This world is a dark place. Tragedies fill the 24 hour new-cycle and people die. You can be a Syrian toddler on a sinking boat in the Mediterranean without a life preserver, you can be a black man walking down the street in New York City suddenly impaled on a sword helmed by a white supremacist terrorist, you can be caught in a flash flood in Trujillo Peru and swept away in a landslide. So may tragedies I cannot begin to categorize them. No matter where you are you cannot escape the soul-dampening cruelty of this broken world.
Last Wednesday, my commute was broken by several texts from my mother and my boss as both began checking in, I had been in my own world of obliviousness to the high profile shooting of a congressman and several aides that took place less than a mile from where I live. On the year anniversary of the death of a British MP Jo Cox, a high-profile shooting targeting national law-makers carried additional weight. Last night, after spending a weekend unplugged from the internet and a wonderful Father’s Day with my parents, I opened up my social media feeds to news of the tragic murder of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year old Muslim girl, who was walking with friends between late-night prayers at the ADAMS Center Mosque. Her body was discovered in Fairfax County, where I grew up, where my parents still live, where I had just spent the whole day, oblivious.
This tragic murder pierced through my Sunday night and comes on the heels of the June 5 double homicide of young men in Maryland Shadi Adi Najjar, 17, and Artem S. Ziberov, 18, shot in a car while sitting in a cul-de-sac of a residential neighborhood. Even more so, this news called me back to my first month working at KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. In February 2015 hatred took the lives of three beautiful, intelligent young adults full of potential: Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad, 21, and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.
As a Christian, I believe that this world is irrevocably broken and can only be saved by redemption through God and Jesus. As a coworker and friend of several Muslims who are fasting this month during Ramadan, their devotion and prayer to God inspires me on my own faith journey. As an American who works in D.C., I am in the process of examining my own core values, questioning our nations’ historic narrative as is the freedom and I believe obligation of every citizen of this nation. As an attorney providing direct representation to survivors of domestic violence I see firsthand the impact of small, unspoken, unceremonious tragedies that take place privately but affect all life publicly.
The newsworthy “high-profile” cases of tragedy can put stark relief on the relative privilege those of us who are not surrounded by violence carry. While we glaze over things that don’t directly affect us, when violence pierces through the façade of daily peace, it shakes us. But more piercing are those “smaller” less public, and more intimate intrusions of cruelty, violence and evil. The ones that happen in our own backyard, in suburban neighborhoods, walking on a sidewalk from an IHOP to a mosque on a path that was supposed to be safe.
Even more disheartening is that after each act of violence, it is not long before the story is already twisted and hammered and chiseled into something personally tailored to fit personal crusades or beliefs. Already pundits are focusing in on the ethnicity of the suspect alleged to have murdered Nabra, pitting one minority against the other. After the Wednesday shooting, I watched the gun control debate explode once again on Twitter. The toxicity and vitriol that exists beneath the surface of each of us waiting for an outrage outlet is so caustic that the moment we are shocked by a tragedy it bursts through any outlet: conversations, the news, and certainly social media. While I certainly can get swept up in the compulsion to say something, anything, in reaction to tragedy, I’m beginning to understand that beyond a simple message of shared sadness and comfort, silence is often the best option.
For any tragedy, there needs to be space for those people involved to heal. Grief affects everyone in their own way and it is not for us in the peanut gallery to utilize someone’s hurt for publicity’s gain. Those of us not directly involved need to withhold judgment and agendas and just let people mourn and be sad and recover before twisting their grief into a convenient politically-minded narrative. Sure, we can have conversations about it especially to speak out against hate, but those talks should be free from critical commentary, hurtful hypotheticals, and moral judgements about what people might deserve. Because the truth is, only God’s mercy prevents any of us from getting what we deserve.
The month of Ramadan for many Muslims reveals how in His mercy, God provides, just as the time of Lent or Yom Kippur reveals something similar to Christians or Jews. In this broken world, each tragedy reveals how we need God so much. Those committing these atrocities are just exposing who we all are if we don't have love, if we don’t have God; the dark twisty parts of being human where we desperately need God's light. Only His love can illuminate this dark world in any meaningful way.