Very recent tragic occurrences across our world certainly create a sense of shock and bewilderment for those of us who follow closely such events. I chose to write on some of those in my last column. Within the last week, we witnessed even more tragedy. And while we get more news of what happens in the capitals with which we are familiar, tragic events are also happening in other places we are unfamiliar with.
I wrote last week that the violence being witnessed is cyclical and we will continue to see such occurrences until the root causes of these senseless acts of violence are addressed. I was promptly dismissed by a few who chose to comment on my column. I was accused of denial of the facts, and deliberately refusing to acknowledge that Muslims want to kill others. I usually take such comments in stride, recognizing there are many others who don’t necessarily share such opinions.
However, my fears of the cycle of violence repeating itself was realized this past weekend in two separate incidents. One occurred in London where a man drove a van into a crowd of Muslims leaving a mosque, killing one and injuring others. This British man was reported as saying he wants to kill all Muslims. He was subdued by persons on the scene and had it not been for the intervention of the Imam of the mosque, he may have been severely injured or killed.
The Imam’s intervention story has gone viral and reflects what any sane, right-thinking human being would do in such circumstances. His actions prevented the cycle of violence in that incident from continuing. In the second incident which occurred in Virginia, a Muslim teenager, sadly, was assaulted and killed on her way back to the mosque. Police are treating this as a hate crime.
One commentator last week suggested that I write my columns to elicit some mode of empathy and understanding. I am not sure why that conclusion would be drawn but my writing on these issues is to highlight events, tragic and otherwise. The reader may choose to determine what they do with my writings.
As I continue to say, we need to have more dialogue and we need to take more time to understand each other. This I preach to all persons and communities including my own. Barbados does not have the issues that the bigger metropolitan societies face. We are, by and large, good people, we get along with each and while some may be critical of another, that doesn’t escalate into violence due to differences. The violence we witness is of a different nature and one which we all must work hard to contain.
Another tragedy witnessed in the last week was the fire that destroyed the Grenfell Housing tower in London. I was pleased to see Barbados’ High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, Guy Hewitt, on the ball in reporting back home as to the situation regarding Barbadians and the fire. This fire has certainly opened up many of the proverbial “cans of worms”.
It is a tragedy that we should pay close attention to, for in it are certainly many lessons as was pointed out by High Commissioner Hewitt. As he rightfully stated, we tend to think that such tragic occurrences can’t happen in developed countries and certainly not in cities like the famous London of Great Britain. But they do happen and when they do, unfortunately it is at the expense of many innocent lives.
The reason coming out for this disaster is itself extremely tragic. In fact, the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy, has labelled the Grenfell Tower fire as “corporate manslaughter” and called for arrests to be made over the disaster. The building which housed mainly immigrants was built in the 1970s and had no proper fire prevention plan or facilities. This was further exacerbated by a banned cladding placed on the 24 story building to make it look good.
As one writer, Abdul Haqq Baker, pointed out: “In its most destructive form, we witness the horrific events at Grenfell Tower, caused primarily by neglect and corporate greed. Emerging reports point to £10 million being spent in order to regenerate the tower when in reality, this was a cosmetic exercise to make it less of an eyesore for the more affluent neighbours in the surrounding properties…
He went on: “Corporate terrorism is at the heart of this tragedy and must now be recognized for what it is before another similar incident occurs…As we await a final body count, the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’ takes on an altogether new meaning; However, in this instance, death by a million cuts is more appropriate in view of the amount spent to fatally entomb so many unfortunate lives.”
If one wishes to find any hope in this tragedy, it is the rallying of a community and a nation to the people affected. And this rallying, according to all reports, has come from all races, religious persuasions and socio-economic backgrounds. Strangers opened their homes to house persons left without a place to live, churches, mosques, synagogues and temples all playing their role in helping the victims.
And in an atmosphere of fear and trepidation against Muslims due to the recent terror attacks in the UK, news that Muslims awake for the early morning pre-fast meal in this month of fasting helped to save many lives in the building by alerting persons sleeping in other apartments to the fire and carrying them to safety.
As Muslims across the world prepare to end their month of fasting and celebrate one of the two major festivals on the Islamic calendar, I am sure these tragedies and the many still occurring in the Middle East and Asia will play heavily on the minds of Muslims.
Amidst the joy of Eid, they will be many praying for peace and goodwill for all humanity.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)