Humanity is reeling from the deaths of innocent people all over the world in houses of worship. Members of no religion seem to be immune from violence, nor can any major religion claim to be free of extremists who perpetrate hate crimes.
Many will ask what the world is coming to. In fact, these horrendous crimes against humanity are nothing new. Need we be reminded of pogroms, cross burnings, and countless other attacks on innocent people that were racially and religiously motivated?
To begin to understand what to do today, we need to ask how we responded in the past and what responses were most effective.
In an interview, former Ontario premier Bob Ray pointed out that the extremists who organized and carried out the recent attacks in Sri Lanka are no more representative of the Muslim religion than the Ku Klux Klan are representative of Christianity. The same can be said of anyone who commits hate crimes. They have nothing to do with religion and everything to do with human beings struggling with internal brokenness.
How then do we respond?
In the past, the government of the United States took strong action against the Ku Klux Klan in order to protect the rights of African Americans and other minorities. The government made their organization illegal and strictly enforced these laws. Though the organization resurfaced several times, these actions were and continue to be largely effective.
The media was also influential in diminishing the influence of the Klan. In the 1940s, several episodes of the popular series Superman were dedicated to demonizing a fictional organization that had much in common with the KKK. Recent films like the award-winning BlacKkKlansman continue to discredit this organization in the public eye.
The most profound response, however, comes from people who choose not to react with hatred and vengeance.
In response to the horrific attacks at mosques in his country, Imam Gamal Fouda stated, “This terrorist sought to tear our nation apart with an evil ideology that has torn the world apart. But instead we have shown that New Zealand is unbreakable, and that the world can see in us an example of love and unity. We are broken hearted but we are not broken. We are alive. We are together. We are determined to not let anyone divide us.”
Crimes against humanity are in essence borne out of the horrendous lie that we need to fear those who are different. When we examine this fear more deeply, we see how preposterous it is.
Immaculee Ilibagiza illustrates this point in her book about the Rwandan genocide, Left to Tell. She discusses how the accusations regarding Tutsis made on the Hutu Power radio broadcasts would have been comical had people not taken them seriously.
Discriminatory comments rarely have anything to do with truth. I recall listening to a person’s rant regarding immigrants. He said, “They expect us to take them in. If we went to their countries, would they welcome us?”
I replied, “Yes. That has always been my experience. I’ve lived in several countries and on four continents. I’ve always found people very kind and welcoming, even if I struggled to express myself in their language.”
I’d be hard pressed to think of any Canadian who did not have a similar experience.
The threat of racially, ethnically and religiously motivated terrorism will not soon disappear. We can be grateful for international law enforcement experts who work very hard to keep us safe.
At the same time, we each have our role to play in making the world more peaceful by being more peaceful ourselves. Truth is powerful in helping us to find peace, and the truth is that goodness exists in every group and in every person.
Truth also points to the most powerful force in the world. When we choose to respond with love, we can never be broken.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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