One of Charles Dickens’ most beloved books is A Tale of Two Cities. The novel focuses on several characters, including Dr. Alexandre Manette, who was imprisoned in the Bastille in Paris, France, for 18 torturous years. His long-held desire was to join his daughter, Lucie, a brilliant physician who lived in London, England, and had long thought her father was dead.
This Dickensian tale shows there are two sides to every story. Our ability to distinguish lightness from darkness, morality from immortality and right from wrong puts us on a particular path – a personal journey that can lead to triumph or tragedy.
Today’s society is living through what could be described as a Dickensian tale of three cities. The tragedies they’ve faced, and our shared response to them, will lead us down one of two paths.
The first tale occurred in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015.
It took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. Founded in 1816, it’s America’s first independent black Christian denomination. The history of slavery, abolition and civil rights has been witnessed up and down the pews of this two-century-old structure.
Congregation members gathered that evening for a Bible study group, as they did every week, to promote faith, family and community.
They were interrupted by Dylann Roof, an unemployed 21-year-old white supremacist. He pulled out a handgun and fired at will. Nine parishioners were killed, ranging in age from 26 to 79. This included senior pastor Clementa C. Pinckney, a Democratic member of the South Carolina Senate.
Roof was ultimately captured in Shelby, N.C. His primary goal was to start a race war in his state. He pled guilty to nine counts of murder and is serving a sentence of life imprisonment for each despicable act.
The second tale occurred in Pittsburgh, Pa., on Oct. 27, 2018.
It took place at the Tree of Life-Or L’Simcha Congregation. Founded in 1953, this synagogue is in the heart of the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood. The first recorded house was built in this community in the 1760s by Ambrose Newton and, according to the 2010 census, 40 per cent of the community’s residents are Jewish.
Congregation members participated in Sabbath services being held that morning, like they did every week, to promote faith, family and community.
They were interrupted by Robert Gregory Bowers, a 46-year-old trucker reportedly attracted to white supremacy and neo-Nazism. Armed with a semi-automatic rife and three pistols, he allegedly fired at will. Eleven congregation members were killed, ranging in age from 54 to 97, and seven others were injured.
Bowers hid in the synagogue for a spell and was eventually arrested. He’s in prison and faces 63 federal charges and 36 state charges. This could lead to a sentence of up to 535 years in federal prison alone. He has pled not guilty.
The third tale occurred in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15, 2019.
It took place at the Al Noor Mosque and at the Linwood Islamic Centre. Founded in 1984-85 and 2018 respectively, they’re the first two mosques in this city named after University of Oxford’s Christ Church college. Both are classified as Sunni Islam, which represents roughly 90 per cent of the world’s Muslim population.
The worshippers at both mosques were attending Friday prayers called Jumu’ah in the early afternoon, like they did every week, to promote faith, family and community.
They were interrupted by Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a 28-year-old personal trainer from Australia who had reportedly become obsessed with attacks committed by radical Islamic terrorists. He allegedly started to fire at will at Al Noor (and live-streamed the attack on Facebook Live) before shifting to Linwood. Fifty people were killed, ranging in age from two to 71, with 36 others being treated for gunshot wounds.
Tarrant was arrested and appeared in Christchurch district court on March 16. He’s been charged with murder and will appear in high court on April 5.
What do these three tales have in common?
The shootings targeted all three major religions – Christianity, Judaism and Islam – in a span of four years. This means no one is truly safe from an assassin’s bullet.
In spite of our different religious beliefs and lineages, it’s important to continually strive to find common ground. This will ensure our cherished freedoms in the West, including religion, are protected from those who hate and wish to cause us bodily harm.
That’s the only way we can hope to achieve lightness and defeat darkness.
Troy Media columnist and political commentator Michael Taube was a speechwriter for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.