Bearing Witness in a Moment of Grief: a reflection on the continuing violence

I simply cannot be witness to the continuing bloodshed without bearing witness to truth, even though I realize that my perception or understanding of it is flawed, partial, in process…  This is not because I feel that I have to speak for another soul who has committed some crime or atrocity in the name of a faith or ethnicity or gender or nationality we share; rather it is because I cannot be silent in the face of the violation of other beings, whom I believe to be — like me — created in the Divine image and animated by the living breath of a God Who creates with purpose and bestows dignity and beauty and lofty potential upon us all…

First and foremost, our compassionate thoughts and prayers for Divine consolation, forgiveness, and peace go out for the most recently violated and murdered souls of London, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Myanmar, and so many other parts of the world.  We also pray for their bereaved loved ones, along with all of the wounded, the traumatized, the shaken.  May the Divine light illumine their bodies and minds with healing, consolation, physical and psychological restoration, and peace.

Second, let us commend the courage and professionalism of all of the first responders who risk their lives to rush to the aid of the injured and vulnerable.  In London, these included the police, the paramedics, physicians, and nurses, and all of the civilians who moved immediately to help the wounded, nullify the threat, and restore calm amidst the panic.  In other countries, these heroes are less visible in the news coverage, but they certainly are there.  May they all be rewarded for their selfless interventions so that the harm might be minimized and and the threat contained.

Third, it is important to bear witness to the fact that vile acts that target and violate innocents have no sanction in our religion; indeed, religion is often one of the casualties in such transgressive and lawless attacks upon civilians.  For example, in the aftermath of the recent terror attack in Westminster, we know that the Muslim community will, in both explicit and implicit ways, be held accountable for one person’s religious blindness and rage.  More innocent people will be victimized, and these should be added to the list of the injured, the betrayed, and the violated.

A fourth part of this act of bearing witness is to condemn all those who would exploit these tragedies for the promotion of political gain, the pursuit of power, or the manipulation of populist sentiment.  Some might also seek to use these tragic events for the purpose of distracting popular attention away from their misdeeds and questionable activities.  To do any of these things is to dishonour the real victims and to obfuscate the truth of what is really happening here and all over the world.

Finally, in the spirit of bearing witness, we must call upon ourselves and others to consider the deep, psycho-social and psycho-spiritual factors that give rise to violence.  These include all forms of exclusion, grotesque inequalities and privileges, greed, ignorance, fear, all varieties of supremacism (and the insecurities they hide), unprocessed grief, and stolen hope, to name a few. As we consider these and ponder the ways in which violence is kindled, we must ask ourselves how we might have, in some small or significant way, contributed to the rising violence we see in the world around us.  So bearing witness to truth amidst the wreckage and tragedy must include a call to examine ourselves and to try and understand how we ourselves have contributed, or are still contributing, to the factors that give rise to the violence we abhor.

“…Surely there has come to you from God a light and a clear book by which God guides those who seek [God’s] good pleasure along paths of peace, by which God brings them out of the darknesses into the light, by His permission, and guides them to a path of uprightness.”  (5:15-16).

May we courageously and diligently seek the illumination and guidance that will enable us to guide ourselves and our broken world along paths of peace.

Timothy J Gianotti