Lessons in Dignity from the New Zealand Tragedy

The Silver Lining

Friday,  March 15,  2019 will ever be infamous for the 50 people recklessly gunned down by a hate-filled, racist, anti-Muslim extremist. It is the height of irony that this heinous attack took place in the city of Christchurch; a city that bears the noble name of “Christ”, the Prince of Peace and “church” a sanctuary for worship. There can hardly be a more diabolical act than the massacre of peaceful women, men, and children in prayer at a place of worship; a most despicable act of terrorism cold-bloodedly executed; motivated by blind hatred and barbaric bigotry.

Whatever hate the callous killer intended to trigger, the reaction has been quite the opposite. The New Zealand Parliament opened with a recitation of the Qur’an for the first time in its history, and the national moment of silence in honor of the deceased was performed by adhaan broadcast live on National TV, Radio, and at every Mosque around New Zealand at the time of Friday prayers. The Kiwi people went in thousands to parks and beaches with messages, art work, flowers, candles to show they stand with the Muslim community and they raised over $9 million for the bereaving families; while the New Zealand government pledged to provide all the funeral costs and to see to the needs of the affected families.

The New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern showed remarkable strength of leadership, calling it a terrorist attack, though the attacker was “white.” She refused to mention his name, rather focusing on empathizing with the victims. She personally visited every Muslim family affected by the tragedy to express sympathy, providing love and support; all the while donned in hijab. She is indeed an inspiring example of empathetic leadership; kind, considerate, caring; acting with immediacy and despite a backdrop of terror, she managed to unite and inspire her people with dignity and courage; saying what she means and doing what she promises. Her voice echoed, and in some way directed, the sentiments of her citizens. Her focus was building bridges and breaking down barriers, resolving conflict rather than escalating clashes, offering optimism rather than pessimism, harmonizing rather than polarizing. So, instead of fear and hate, the New Zealanders and their leader have responded with courage and compassion; winning a special place in the hearts of 1.8 billion Muslims all over the world.

This hateful atrocity in Christchurch brings to attention our strengths and our deficiencies. It reminds us of our collective vulnerability as a human society and it proves, once again, that terrorism has no color, nationality or creed. Terrorism is rather a reflection of brutal, dogmatic, intolerance arising from a self-righteous mentality that arrogates “being right” to itself and undermines and dehumanize those “others” who differ; using such sanctimonious attitudes to justify and rationalize the attacking or killing of innocent people. Well, those who died were taken from us on the best of days at the best of times doing the best of acts in the best of places; Friday - at jumu’ah - while praying - in the masjid.

We note that this tragedy, like all tragedies, carries a tremendous power within it. Power to cause grief, to cause mourning and to cause sadness. It also carries power to cause cooperation, reflection, and introspection, as well as power to cause change. Look at the outpouring of empathy from so many people; instead of diving people through hate, people have come together in sympathy. Though we cannot undo the tragedy, we can and must reflect upon its lessons.

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