“We will have to repent in this generation ― not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” ― Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
On the morning of March 15th, Canadians woke to headlines detailing an act of pure evil that had happened overnight. It is hard to explain the surreality of making coffee while hearing about 49 people who lost their lives across the ocean in New Zealand. A country not quite close enough to be a brother or sister, but perhaps a cousin. A place we always thought nothing like this could ever happen.
Until, of course, it happens.
Authorities in Christchurch determined the tragedy was a well-planned terrorist attack. A manifesto of hatred, a plan to start a ideological war, driven by white supremacy and a loathing of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries.
These values seem to be repugnant to most Canadians, and indeed to most decent people in the world, yet here we find ourselves again. In New Zealand, in the Netherlands three days later, we can’t forget that just two years ago the site of the barbarity was here in Canada, in Quebec City. Six Canadian Muslims died while they prayed.
But that was Quebec. Home of the Burqa ban and inflammatory comments by political leaders. Again, we can draw the line between us and them.
We don’t hold the same values here in on the Liberal west coast, do we?
Perhaps the most damaging thought that emerges from all of this is that ideologies don’t start to take hold when someone picks up a gun and intends to murder those his system has judged unworthy of life. The seed was planted a long time ago.
Surprising numbers that challenge our idea of our tolerant community on the west coast include that in 2017 we witnessed a 47% rise in hate crimes in Canada. There were 321 hate-motivated attacks against black people and 221 attacks against Jewish people. The number of attacks against Muslims more than doubled, rising to 349. That is a 243 per cent increase over four years.
While Canada may be a tolerant culture, as is New Zealand, we are no longer dealing with a world in which the culture you live in forms the bulwark against hateful or extremist ideas. Virulent ideologies do not stop at borders and they need only one person ready to hear them to grow that seed in darkness and isolation.
The New York Times recently acknowledged the mega-groups forming on social media, those connected through online spaces if not shared borders to offer a profound idea on the spread of this hatred:
“Radicalization might start with casual conversations among video gamers. What begins with a few racist slurs may lead to exposure to overt white supremacist propaganda. A seemingly innocuous YouTube channel may recommend other, more inflammatory channels, which in turn may recommend ever more extremist content.”
The blame here seems to rest at the feet of social media, as if algorithms and trending topics lead someone down the path from mainstream to fringe to irredeemable. What accountability can be ascribed to the family? To the community? To the responsibility of the individual? And what of the provocateurs? What of the simply careless? Should those who know not what they do be forgiven so easily?
When we think back over the last few years, and we remember the growing list of images burned onto our consciousness — a doll lying beside a bodybag, a memorial of stars outside a synagogue, a single gun raised at the entrance of a mosque — it can be easy to be overwhelmed. To think that there is nothing we can do when we command only, in the end, ourselves.
This seems, to this writer, the wrong way to look at it. Everything you can do, starts with you.
How will you guard yourself from violent ideas, how can we prevent them from spreading inadvertently, how can we reach out to others of different faiths, faces, and creeds to amplify voices of peace? We must hear the words again of Dr. King, that the good people must not be silent. And when we speak, we must consider our words, and who might be listening.
Now more than ever.
7 things we can do to combat hatred and intolerance in our own lives:
1. Make it a point of reaching out and connecting with communities that you don't connect with in your daily life. When you do, focus on listening to what they have to say.
2. Acknowledge where you have biases and stereotypes and be open to challenging those stereotypes. Be aware that there are biases that you don't know you have.
3. Write to your MLA and MP about your concerns around rising racism in Canada and ask them to develop stronger policies and actions against white nationalist hate groups.
4. Talk to your family and friends openly about these issues and about what actions can be taken in your communities to promote understanding and healing.
5. Organize events in your community that focus on promoting understanding and inclusion. Many Neighborhood houses in Vancouver have small funds around strengthening community connections.
6. Be more than a bystander when you witness acts of racism and discrimination.
7. Consider making a donation to one of the crowdfunding pages set up to support the families and communities affected by this tragedy
The families and friends of the victims of these attacks are in the forefront of our thoughts here at PeaceGeeks during this time.
This article was written by Daniel Morton and edited by Amelia Mitchell, two dedicated and passionate PeaceGeeks volunteers.