My deepest condolences to all my Muslim readers: if there are any words of comfort possible I offer them to you.
Another day, another terror attack. This time in New Zealand, one of the most peaceful, serene nations in the world. The last major gun violence there was a massacre committed by a mentally disturbed man…in 1992. The country’s prime minister is a woman the world adores. Unlike Australia it welcomes migrants and refugees and does so unashamedly.
In fact, my suspicion is that New Zealand was chosen as the target precisely for this reason. It is a shining light among western democracies. It is open, humane and tolerant. If you were seeking to mount a white supremacist revolution, what better place to strike than in such a heartland of diversity?
The ring leader of the conspiracy appears to be an Australian who came to New Zealand at least in part to orchestrate this attack. One might argue that it is precisely the rhetoric of Australian Islamophobes and xenophobes leading the national government, who put thousands of refugees in concentration camps, which produced this massacre.
Christchurch shows that no nation is immune. That there is murderous hate everywhere, even in the most tranquil environs. Unlike the U.S., where our president “addressed” a similar attack against a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh with silence, New Zealand’s premier, Jacinda Ardern spoke strongly and decisively about the killings. She affirmed that Muslims and refugees in general are welcome in her country. That they are “home” there. And that the killers are not. They were words sorely lacking after the Pittsburgh Tree of Life pogrom.
Make no mistake: while national leaders don’t necessarily create mass murderers or terrorists, their response to them plays a critical role in their perception within society. If a prime minister makes clear that her country will root out killers, bring them to justice, and ensure these acts will never happen again, that speaks volumes to those tempted to fall prey to these aberrant views. When another leader sits in his bathrobe enjoying hamburgers when he hears similar news; when the suffering community tells him he’s not wanted in its midst; when his views themselves are implicated in inspiring the violence; all this fosters an atmosphere promoting even more, and even worse violence.
That’s why the recent case of the Coast Guard officer who amassed a huge killing arsenal along with a list of targets of Democrats he wanted to eliminate in order to bring the world to an end, is so frightening. You can’t stop every one of these lunatics. One of them, one time will go undetected and unleash his hate upon the world. When that happens the victims may be Jews, they may be Muslims, they may be African-Americans. But one thing you can be sure of: our president will do or say practically nothing because he himself is implicated. He knows in his heart of hearts that the views of the killers are ones he approves (though he might not agree with wielding an arsenal and unleashing it on the offending parties).
UPDATE (following paragraph): When I first published this post, the PM had not used the word “terror” to describe the attack. Since then, she has used the word explicitly.
Another disturbing aspect of this massacre is that neither New Zealand’s prime minister nor its police have used the word “terrorism.” Why, when an Islamist attacks is it immediately branded “terror;” but when a neo-Nazi murders it’s simply called “an attack?” Is it because “we,” the privileged, accord ourselves the right to be terror victims? But we deny that right to “them,” the other, who is somehow less–the outsider?
The Talmud warns that if forced to choose between taking someone else’s life and being killed yourself, no Jew may choose to kill another:
…A person who approached Rabba with the following question:
“The ruler of my village came to me and said ‘kill that person, and if you do not then I will kill you.’ Can I follow his order so that I will be able to save myself?”
“Allow yourself to be killed, but you may not kill another. Who says that your blood is redder than his? Perhaps his blood is redder than yours.”
How have “we” become different or better than Muslims? Our religions may be different. Our languages may be different. Our skin color may be different. But the same blood flows through our veins. Ours is no redder than theirs. Why do we deserve to be terror victims, while they are simply victims? This is not a speculative or theoretical question. It very much goes to the heart of the matter. If we cannot conceive of Muslims as victims of terror, then we are setting the stage for more massacres in the future. Until we treat each of us the same, and accord each of us profound respect as human beings regardless of religion or race, these abhorrent tragedies will continue.
The killers, whether neo-Nazis or ISIS, want to divide us into good and bad. They want to rid the world of the bad. The only message to offer in rejoinder is that there is no division between us. Such tolerance, especially if it takes root deeply in society, will eventually suck the oxygen out of the nether world of white supremacist and Islamist hate.