out there and actually talk to people, especially those who ostensibly seem different from you, you realise that we are pretty much the same. We all want to be healthy. We all have dreams. We all struggle with issues. We all want to be happy. We all want to be part of a community that loves us and keeps us safe. We all want to love and be loved, and to feel like we made a difference during our short time on this planet. There are far more things we have in common with each other than the things that separate us. Your happiness is my happiness, and mine yours.
That is also to say that the shooter probably lived an incredibly isolated and painful life, so devoid of any other sources of meaning and purpose that he felt that the most important and meaningful thing he could do with his life was to shoot up a mosque full of strangers he didn’t know. This is a person with so few meaningful social connections that the only people he could discuss his plans with were anonymous strangers on message boards, and had no one else to talk to besides the faceless void he livestreamed the shooting to. Is it easy to feel compassion for this person? Probably not. But does this person still deserve compassion? Yes. My teacher in secondary school who was my public speaking coach always reminded me that people who deserve love the least need love the most. Because as much as all of us feel angry and sad and so, so exhausted, the only way we can stop cycles of violence and conflict is to empathise and understand those we perceive to be our worst enemies, for that faint glimmer of hope that they will one day return the favour. Love, peace and intimacy all require us to be vulnerable, to trust, even if that trust might sometimes be undeserved.
So yeah. Be kind to a stranger, and let them know that they are loved. Because even if it might not be obvious, our fates are so intractably linked to one another.
May you all be well.