Speechless in the Face of Evil

Speechless in the Face of Evil

Patrick McInerney

 Rabbi Zalman Kastel, Sheikh Wesam Charkawi, Fr Patrick McInerney - by ABC western Sydney reporter Mohamed Taha @Mo_Taha1
Rabbi Zalman Kastel, Sheikh Wesam Charkawi, Fr Patrick McInerney – by ABC western Sydney reporter Mohamed Taha @Mo_Taha1

On Monday morning, 15 December 2014, as I heard the breaking news of the hostage crisis unfolding in Martin Place, my thoughts immediately went to the hostages. Some years ago I had been held at gunpoint for several hours during an armed robbery in the Columban house in Pakistan, so I know what it feels like to be a hostage, to be stood against a wall expecting to be shot![1] I felt also for the Muslims across the city who would be saying, “oh no, not again!” Their hearts would have been weary, fearing yet another backlash. In a sense they too are being held hostage, by criminal elements in their midst who give them and their religion an undeserved bad reputation. I resolved to visit the Lakemba Mosque as gesture of solidarity.

On social media I read intimations of an interfaith prayer service. The ABC news confirmed it. I have often visited that mosque on Eid days so I am a familiar figure there. When I arrived, somewhat to my surprise, I was greeted by name, which was a tribute to the bonds of friendship that had been established. Previous visits were happy occasions, feast days, celebrations. This was a sad occasion. The mood was sombre. Some expressed fear that the work of interfaith dialogue would be set back. I said,

“No! Those who are prejudiced and ignorant will take the situation as proof of their narrow-minded suspicions, but those of us who are committed to interfaith dialogue, this tragic event will not distract us or deter us from the path of dialogue to achieve mutual respect and understanding and collaboration for the common good. It will only serve to strengthen our resolve.”

At that stage, there was little or no information on the situation, only concern for the hostages and hope for a peaceful and speedy resolution. We could do nothing, so we did the only thing we could do, turn to God in prayer.

After the regular Muslim night prayer, we gathered together on the forecourt of the mosque. Sheikh Wesam Charkawi, Rabbi Zalman Kastel and I commented and prayed. Then the Hon Mr Tony Burke MP, Federal Member for Watson, spoke about preserving the values of multiculturalism.[2]

After the formalities, I was touched by the many Muslims who came up to us and thanked us for our presence. They genuinely appreciated our expression of solidarity. They assured us that such friendship between people is what our respective religions teach.

Early next morning the police intervened to save lives and to lift the siege. Tragically, three people lost their lives, including the perpetrator. We offer our heartfelt condolences to the families of those who lost loved ones, whose generous actions saved the lives of others. We hope that all the hostages traumatised by the long drawn-out terrifying drama will be comforted by family, friends and professionals and eventually find healing. We commend the police and law enforcement agencies for their bravery under duress. All evidence indicates that the perpetrator was a sole, disturbed, deranged person. We trust that no other individual or community will be blamed for his desperate, fatal actions and that the people of Sydney and Australia will come together to preserve the respect and acceptance that have forged our multi-cultural, multi-religious society.

The sea of floral tributes in Martin Place
The sea of floral tributes in Martin Place

Later during the day, Ashleigh Green and Ash Prasad from the Columban Mission Institute joined the throng of citizens of every race, religion and status—from Prime Minister to the homeless—who visited Martin Place to pay their respects. They offered flowers on behalf of our staff, as well as a copy of The Golden Rule Poster. This poster contains the ethic of reciprocity—treat others as you want them to treat you—in the sacred texts of thirteen different religions and spiritualities. It is common to all the world’s religions and is a guiding principle in how we should behave towards one another. May it guide us today and in the weeks to come as we mourn, ponder and re-commit ourselves to the peace with justice that God desires for all people, here in Australia, and around the world, especially where there is violence and conflict. May believers from all religions unite in making God’s name a voice of peace, a beacon of hope and a witness to love.

P.S. The contrast between the siege in Martin Place and the breaking news from Pakistan of the cold-blooded killing by the Taliban of over 140 people, most of them children, shows how “lucky” Sydney has been. Here the perpetrator was a single, sick person; there it was a group following a perverted ideology. Even a single victim is one too many. The number of victims in Pakistan is appalling. In the face of such evil, we are speechless. Our hearts go out to the families and to the nation, our grief mixed with theirs, steeling our resolve that goodness and decency will triumph over wickedness.

P.P.S. There has since been the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish bakery in Paris, which in turn pale into insignificance compared with the murder of 2,000 people by Boko Haram terrorists in Baga, Nigeria. No wonder our world calls out for a redeemer!? Thanks be to God, he has come, in the infant whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. May Christians join with other believers and people of good will in promoting peace with justice between all peoples.

[1] And just so you know, the leader of the armed robbers who terrorised us was not a Muslim, but a Catholic Christian, and a former seminarian at that!

[2] A collage of photos of the imam, the rabbi, the priest and the politician posted on Facebook received over 30,000 likes, 1,300 comments and 3,400 shares.

Patrick McInerney, “Speechless in the Face of Evil”, The Far East, March 2015

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