The following is a personal reflection on the week that has passed. It is – of course – so very difficult to comprehend the bloody horror that erupted in Christchurch on March 15. Waves of shock, disbelief, anger, sadness are rolling through our communities as we all struggle to make sense of this event. Those of us at the edge can only imagine the unfolding grief of those at the centre who have lost friends and kin. There are no adequate words still. Perhaps there never will be. Aroha mai.
However, individually and collectively we are compelled to search for ways to process what has happened. Clearly responsibility for this act of mass killing rests with the shooter who pulled the semi-automatic trigger but as social workers we know that vicious acts are enabled by surrounding context. The consuming hatred of Islam, of people who are seen to be different, that this act of murder represents, is indeed terrifying. Does the insecurity of the human condition drive us to objectify and demonise difference in order to affirm a self-righteous identity?
The ideals of multicultural liberal tolerance are in retreat globally. We need only look to the divisive Trump administration, the racist drivers of the Brexit debacle and the rise of the alternative right across Europe. Populist politicians the world over have stoked the fires of irrational hostility. They have incited fear of Islam, fear of immigrants, fear of the other for selfish political and economic gain. This is something we can see and hear and act upon – something we can influence. And in that sense perhaps we are at a beginning point. Have we had enough of the diet of ignorance and prejudice which is pedalled to us?
As a society we can embrace both difference and our common human identity. In its bones social work is about inclusion. This does not mean that social workers must (or should) accept imbalances of power, social opportunities and outcomes. Part of having an open society is the capacity for dissent. We need to struggle against manufactured prejudice toward all those who are made ‘other’. We also need to recognise that economic exploitation is not simply another form of difference to be embraced. Open societies are more likely to close when they are unequal.
These are battles for hearts and minds that cannot be fought with guns and they are battles for the near future. For now our profound sorrow comes first. I’d like to end this reflection by recognising the beauty, humility and generosity of the Islamic world. You can hear and feel it in the call to prayer. Something in the aura of a crescent moon above a mosque on a warm still night suspends our sense of time. The outpouring and soul-searching, the dialogue we are beginning, can fuel a better way of living as vulnerable beings who share a fragile world.
Image credit: Edna St Vincent Millay