I sat with the New Zealand High Commissioner to Barbados last Thursday as he paid a visit to the Jama Mosque in Bridgetown. He was visibly emotional as he spoke of the horror that was inflicted in two mosques in his country the week before. He spoke to the fact that this is not what New Zealand is about. His sentiments are the same as echoed by the Prime Minister of New Zealand ever since this heinous crime was committed.
Our world is witnessing acts of violence at levels that our generation have not experienced before. Even in our small island where we are known for peace and security we have had, in recent months, acts of violence and murder unprecedented in our modern history. Gunning down an individual in the middle of the day in a busy mall amidst people going about their normal business was unheard of for our tranquil island.
Technology, via social media, have made these acts of violence, murder and mayhem available to us instantaneously. One can have a global audience in a second during any act, and the acts of violence seems to attract more viewership. We in Barbados have become accustomed now to the live and direct gory scenes at murders, violent behaviour, fights and accidents. We don’t need Hollywood anymore; reality TV via social media platforms is where the action is.
How we process these increasing acts of violence and how we respond are going to be critical for us in many ways. Most importantly, is our mental well-being. Is our mental state affected by being fed daily on a diet of violence and murder?
I just returned from a conference in Guyana in which the participants explored various topics related to peace. The conference was dubbed an International Peace Conference whose audience was primarily Muslim leaders from the region. We looked into violent extremism, domestic violence, mental health, family values and inner peace, among others. The weekend was not enough to do justice to each of the subject areas, but the presenters did extremely well in giving good oversight to the issues that confront us as a community and a faith.
It was noted that Guyana had one of the highest suicide rates in the world. Mental health and well-being is clearly an issue.
We as a society, a community and as families need to start to unpack the issues that are confronting us and that are leading persons to resorting to acts of violence.
In response to the attacks in New Zealand, the people there came out in their numbers to support their fellow New Zealanders who were grieving. That response was replicated around the world with an outpouring of support and concern. I followed the global response with interest and recognized that they were some who chose to condemn the actions of this terrorist against Muslims but also added that other acts of violence and terror were being perpetuated against other faiths and there was not equal condemnation.
Perhaps we are all guilty in some way. We will be passionate when it directly affects us or those dear to us and we will be less passionate when it is a stranger. I spoke to the trend, last week, which seeks to implicate a whole world community and faith in acts of terror when one of their own commits such acts, but does not apply the same standards when others do likewise.
I believe we must move away from trying to place blame where it shouldn’t be placed. The reality in our world today is that there are unprecedented levels of violence and violent behaviour. And this violence is being perpetuated by individuals and groups of all races, faiths, non-faiths and backgrounds. I am sure that there are no faiths in the world today that instruct its followers to terrorize the rest of humanity. Yes, there may be those who claim, wrongfully, inspiration from their faith to do such crimes, but the majority of faith adherents will contradict those misguided persons.
We must respond to hate with love. There can be no other solution. At the conference we adopted a theme, I love you more that you hate me. That must be our mantra. I spoke to this in my column last week: repel evil with that which is better.
I, as a Muslim, condemn without any reservation all acts of violence perpetuated on innocent human beings, be they Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew, atheist or any other creed or belief. Violent extremism has no place in my faith or teachings.
We must fight this evil together, similar to the example the people of New Zealand have set. Let us work together to try to rid our society from this scourge of violent behaviour.
I had the opportunity to speak to the Barbados Christian Council last week. I thank them for the opportunity to do so, especially in the wake of the New Zealand attacks. We recognize that our Abrahamic faiths have more in common than we have that sets us apart. We further recognize that we must work together to help develop our communities and bring about peace for all.
This is what I am committed to working with all people to help uplift our society. We must confront the issues that face us, speak about them fully, and eliminate mistrust and misinformation from our minds.
‘Fake news’, which hopefully I will write about in coming weeks, was one of the topics that we also covered in the conference that has impacted significantly on the peace in our world. It is mind blowing what fake news has done to psyche of human beings and the pain and suffering it has caused. We truly live in times that despite advances in technology and comforts, some of us are behaving very similar to barbaric people.
(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)