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Thoughts on tragedy, peace and justice

Monday, March 28, 2016 by Marianne Elliott

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Like many people, I woke this morning to the devastating news that more than 60 people had been killed in a suicide bomb attack on a park in Lahore, Pakistan. The attack appears to have targeted a playground park on the Easter holiday specifically in order to kill Christians, and with the obvious intent of killing children and families.

Mornings like this I find it hard to maintain faith in a peaceful future for humankind, and for all the creatures who have the misfortune of sharing this planet with us.

There are many reasons I find myself low on optimism on a day like today – including the power of fear, which gurus have told us can be defeated by love, but which seems to win the day more often than not. And the ease with which some people play on our vulnerability to drive us to suspect, fear and eventually hate people who are different from us.

The reasons also include the slow but steady demise of public interest journalism, as public funding for high quality, independent reporting in the public interest drains away and the news media becomes a space contested largely by corporate powers, who benefit from a population driven by fear to spend ever increasing proportions of their dwindling incomes trying to feel secure.

The inside of my brain is not a pretty place on a morning like today.

In the midst of all that, however, I found myself having a hopeful conversation on – of all places – social media. Twitter’s role in global social and political movements has been so often exaggerated that many people – rightly – dismiss those claims as ridiculous. But, beyond the hyperbole, there’s something extraordinary about the fact that on a morning like this morning I can get on Twitter and talk directly to a journalist in Pakistan. Or – as I did today – to a Muslim New Zealander living in Texas.

Like me, she was feeling distraught, helpless even.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.07.07 am

These snippets of our conversation lose some of the context, but they give a sense of depth of our exchange, 140 characters at a time, on a topic which both of us had clearly spent long hours contemplating. We talked about the need for secularist, humanist and human rights movements in majority Muslim countries to get the support of the international community, and our shared disappointment that they so often do not.

I told her about the despair I felt in Afghanistan when I discovered that my work, to support local human rights advocates as they called on their Government to respect human rights (including the right to freedom of religion) and the rights of women and minorities, would always be outranked my the mandate of my political colleagues, which was to support and stabilise the Afghan Government. Human rights, according to them, were a destabilising influence in a fragile State.

She talked about the challenges and frustrations of being a secular Muslim in a world in which all Muslims are held accountable for the acts of a violent and extremist group that claims to act in the name of Islam.

We both agreed that staying active in political debates in our home countries was often the best we could do.

Screen Shot 2016-03-28 at 9.07.55 am

So even on this day, when the news from Lahore leaves me wondering whether it can be true that the arc of history bends towards justice – and therefore peace – and when my disgust with mainstream media reach a kind of peak, I found a reason to stay engaged, both with politics and with the conversations made possible by social media.

Thank you to you, @Ll_politico, and to everyone who stays in the conversation, and in the work of claiming more space for the people working for peace, justice and human rights even when the voices of fear and hatred seem to be sucking the oxygen out of the very room we are talking in.

Thank you to everyone who resists the pull of fear, and who chooses instead to lean into our capacity to empathise with and trust people who look and live differently from us, speak different languages, profess different or no faith, follow different social norms.

This is the first time I’ve felt motivated to write here since the start of the year. This post was inspired by the power of conversation – to help me feel less helpless, less alone. Here’s hoping there are more where this came from.

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