The barbarism of the perpetrator and the goodness of the healer came across explicitly in the horrific murders of 50 worshippers in adjoining mosques last Friday in Christchurch, New Zealand. Brenton Harrison Tarrant, 28, born in Australia, conducted the mass murders live on social media, filming it on a camera fixed on his head while it streamed the gory sight in real time on Facebook and replayed multiple times on YouTube.
The unhinged white supremacist crowd would be proud of him while the rest of humanity felt devastated by the spread of a destructive ideology spewing hate and violence against people of colour and other religions. In this carnage what also stood out was the sheer humanness of Prime Minister Jacinda Arden. She was shattered the horrific crime should take place in a peaceable country like New Zealand, calling it the country’s darkest day. “…many of the victims could be migrants or refugees — New Zealand is their home — they are us.”
But the gunman who had sprayed bullets from his automatic weapons seemed unrepentant. He made a white-supremacist sign when brought to the court in handcuffs. The 74-page manifesto which he posted on social media and streamed live along with the shooting of innocent worshippers was littered with conspiracy theories, Islamophobic scenarios, justifications for reprisals against Muslim atrocities and was a mish-mash of crazy thoughts warning of replacement of white Christians by others.
Before the social media sites could take off the incendiary material which provides comfort to the loony Ku Klux Klan types it was copied multiple times by users and soon spread like wildfire on millions of WhatsApp groups. Internet’s capacity for good maybe limitless but so is its misuse for evil. It presumes a level of maturity from its users which cannot be guaranteed in this world of good, bad and ugly.
Loonies enjoy as much access as do peace-living people everywhere. It is for the gatekeepers to the popular social media sites to hone their skills further to block toxic material in the nick of time, as it were, as it is for the leaders of societies everywhere, especially religious leaders, to inculcate in people the values of tolerance and fellow-feeling, and to undertake the expunging of hate from public discourse.
No doubt, the rise of Islamic extremism and terrorism, especially after the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, was a watershed moment, arousing Islamophobia globally among a section of the people. But leaders like Trump aggravate the situation by providing succour to the far-right groups who fan fears of others swamping their country.
Even the US President’s obsession with the wall on the Mexican border and his shrill pitch against immigrants instigates the ideology of hate. The Christchurch killings should serve as a warning. Use of religion to spread hate can prove self-defeating. Instead, restore to religion its core strength to spread the message of peace and love. Religion should unite, and not divide, people.