When tragedy strikes, especially those involving perpetrators and victims, it isn’t long before shock morphs into rage which grows into blame.
The events last week in Christchurch have led a voice of condemnation against the media for relentlessly stoking the fires of Islamaphobia. Conservatives are accused of pedaling hatred to the masses through cleverly crafted scare campaigns. The government has even been held responsbile by proxy.
In its defense, people look for unique points of distinction in the perpetrator; deftly trying to mitigate the hatred as an anomaly caused by mental illness, personal tragedy or brainwashing.
When past tragedies have featured a Muslim perpetrator, the Islamic community as a whole has been held responsible. “Surely they knew about this”, “These are the consequences of non-integration”, “Islam is a religion of hate”.
The Muslim community attempts to condemn the violence, but for the public it’s never strong enough. But some in the community, and beyond, explain the perpetrator’s behavior as a result of a poor upbringing or radicalization as a result of social exclusion.
The one point of consistency between the two groups is the insistence that “your extremists are different to our extremists”. “Your radicals are endemic of a broken system, whereas our radicals are exceptions to the rule.”
These approaches are not only wrong; they’re immoral.
We cannot demonize others while we canonize ourselves.
In 1995, in the years following the Oslo agreements, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated as he left a peace demonstration in Tel Aviv. The murderer was a young man named Yigal Amir. Amir was an active member of the religious right wing; vehemently opposed to the concessions that Israel had made towards the Palestinians in the pursuit of peace. In the months leading up to the assassination, many protest marches had been orchestrated by right wing political parties, each calling out Rabin as a traitor; waving placards depicting Rabin wrapped in an Arafat-style kefir.
The religious community felt the pain of Oslo on a deeper level than many others on the right. Whereas some saw the relinquishing of land to the Palestinians as a security or moral concern; the religious Zionists saw Rabin’s betrayal as one against God, His land and His people. The assassination was the realization of the fears and anger boiling within Israeli society.
In the aftermath of the assassination, my late Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein broached the topic of blame in a solemn address to his many students.
“ This shame should be felt by our camp more than any other. Here was a man who grew up in the best of our institutions. A day before the murder, he could have been cited as a shining example of success and achievement, and a source of communal pride. .. Today, we hide behind the phrases, “a wild weed,” “from the outskirts of our society.” But if a day before the murder we would have said proudly, “See what we have produced,” we must say it now as well: “See what we have produced!” It is indefensible that one who is willing to take credit when the sun is shining should shrug off responsibility when it begins to rain. Let us face our responsibility…”
Every person needs to take stock when the perpetrator is “one of us”. We should be asking ourselves what is our contribution to this tragedy. We can’t excuse the shame away while at the same time reallocating the blame when it suits us.
May we be blessed with resilience if we are victims.
May we find strength in holding ourselves accountable if we are the perpetrators.
May we learn to find support in one another, working together towards a better future, one without hate.