No tragedy is more horrifying than violence perpetrated by humans against fellow humans. That any thinking, feeling person could actively wish to maim or kill another is unimaginable–soul-sickening, even. Could there be any greater tragedy than a life purposely cut short?
This past week alone, over 100 people died during attacks at the Iraq provincial election, several children were beaten into a coma at a Russian orphanage, and two Palestinian teenagers were shot dead by the Israeli military. And on Monday, three people were killed (and over 170 were injured) in the Boston Marathon bombing.
In some areas of the world, tragedy strikes so often that it numbs. But here in Boston, the wound was fresh, and the knife sunk deep. We wept. We prayed. We read the stories of suffering citizens and ordinary heroes, and as we did, an unexpected strength rose up in this time of weakness. The internet became a place of widespread communication and healing. Modern technology allowed an entire city to unite, encircled by the supportive embrace of 50 states and countless countries separated by oceans. Boston was the child caught in a crowd of bullies after school, picked up and comforted by older cousins who had already endured years of abuse. Our tears were real. So were theirs. “We all suffer as a result of this human experience,” they seemed to say. “Our suffering teaches us to love.”
In the days following the explosions, unity became our strength. As others reached out to us, we reached back to them. And then something happened: Two supposed terrorists were on the run, and our newly-covered wounds were suddenly fresh and raw again. It was too soon. We watched as helicopters filled the skies and armed policemen lined the streets, and we gave in to the inevitable: fear.
Fear devolves so quickly into hatred. Instead of reaching out, we began curling up inside as areas of the city went into literal and figurative lockdown. Our “patriotism”–recently so inclusive–became divisive, even revengeful. As angry voices grew louder, the largest mosque in New England decided to shut its doors. The second suspect in the bombings was placed in custody, and social media became a fantasy battleground featuring gruesome scenes of imagined violence against this man who people were calling a “worthless piece of meat.” We had sunk to dehumanization–the very process which allows terrorists themselves to kill so senselessly.
And once we begin thinking like terrorists, terror has won.
This week has already seen too many tragedies. Here’s another: Earlier yesterday, a boy the age of my 19-year-old brother was hiding from hundreds of armed militants, alone, and lying in a pool of his own blood. His fellow classmates in Boston described him as “very funny, very sweet, very sociable.” So what went wrong? We know this: Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is responsible for unconscionable acts of violence, and for that, he must and will face justice. But we don’t have all the facts yet. And deep down, don’t we all wish that someone had pled with this boy to look around at the Boston Marathon bystanders and picture the faces of his own loved ones before acting? Don’t we wish that, instead of thirsting for some sort of twisted revenge, this boy had learned to value human life and to properly mourn its loss?
May we, then, have the strength to look at Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and see the face of a brother, a son. May we have the courage to reverence life–no matter whose–and to substitute a desire for revenge with a desire for healing. I repeat: No tragedy is more horrifying than violence perpetrated by humans against their fellow humans. And when violence and revenge become a way of thinking instead of just a series of isolated events, then that is the greatest tragedy of all.