A Most Violent Month: Terrorism Rocks the World

This has been a particularly brutal month around the world with major terrorist attacks shattering lives in numerous cities from Ankara to Brussels.

In Lahore, Pakistan:

On Easter Sunday, a crisp spring day, some of the city’s Christian population mingled with their Muslim neighbors, celebrating in a neighborhood park — taking their kids on rides or pushing them on swings. Then, the sound of tragedy. Without warning, a blast tore through the park, killing indiscriminately. Because of the innocent setting, an unusually high number of those injured were women and children. But the attack, claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, intentionally targeted Christians, the perpetrators say. The suicide blast, in the eastern Pakistan city of Lahore, killed at least 69 people, a local government spokesman told CNN. More than 341 others were injured, according to Punjab government spokesperson Jehangir Awan.

In Baghdad:

A suicide bomber killed at least 29 people and wounded 60 others in an attack on a crowd gathered at a soccer stadium south of Baghdad on Friday, according to multiple media sources. The U.S. State Department confirmed the attack in a statement condemning it. The blast occurred during a trophy presentation in the village of Iskandariya about 25 miles south of the Iraqi capital, wire services reported. Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Amaq news agency, which is affiliated with the group also known as ISIL or ISIS.

All attacks that target the innocent to incite terror are vile, but the recent attacks on families celebrating Easter and gathered to celebrate their local soccer team are an acutely vivid display of the totalitarian vision and merciless worldview of violent Islamist extremists. Religious freedom is targeted. Leisure is attacked. Women and children become mere instruments of their dehumanizing agenda, as the terrorists attack whole families. They are attacking the very foundations of society—that which makes life decent, humane, and worth living.

Neither Christians nor Muslims are safe from their violence. Adherents of all religions and none at all are threatened. Neither those in the West nor the Middle East are safe from their violent plans. From South Asia to Africa to North America, terrorism is a global threat demanding a response from the international community.

The response should be neither isolationism nor nationalism, but an increased commitment to the global common good—to fostering conditions that allow each person to safely reach their full potential as a person. And this requires a revolution in solidarity. Every person has a right to live without the specter of terrorism or tyranny shading all of their actions, whether they live in Lahore, Baghdad, Brussels, or New York City.

There is no easy path to achieving the global common good. It requires prudence, patience, and courage. But there should be no delay in recognizing that we are all brothers and sisters, that every life has worth and dignity, and that human rights belong to all people. Only though the recognition that we are all responsible for the protection and flourishing of one another can we break down the barriers of indifference and fear and address this global threat to human security and well-being.

Pope Sends Condolences Following Belgium Terrorist Attacks

via Vatican Radio:

“Learning of the attacks in Brussels, which have affected many people, His Holiness Pope Francis entrusts to God’s mercy those who died and he prays for those who have lost relatives. He expresses his deepest sympathy to the injured and their families, and all those who contribute to relief efforts, asking the Lord to bring them comfort and consolation in this ordeal. The Holy Father again condemns the blind violence which causes so much suffering and imploring from God the gift of peace, he entrusts on the bereaved families and the Belgians the benefit of divine blessings.”

In Response to the Crimes of Assad and ISIS, the House Passes Genocide and War Crimes Resolutions

After nearly five years of civil war, precipitated by Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters, and perhaps 470,000 deaths, the US House of Representatives passed a war crimes resolution aimed at holding Assad and his allies accountable for their war crimes, as well as a genocide resolution that identifies Christians as victims of ISIS’s genocidal campaign of terror, along with Yazidis and others.

The latter passed by a vote of 393-0, putting pressure on the Obama administration to include Christians as designated victims of genocide in Syria.

The war crimes resolution passed 392-3. This resolution, sponsored by Republican Chris Smith, a leading defender of human rights in the House, directs the Obama administration to promote, through the UN, an international war crimes tribunal. Smith explained, “Accountability that is aggressive, predictable, transparent and applicable to perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity on all sides of the divide must be pursued now.”

Voting against the resolution were three of the worst members of a historically lackluster Congress: Justin Amash and Thomas Massie, two extreme anti-government Republicans, and Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who has argued that the continued rule of dictatorships that have engaged in crimes against humanity serves American interests. Brooklyn Middleton put it best: shame on them. This should haunt their political careers.

Update via CNN:

Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that the United States has determined that ISIS’ action against the Yazidis and other minority groups in Iraq and Syria constitutes genocide.

“My purpose here today is to assert in my judgment, (ISIS) is responsible for genocide against groups in areas under its control including Yazidis, Christians and Shiite Muslims,” he said, during a news conference at the State Department.

Around the Web: A Week of Violence and Brutality Around the World

The week was full of articles detailing horrible acts of violence, brutality, and terrorism around the world.

