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  • Christopher Strain

49 Prayer Mats

Three hours ago a group of people in Melbourne, Australia, took part in a vigil for the victims of yesterday's shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand. They rolled out 49 prayer mats with candles for the 49 victims shot to death by the man who attacked two mosques there because he thought it was the right thing to do.

Everything in his frame of reference—everything he heard (or thought he heard) from those he revered, from politicians and pundits and bloggers in New Zealand and the USA and elsewhere, everything he gleaned from scurrilous propaganda mills that pass as news outlets, everything he read online in echo chambers of hate and intolerance, everything in his mental schema—told him it was right. The mental planet which he and other extremists inhabit is a closed ecosystem.

According to Robert Fuller, physicist and former president of Oberlin College, hate is caused by unrelieved indignity, real or imagined. This shooter imagined Muslims in Christchurch as thieving immigrants, stealing his birthright as a New Zealander and a white man. They became scapegoats in the divide between his own accomplishments and shortcomings, between his own privileged entitlement (entitled privilege?) and the meritocracy symbolized by foreigners accomplishing more with less in “his” very own space. He stewed in these perceived indignities and lashed out. Words—hateful, venomous, misinformed—moved him to act.

The outcome of hate-fueled rhetoric is not mysterious or unpredictable. It is terrible and known and its outcome is inevitable, whether in Christchurch or Charleston or Pittsburgh, in your hometown or mine. Knowing this fact, let us speak kindness and love. Let this kindness and love flood the Internet’s echo chamber of hate. Let us speak truth to power in great waves, sweeping away fake news, alternative facts, and conspiracy theories in its wake. Let our words be beautiful. Because words matter.

One hour ago the death toll climbed to 50.

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