The nightmarish episode of the terrorist attack on innocent Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand, left the world temporarily speechless. Not for the first time, society has sadly but quickly sought to pick up the pieces and to renew its commitment to reunite in the fight against extremism of all of kinds, from whichever side it comes and whatever the evil motive behind it.

That the ugly hand of international terrorism was to reach and breach the distant peace and serenity of New Zealand where violence, death and destruction were never the cause of premeditated human activity, is a clear signal there are no longer any boundaries. The tragedy in itself was a rallying call for people of goodwill, everywhere across the continents, to reopen the paths to freedom, to the enrichment process of cultural and racial diversity, and to a socio-political awareness that offers better safeguards for this and future generations.

Fighting hate with hate will not work, and the same goes for violence and the massacre of people whose only desire is to be left free to practise (or not) their religion, to live their lives in happiness with family and friends, to be law-abiding citizens with rights and responsibilities, and to participate and show mutual respect for different opinions, different cultures and different traditions. When a society is able to muster this remarkable affinity, as most of us in Europe and elsewhere have, then extremism becomes the one common enemy that needs to be swept out of our midst.

Sadly, the vampiric effect of populism and populist politics on people everywhere, not least in Europe where acts of terrorism are nothing new to us, has been so strong as to lead to a racist and nationalistic fervour the like of which was last seen in the pre-World War II era. The result, as we all know from either personal and family experiences or the history books, was a horrific war in which millions of people were killed, leaving a miserable trail of utter destruction among both winners and losers.

Europe literally rose from the ashes and swore not to let that happen again. Fascism, nazism and other forms of political and military extremism were stifled as a new era beckoned – the very peace that we have lived sincethe early Fifties when unity became the bargaining factor of most European politics, even at a time when there was still this West-vs-East conundrumseething.

The passage of time, however, and the hapless imposition of ill-timed austerity measures on the part of conservative governments that should have known better during periods of economic hardship, gradually saw the re-emergence of societal attitudes that are fuelled by racism and nationalism, growing into a surge of extremism that is now sharply reflectedin the ballot box.

We owe the many victims of terrorism everywhere, and Europe in particular, our dedicated effort to nip this social malady in the bud before it becomes cancerous, taking the Continent, and the rest of the world with it, back to the days of hate and division, death and destruction, poverty of body and soul. Such thoughts spring to mind as one witnesses, in a state of utter disbelief and consternation, the sad and tragic events that the sinister hand of terrorism actuates and perpetuates.

We are all privy to this wretched reality, whether we are ever caught within its desperate grasp or not. On a personal note, how can I ever forget my own experience of how that very same hand of evil can exert its malicious power even at a time when the world and people everywhere are celebrating the most peaceful and blessed of events – Christmas in Strasbourg a mere four months ago? Having been walking at the very place where this vicious terrorist attack took place, I witnessed the death of one of the victims. This was an attack which took the lives of two innocent passers-by and injuring several others ; a tragedy which left me horrified by how sharp and deadly the obnoxious threat from extremism, of whichever sort, can be.

Even being denied, by well-meaning security agents, exiting the restaurant we were caught in during the carnage felt like being caged and frustrated as the sheer force of lone-wolf terrorism fell abruptly upon that beautiful city that has been in the forefront of European unity and the dissemination of the peace message for such a long time. It makes it easier for me and many others who were, at one time or another, exposed to the demonic handiwork of the terrorist, to understand the pain and the bafflement on the part of the people and government of New Zealand.

Quite paradoxically, however, such ugly moments of terror and the dreadful loss of innocent lives, wherever that occurs, instigate a natural reaction in all of us – a resolute ambition to fight back, not in kind, but in persuasive and authoritative ways, to spread light where darkness has fallen, to let the good in all of us, of whichever political persuasion, whichever skin colour and whichever belief, triumph over evil. That is the one and only avenue ahead of us, the one we should stay on, for society as Europe has known it for the past seventy-four years, to endure, re-grow and look ahead despite the trials and tribulations that terrorism, extremism and their sinister off-shoots inflict upon us.

With the New Zealand massacre wounds still fresh in our hearts and minds, we slowly take our step forward towards a more secure future by brandishing the best possible weapon against hatred, death and destruction – the vote we enjoy as free citizens of a country. From local and nationalelections to the forthcoming European Parliament elections. Our democratic credentials are no mere embellishment, but an undertaking in the name of hope, life and harmonious coexistence.

 

The Malta Independent 28.03.19