Suicide Attack at Church in Pakistan Kills Dozens by NY Times: “A suicide attack on a historic Christian church in northwestern Pakistan killed at least 78 people on Sunday in one of the deadliest attacks on the Christian minority in Pakistan in years.”

Terrifying Images From A Terrorist Attack At A Mall In Kenya by Rachel Zarrell, Buzzfeed: “Warning: Very graphic images. According to the Red Cross, 68 people have been killed and more than 175 injured in a terrorist attack on an upscale Nairobi mall by al-Shabab, a Somalian militant group.”

Nigerian Islamists kill at least 159 in two attacks by Reuters: “Islamist Boko Haram militants killed 159 people in two roadside attacks in northeast Nigeria this week, officials said, far more than was originally reported and a sign that a four-month-old army offensive has yet to stabilize the region.”

Attacks Kill Scores in Iraq as Violence Surges by AP: “A suicide bomber detonated his explosives-laden car near a funeral tent packed with mourners and another bomber on foot blew himself up nearby in a Shiite part of Baghdad on Saturday, killing at least 72 people and wounding more than 120, officials said.”

The heroes inside Syria by Samer Attar: “The situation in Syria is not just about chemical weapons. It is about the systematic killing of innocents by a tyrannical regime violently lashing out to stay in power.”

The Forgotten Crisis in the Central African Republic by Lewis Mudge: “Little known outside France, its former coloniser, CAR has been bedeviled by the twin curses of poverty and misrule. Its former strongman president, François Bozizé, who took power in a coup in 2003, was overthrown by the Seleka in March this year. Emerging from the remote and impoverished northeast, the Seleka, or “alliance” in the national language, has engaged in widespread abuses.”

On Invoking the Deaths of Children: Where Does the Real “Moral Obscenity” Lie?  by Eric Reeves: “Antonov attacks take place on a virtually daily basis according to multiple Darfuri reports from the ground in Darfur; similar reports come from the Nuba Mountains and Blue Nile. Destruction of wells and villages, the loss of livestock and an unrelenting death and despair — these are the “bombs” the Antonovs drop. And sometimes the children, invisible to us because we choose not to look, or even compel UN observation, are terribly wounded by these bombs. To suggest that their terrors, their pain and agony, their deaths are any less “morally obscene” than gas attacks on children in Syria is a painfully invidious comparison — the more so since in the end, it is politically expedient.”

U.N. Investigator: North Korean Prisons Like Nothing Seen Since Nazi Atrocities by Hayes Brown: “North Koreans forced into prison camps live out an existence unlike any seen since the killing fields of Cambodia or the horrors of World War II, according to the head of a U.N. panel assigned to investigate Pyongyang’s human rights violations.”

D.C. Navy Yard gun attack kills 12, injures 8 by Washington Post: “A gunman killed a dozen people as the workday began at theWashington Navy Yard on Monday, creating an improbable moment of horror at a military facility with armed guards at every gate and leaving investigators seeking clues about what spurred the attack.”

A Marathon of Emotions

Mike Rogers is a better person than me.  I’ve never met him before, and if I was to trip over him I still wouldn’t have a clue who he was.  Still, when I read his open letter to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers, I couldn’t help but contrast his thoughts with mine and wish that my reaction to Dzhokhar’s capture was more like his.

My friends and family were on the way to the finish line to greet me when the bombs went off.  No one I know directly was hurt, thanks be to God.  Deacon Rogers’ parents and sister, on the other hand, were already there on Boylston St.  He had friends on their way.  One of his former students was injured.

As I’ve said before, when it dawned on me that my family could have been injured in the attacks, like Deacon Rodgers’ student was, “I really got pissed off and let off another string of words not repeatable here.”  He, on the other hand, prayed that Dzhokhar may “come to know… peace and love.”

That, I must admit, was not my first reaction when the younger Tsarnaev brother was finally pulled out of that boat.  Or even my second, or third.  Instead, my first thought was that I wanted to be a part of the jubilation and celebration that so bewildered Marcus.

After 14 hours spent in my living room in which my only company was the chattering heads of television news, I wanted to get out and make merry with my fellow Bostonians.  As The Onion so aptly put it, “what could only be described by witnesses as the goddamned week to end all soul-crushing weeks” was finally over, and I could think of few better reasons to raise a toast.

Texts started flying just as soon as the words “suspect in custody” came across the airwaves, and off to meet up with some friends I went.  We ended up at a pub near Northeastern University, but not before witnessing the ebullient mob of students who had shut down Hemenway Street with their revelry.  The joy they were radiating was palpable, and that was before they all hit the bars.

So while Marcus makes some excellent points about the need to be careful in our rhetoric, I do not share in his confusion over the urge to congregate.  A terrorist who killed and maimed hundreds of people was captured, and a day-long region-wide siege had come to a successful conclusion.  That’s not worth three cheers, that deserves 30.

