Following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand on 15th March 2019 where fifty people were killed, Australian author, speaker and social activist Dave Andrews wrote these words.
“It is not enough to condemn the attacks, we need to deal with the underlying attitudes in our culture that aid and abet these attacks.” Dave Andrews — Australian author, speaker and social activist.
When I was last in Christchurch, I went to the Masjid Al Noor for Friday prayers, sat at the back on a chair and prayed with the older believers, who were specially targeted and systematically slaughtered by Brenton Tarrant.
I did not know till yesterday whether my friend, Hajj Ibrahim Abdelhalim, who is the Imam of the Linwood Mosque, was alive or dead. Yesterday I got the news Hajj Ibrahim Abdelhalim was leading Friday prayers at the Linwood Mosque, when Brenton Tarrant attacked. In the gunfire that followed, Tarrant missed Ibrahim but shot his wife. Fortunately, she was only wounded in her arm, and after treatment, she has been able to return home. Tragically ten others in the mosque will never go home again.
It seems to me that we Australians must admit there has always been strains of intolerance and violence lurking just beneath the surface of our civilisation that have erupted in breathtaking acts of bigotry and brutality from time to time — whether it’s killing Aboriginal peoples to take their land or killing Chinese labourers to stop them ‘taking our gold’ or killing Muslims for daring to immigrate to ‘our country’.
We need to acknowledge our propensity for intolerance and our proclivity for violence and the fact that, given those factors, we cannot continue to sow seeds of animosity without reaping atrocities, such as this, committed by the extremists among us.
It is not enough to condemn the attacks, we need to deal with the underlying attitudes in our culture that aid and abet these attacks. How can we deal with our propensity for intolerance and our proclivity for violence that lead to atrocities such as these?
After the holocaust the Jews did a study of Germans, whom they called ‘Righteous Gentiles’, who effectively resisted the intolerance and violence unleashed under the Nazis, and found that they had three characteristics in common that made all the difference:
1. they were brought up in families that nurtured their emotional capacity for empathy towards others, or what we call ‘love’
2. they were taught at school and/or church to have an intellectual commitment to the rights of others, what we call ‘justice’
3. they all knew Jews personally, not as abstractions, but as flesh and blood people, as colleagues, relatives and ‘friends’
Security may track threats. Police may arrest perpetrators. But there is no quick fix. No short cut. If we want to create a culture in our country that resists the current Islamophobia, we need to encourage everybody we know, in every way we can, to develop their emotional capacity for empathy towards Muslims, their intellectual commitment to the rights of Muslims, and their personal relationships with Muslim friends.
On Saturday I took flowers to my local mosque; on Sunday I joined hundreds of people at a prayer service at the Qld Islamic College; and today I'm meeting with Muslim leaders to explore long term, pro-active strategies to nurture constructive inter-communal relationships.
The work for peace and justice never ends.
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Amos Trust’s thoughts are with all those who continue to be affected by the events in Christchurch on Friday 15th March 2019.