Evil took the spotlight again last week.
A gunman violated the distant, small, quiet country of New Zealand and murdered 49 people engaged in worship. Another soul has died since then, raising the death toll to 50. Many others were hospitalized. The gunman “live-streamed,” i.e. filmed and broadcast, his activities online via Facebook. He prepared for death, wearing a helmet outfitted with a camera and a bulletproof vest. That miscreant went into mosques with the intent to kill. Tragically he succeeded.
I cannot find words to write. I sit stilled.
I deplore this act of heinous evil, perpetrated by one actor, leaving desolate so many families, a country, and a faith community. Massacred. My heart reaches out to the families, the ones left behind. My sympathy goes to New Zealand which I thought of more so as a tranquil backwater. They have sadly joined the front-page suffering of the world elsewhere.
Only a short while ago my hometown community, Pittsburgh, suffered such a blow. Prayers were offered around the world. We feel with you, our human brothers and sisters. Today we are not Muslim, or Christian, or Jew but people, all formed in the image of G-d. When I learned the news, I cried. It resonated too closely.
What is it about the lone actor that tugs at me and pulls me down into the darkness? So I ask: am I hypocritical? Or numb? Sometimes I wonder if I am allowed to feel this level of grief because I hear today’s news of ongoing violence and tragedies elsewhere… and react very little, feel much less sorrow.
- 59 homicides in the City of Baltimore have been reported to date in 2019.(1)
- “Syria’s war entered its ninth year on Friday,” killing a half million people, displacing more than 6 million, and causing more than 5 million to flee the country. (2)
- Today, “[d]ozens of Uighur and Han Chinese civilians were killed or hurt” by a knife-wielding gang who attacked a police station in China’s Xinjiang region.(3)
- “At least 39 people had died” in attacks during elections in Nigeria in February 2019. (4)
- “20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines”(5)
The Charlie Hebdo slaughter evoked my tears. The uncertainty of whereabouts and the unravelling of the murders of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar, the three boys who were kidnapped and slain by Hamas terrorists in 2014 gripped at my heart.(6) The rape and murder of Israeli teen, Ori Ansbacher, by a Palestinian seated me, stunned.(7) I’m aware that I’m listing tragedies perpetrated on Jews here. They are my family. It’s personal.
That doesn’t make me immune to the suffering of others, however. No matter how I relate that I am numb, unfeeling, my soul diminishes daily with each attack.
Maybe the 3,212 of Baltimore’s murders recorded to date since 2007, mass slaughter, and war casualties don’t affect me because they are BIG and DISTANT. Growing up in the Vietnam War era, we watched nightly newscasts at the dinner table, the daily body count tallied on the small black and white television screen parked at the end of the table. I didn’t know where Hue was, but the Tet Offensive was not just history; it was background reality.
I pray that evil does not become the background reality that today’s children grow up with. I pray that New Zealand pulls through. Most of all, I pray that evil will be vanquished from this earth.
1. Baltimore Homicides, The Baltimore Sun, retrieved 18 March 2019.
2. FACTBOX-Nine facts about Syria as fresh violence marks ninth year of war, 15 March 2019.
3. China Xinjiang: Violence ‘kills or injures dozens’, 30 July 2014.
4. Nigeria Votes for Second Day in Election Marred by Deadly Violence, 25 February 2019.
5. 20 dead, 111 hurt in January bombing at Catholic cathedral in Philippines, updated 17 March 2019.
6. Mastermind of Teens’ Murders Given 3 Life Sentences, 1 June 2015.
7. Palestinian charged with rape and murder of Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher, 7 March 2019.