We are, as Aristotle noted so long ago, social animals.  We gather together to comfort one another when there is affliction, to rejoice when there is cause for gaiety, and even for no other reason than because being part of a community is an essential part of being human.  Were the multitudes who spontaneously gathered that night all that different than when we as Catholics come together for a baptism, or a funeral, or even just the weekly celebration of the Mass?

I’m not suggesting that it would be appropriate to drape yourself in the flag, or to hoist your girlfriend up onto your shoulders to lead a rendition of the national anthem in the middle of a liturgy.  On that night, in these circumstances, however, I see it as not only perfectly acceptable, but actually cathartic.

It was a week of anger and sadness, and for all too many a day of fear when SWAT teams armed to the teeth rushed past their children as they searched their homes.  The cheers, chants, and songs that could be heard all over Boston that night were really just a way to take a collective deep breath and to release some of the emotions that pent up over the course of the previous 102 hours.

Even after the lustration of clinking glasses with friends and strangers alike, I’m still incredibly frustrated, more frustrated than I have any right to be given the events of that day, that my first marathon was cut short at 25.5 miles.  I was so close to that blue and yellow line, yet, as I force myself to remember, I was literally worlds away from those who died.

I grieve for the loss of an 8-year old I never knew, and for the others killed by these two brothers.  I can’t imagine the anguish those who had limbs torn off are experiencing, or the pain of those who were hit with shrapnel.  I even feel a little guilt at my relief that my family and friends are OK, when those of so many others are not.

As each day passes though, what I increasingly feel is hope.  Hope that comes from seeing people like my sister run to the victims instead of running away to safety.  Hope that sprang from the spontaneous memorial that popped up at the corner of Boylston and Berkeley and the interfaith service held there on the following Sunday.  Even a popular Boston-based website that often caters to the worst of the collective male Id sold some wicked awesome t-shirts and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the victims.  That’s good news for everyone.

I especially have hope knowing that there are people like Deacon Rodgers in the world.  How could you not be hopeful knowing that there are people out there who can find love in their hearts even for those who have caused so much pain and sorrow?

I don’t hate Dzhokhar.  I’m angry at him, I’m relieved he will likely be spending the rest of his days behind bars, and I’m glad that I got to celebrate with so many of my fellow Bostonians the night he was captured.  I even pity him, I guess, but I don’t love him. At the same time, I am jealous that Deacon Rodgers does.

In the closing of his letter to Dzhokhar, the good deacon says, “Somehow your sin was turned for good, and my community and the people I love will only be stronger in the end.”  I hope, and pray, that he is right.

When it’s Hardest to Pray, we Must

Sometimes events happen that are so beyond our scope of understanding that we become frozen. At work, all we can do is stream a live-feed of the events unfolding, ignoring work that should be done. We text and call friends living in the area of the incidents just to feel connected, to feel as though we are doing something by offering a comforting word or a friendly voice. We wonder why it happened, how someone could wish to inflict so much pain. Frankly, I’m glad I don’t understand. I don’t want to know how it would feel to be that filled with something that is the so poisonous to the soul. If I understood, that would mean it was ‘normal’, and that just is not acceptable.

During these times it is my habit, my gut reaction, to turn to prayer; to try to find comfort in familiar prayers or just enter into dialogue with God and find refuge in His being. Sometimes, though, when I turn to prayer, I don’t know how to begin. I become numb, as though I have forgotten how to pray. This happened to me this morning. After a long night of following the Twitter newsfeed and the “latest, breaking news” of the story in Boston as it was developing, I turned to prayer. However, I simply did not know how to begin. It was like writers block, a blank state of mind. It was almost as though something that was once so flawless, so simple, was now one of the most difficult tasks. There were so many questions and emotions that it was hard for me to truly process just why I was turning to God.

Do I pray for the city of Boston as a whole? A city that is so close to home, where so many of my friends reside and that holds so many memories for me. Do I pray that we as Americans can come together to show our support for the victims? Perhaps I should pray that the victims and their families, together with all the people of Boston, are able to find peace within their hearts, that they are able to come out on top after such tragedy. Or do I pray that these young men, who are responsible for so much fear and grief, somehow move past their hatred and seek forgiveness for their actions? Or maybe, do I just offer up a general prayer for peace, for understanding, for love? Love between neighbors, friends, families, strangers. But a prayer for love, at a time like this, seems so trite, so unimportant. Does prayer even matter in this situation?

Yes, it does. It has to. It is times like these, when it is hardest to form a prayer, hardest to even think of what I am turning to God for, that I know I have to. That even if I sit in silence and offer my scattered thoughts up to the Divine, it means something. I have to trust that my prayers, the silent prayers especially, are able to do something. Because, at a time like this, what more can we do?

Kat O’Loughlin is the Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in New York.