On Easter Sunday while, the world over, excited children searched for hidden easter eggs, a bomb exploded in a busy public park in Lahore, Pakistan, killing 72 and injuring over 350 others. 24 of the deaths were children. The Taliban claimed responsibility: the atrocity was deliberately aimed at christians celebrating easter.
What sort of a world do we live in?
That a human being would attack innocent people thus is incomprehensible in terms other than the demonic. It is a surfeit of evil, a radical evil.
I remember a scene from the 1986 film “The Mission” set against the backdrop of the Treaty of Madrid in 1750. Don Hontar commenting on a recent massacre of indigenous people in the Paraguayan jungle, says with a weary fatalism,”The world is thus”. Cardinal Altamirano corrects him: “No, thus have we made the world. Thus have I made it” – a powerful rejoinder that admits culpability as well as a responsibility to do good and not harm.
Easter Sunday is the day on which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, saviour of the world, who came to reconcile man to God and all men to each other in love – regardless of race or creed. And yet this evil act that left innocent men, women and children dead and mutilated speaks more of crucifixion than of resurrection.
“We all receive the gift of innocence from God in childhood yet everywhere we see innocence crucified” – Patricia de Menezes
I find it difficult to see resurrection in this world – at least in the affairs of men.
Perhaps, as the gospels say, the kingdom of God is hidden, and we need the vision of faith to apprehend it. Sometimes, the darkness seems to overwhelm the light. Saint John’s Gospel says, “ The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” and yet everywhere one looks around the world, in the media, and reaching back through time, it seems darkness has spread it’s suffocating wings across the world like some huge maleficent bird.
In response to the attack Pakistan’s Prime minister said,”We are keeping count of every drop of the blood of our martyrs. We will not rest until the cost of this blood is avenged.“
And his anger is understandable: the murderers must be brought to book.
But in these words there is an ominous intimation of more bloodshed to come: We will not rest until the cost of this blood is avenged.
This need to avenge is but one more nail hammered into the cross. Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind” – the cycle of vengeance is self-perpetuating, each act of vengeance justifying and precipitating the next. This is not to avow some spineless pacifism, but to affirm a position of restrained, stoical strength – to limit our own thirst for blood. Is justice possible without vengeance? I don’t know. Our call for justice – and the necessary tracking down of our enemy – must be tempered with an attitude of self-discipline and grim resolve which disavows the frenzied baying for blood. Or there will be even more Lahores, and the blood that already flows from the wounds of a crucified world will not abate.
Reading again the news reports of the Lahore bombing, I felt the sense of powerlessness and despondent fatalism expressed in Don Hontar’s words. So many crimes, so many atrocities, too little justice. I find myself easily withdrawing into the pessimism of Ecclesiastes as a final defense against the horror. What if it were me who had lost my family in this massacre? What if I had witnessed the dismembered bodies of innocents in that park on Easter Sunday? How would I even begin to process this? How is a child who has witnessed such carnage to cope? And yet reading the article I am conscious of the disquieting, hermetic distance between myself and the event – a tragedy far away, read about on the small, impermanent pixels of a mobile phone hurts less than a minor inconvenience close at hand. But as I imagine myself seeking my own child amongst the bloody bodies of Gulshan-e-Iqbal park, I am overcome by the horror of it.
But there is another aspect to this massacre which must be faced: the lies and hypocrisies which surround the dialectic of terror. Without seeking to justify the atrocity – we must ask what acts of our own spawn such evil?
“Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.” Noam Chomsky
I will quote in full from The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism:
“A secret document obtained by the Bureau reveals for the first time the Pakistan government’s internal assessment of dozens of drone strikes, and shows scores of civilian casualties. The United States has consistently claimed only a tiny number of non-combatants have been killed in drone attacks in Pakistan – despite research by the Bureau and others suggesting that over 400 civilians may have died in the nine-year campaign.
The internal document shows Pakistani officials too found that CIA drone strikes were killing a significant number of civilians – and have been aware of those deaths for many years. Of 746 people listed as killed in the drone strikes outlined in the document, at least 147 of the dead are clearly stated to be civilian victims, 94 of those are said to be children. The confidential 12-page summary paper, titled Details of Attacks by Nato Forces/Predators in FATA was prepared by government officials in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
The deadliest attack killed more than 40 people – including 22 children and 12 women – when a Tomahawk cruise missile fired from a naval vessel ploughed into the village of al-Majala on December 17, 2009.”
The nightmare of drone strikes killing innocent civilians is just as heinous a crime as any suicide bomber’s act of cowardice. Noam Chomsky writes,
“The word ‘terrorism’ has a meaning, it is defined in the US and international law and so on. But that’s not the definition we are allowed to use. We use the word terrorism in a way which means there’s terrorism against us but not our terrorism against them. That’s not terrorism. So for example, if we use the word “terrorism” in its literal meaning, the most extreme terrorist operation in the world today would be Obama’s global assassination campaign, the drone campaign.”
We could get into a lengthy philosophical debate about just wars and moral equivalence – but what difference does that make to a mother holding her dead child in her arms?
As the self-righteous aggressors in this conflict trade accusations and hide behind lies, vehement denials of wrong-doing and euphemisms to excuse their own acts of violence, I wonder where God is in all this – other than in the corrupted religious vocabulary of extremists and reactionaries.
Then I realise Christ is there: in the bloody park in Lahore, lying amongst the mangled corpses. He lies dismembered in the dust of some arid tribal backwater in Afghanistan, amongst the torn bodies of children.