Many of you might not know that this column is written five days – sometimes six – before it appears in The Reporter.
As a result, I need to choose a topic that will still capture your minds and hearts roughly a week after it makes headlines. That’s not always easy, and it often requires extensive deliberation, thought and prayer on my part.
And, even with the deadline looming, I must find a way to put at least a little distance between the arrival of my idea and the actual writing process. On rare occasions, however, I’ll sit down and spill out what I’m feeling in the moment, because there are times when our first response ought to be the one guiding our words and actions.
This is one of those times.
I’m writing this on Friday, March 15, only a few hours after most of the world found out that 49 people died and another 48 people were injured at a pair of mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch, in what is being described by government officials as the country’s first official terror attack.
What were they doing in those mosques when a gun-toting Caucasian opened fire? They were having their regular Friday prayer gathering.
They were praying, just like the victims of the mosque shooting that happened in Quebec City 26 months ago. They were praying, just like the Bible study attendees at a South Carolina church in mid-2015. They were praying, just like anybody else has ever done in any Strait area church over the past two centuries.
That alone sickens, shocks, angers, distresses, and mortifies me. And perhaps that’s the right place to start. I don’t think I want to know anybody who would respond to news like this with a disinterested shrug, or a momentary hand-wringing that gives way to the complacency that suggests we can’t do anything to stop such horrors from unfolding.
So, yes, I’ll stick with an emotional response for now. I’ll also admit that this response might be partly motivated by an ugly Canadian connection.
Australian media reports have connected the leadership of these shootings to the already-arrested Branton Terrant, a resident of New South Wales. A Twitter account bearing his name, suspended shortly after the shootings began, featured photographs of ammunition allegedly used in the New Zealand mosque attacks. The black coverings were covered with white lettering featuring the names of others who have led violent attacks on others based on their race and/or religion. The names include Alexandre Bissonette, who shot and killed six men inside a Quebec City mosque early in 2017.
I can’t help but feel repulsed that one of Canada’s most awful moments in recent memory might have played a role in what New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, described last week as “one of New Zealand’s darkest days.” I also shudder, and shake with anger, over the anti-Muslim propaganda not only tolerated but widely shared across our supposedly-peaceful, loving and welcoming country.
“Oh, that’s just Facebook,” some might say. Of course. It’s just social media.
Was it “just social media” when, according to police and media reports, Terrant live-streamed the deadly rampage at the two Christchurch mosques on Facebook Live? According to the 74-page manifesto police found there, Terrant didn’t expect to survive his terror plot; which, from where I sit in my nice comfortable chair, suggests to me that he wanted to plant the seeds of white supremacy in New Zealand and spark a wave of similar violence around the world. He didn’t plan to outlive it. He just wanted to launch it.
I thought it couldn’t get worse. And then I found the Twitter account of American right-wing commentator Candace Owens (official description: “Black People Don’t Have To Be Democrat”), who is specifically highlighted in Terrant’s manifesto as being the person who influenced him “above all.”
In the face of a world-reaching tragedy that even drew sincere condolences from Donald Trump, Owens posted three consecutive tweets accusing “racist leftists” of blaming her for the Christchurch attacks. The first contained two “LOLs” and a “laughing-so-hard-I’m crying” emoji, the second began with “HAHA OMG” and the third declared that any media attempting to link her to the shootings had “better lawyer the [expletive] up…Try me.”
Compassion? Pity? Tact? Why bother with any of that, when there’s an agenda to follow?
So, yes, there’s a lot about this that repulses and horrifies me as I try to digest all of this. But sometimes that’s what we need in a case like the Christchurch shootings. We can’t forget how we react, as human beings, to headlines like this.
After all, our reactions “in the moment” could be the first step in leading to better, safer, more peaceful moments for our brothers and sisters around the world.