Finding hope in a dangerous time



Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard at the press conference after the Quebec City Mosque murders 

We need more like him, a lot more, to tell us the essential truth, in a few well-chosen, thoughtful words:

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard put his finger tight on one of the biggest problems leading to the murderous attack on Muslims at prayer in their Quebec City Mosque: the irresponsible use of words, including political rhetoric, that stirs up and feeds a dangerous climate of hatred in human society.

“Words matter,” Couillard said in a press conference after six Mulsim men were murdered and 18 others wounded, several critically, by a lone gunman as they knelt at their evening prayers.

Alexandre Bissonnette, 27, has been charged with six counts of first-degree murder and five counts of attempted murder.

He has been described by people who know him as someone who for a while espoused and expressed moderate conservative views, but appeared to become increasingly radicalized over the past year. He is said to have spoken on-line in support of the far-right, anti-Muslim views that have been gaining political traction in Europe, and the U.S.

He was also described as very withdrawn. Others who knew him said he was badly bullied as a child. He obnviously had a lot of anger and hatred bottled up. He was, to say the least, vulnerable to the angry, hateful far-right language now threatening Western democracy, especially in the U.S.

“When I say that words matter, it means that words can hurt, words can be knives slashing at people’s consciousness,” Couillard said.

He urged politicians and the general public, meaning all of us, to “think twice” about the “words we write, the words we utter.”

The terrible crime at the Quebec City mosque has shocked a country that increasingly prides itself on its cultural diversity and inclusiveness. Since it happened there have been countless expressions of support and condolences from all over Canada sent and shown to the more than 1 million Muslim people who call this country of more than 35 million people home.

But the murderous event, which Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called “an act of terror,” has laid bear the reality, that Canadians are not immune to being swayed by the hateful use of words, and the dangerous rise in the influence and impact of far-right, anti-Muslim and white-supremist rhetoric.

Many observers, including in the news media, have expressed surprise at the extent of it in Quebec.

The reality is what happened in Quebec City could have happened anywhere. If we don’t recognize and face up to that, if we don’t take Couillard’s thoughtful words to heart, we only make it more likely that hate will grow, and acts of hateful violence will happen more frequently.

Much of the Western World appears to be heading into a dangerous new era of hateful intolerance and isolationism in response to terrorism and the challenges of globalization – backward in fear and insecurity, instead of forward with hope and creativity. It’s a huge mistake. The problems of the world are many, but that won’t solve them.

Hate especially thrives on hate; it feeds on itself and begets only more hate in a vicious circle that leads only to unimagineable catastrophe – perhaps far sooner than most of us might imagine.

Someone I know asked me earlier this week, with the latest troubling, political news coming from the U.S in the background, what I thought was “going on.” She guessed I might have a lot to say about it. She’s right, but she was about to head out the door and there wasn’t the time, so I put it succinctly:

“There’s too much hate in the world,” I said, looking into her eyes. “Yes, it’s a lot more complicated than that, but just that simple too.”

I could tell that gave her food for thought.

At the press conference a reporter asked Couillard if he felt the atmosphere in Quebec is “more insidious” than elsewhere.

“It is different in every community,” he replied. “Our society has to live with its demons. Our society is not perfect. No society is.”

I’d say the same applies to each of us personally. No one is perfect. We’re each challenged to look at ourselves, learn and grow into the best person we can be, the best person we’re meant to be, I’d say. And hateful is surely not that.

If we somehow manage to get through this dangerous time, it will be because many millions of people will rise to their personal challenge and be ready to reach out with love and understanding to help others who may be struggling, who may be vulnerable. And then in their many millions they will stand up together against hatred.

That’s where Hope lives: in us, wherever we are.

A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in February, 2017


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