No26 October 1997.6
The other day, someone saw a car deliberately hit a duck that had wandered onto the highway. The driver ran it over, not because he couldn't avoid it, but obviously because he had told himself: "A duck isn't even worth slowing down for. It's your own fault for being in my way". The thought never crossed the driver's mind, nor would he have been capable of understanding it if it had, that the duck was alive, a wonder of creation. The uncaring driver, incapable of creating anything on his own, other than a stick of wood to make a match, ran over the duck as if it were no more than a paper bag.
Nothing is sacred anymore.
Life! One might think that life would be the final refuge of humanity in search of reason. But reason has deserted humanity. And yet, what heroic efforts are sometimes made to sustain life! One day, in the operating room at Notre-Dame Hospital in Montreal, 20 people laboured tirelessly to save a single patient, bringing all their skills and dedication to bear on the situation. And that same day, at the same time, only a few miles away on St. Lawrence St., a single man took one second to press the trigger of a machine gun and cut down 20 people, all in perfect health. Why? For a few bags of white powder.
Nothing is sacred anymore.
Humankind, the master of sophisticated technology, has bent the earth to its projects, filled in valleys and drilled through mountains, has slipped the bonds of gravity to make a pathway to the stars and planets. But at the same time, in Algiers, entire populations are the prisoners of fanatics who kill innocents in the name of their god, a god who bears no resemblance at all to the God of Muhammad.
Nothing is sacred anymore.
Since 1992, Algeria has been the scene of internal genocide, leaving 60,000 dead. In the space of a few weeks, 300 were killed in Sidi Rais, 200 more in Baraki, 30 in Bouangoud near Chrea and 13 in Draa T'mar near Medea (south of Algiers); 11 teachers had their throats cut in front of their pupils in Sidi Bel Abbès, 110 villagers were massacred in Blida near Oran, 43 travellers were decapitated in Zouia near Tlemcen (western Algeria), and the grim list goes on and on. Men, women and children with their throats cut, their bodies mutilated or burned. These killings sow panic among the people. How can they get themselves out of this deadly mess?
The killers are killing to prove that they are right. They kill for the purity of the faith. They kill in the name of Allah.
The Armed Islamist Group (GIA), the most extreme of the Algerian fundamentalist movements, has claimed responsibility for a number of deaths. They declare:
"The GIA is with God s blessing the group that kills and massacres and will continue to do so as long as the name of the religion has not been imposed and the name of God has not been raised to the highest. Let it be known to all that what we do in killing, massacring, burning and pillaging is close to God. We advise you of this, in accordance with our faith and our methods: no dialogue, no truce and no reconciliation." (CommuniquÇ from the GIA faxed to the Paris and London offices of the international Arabic-language newspaper Al Hayat on September 26).
Do these assassins really believe in Allah? Do they believe in the God who is presented in the Coran as The All-Merciful? This does not seem likely when these "believers" take their war to the very steps of the mosques where God calls them to pray.
What do the 65,000 members of Montreal's Muslim community have to say? Rachid Boudjadrane, a spokesman for the community, is outraged at the way the media have linked Islam and terrorism. "Our religion forbids us to kill even an animal. The conflict in Algeria is not a religious one, especially since everyone there is Muslim."
Definitely not a religious war, but rather a struggle for power, with religion merely being used as a tool. When the lust for power goes so far as to take the place of conscience, it is a perversion. Only someone with a God complex would want to control people so utterly.
Nothing is sacred anymore.
People kill to get their own way. When taking life becomes the coin for gaining ground; when causing suffering becomes a window on the world to prove to the West that this is a "holy" war; when violent death as a result of lies, hate and vengeance becomes part of someone's hidden agenda for acquiring power and wealth, then nothing is really sacred anymore.
And yet they claim that they still respect the five pillars of Islam: the profession of faith or chahadah: "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his Messenger"; prayer or salat, done five times a day (at dawn, at noon, in the afternoon, at nightfall and in the evening); fasting or sawm during the month of Ramadan (the ninth lunar month), the pilgrimage to Mecca or hadj which must be made at least once in their lifetime by all Muslims possessed of the physical and financial means; the required almsgiving or zakat which goes to the community of believers, and the freewill almsgiving or sadaqa to the needy.
And yet, is there anything more sacred than life?
The sad thing is that we are capable of doing good and committing evil with just as good conscience. We are certain that we are in the right. As during the Crusades, the Inquisition, medieval and modern wars between Catholic and Protestant (as in Northern Ireland), in India, or anywhere religious fanaticism holds sway. Can anything be less sacred than a "holy war"? Indeed, can there be anything less sacred than war, period? What is there to be gained in fighting? War causes the death of innocents, of women with their stomachs cut open, of children with their heads cut off, of men with their throats slashed. Spilled blood that makes God ashamed, whether God is known as Allah, the God of Jesus or Yahweh.
But let s not be too quick to assume our hands are clean here in North America or Canada. Do we still have a sense of the sacred, at least when it comes to life? Just consider, among other things, the abortions we authorize so easily. Like the driver who ran over the duck, we also take part in the massacre of the innocents through an attitude we are all responsible for: our attitude that we are entitled to get what we want, even at the expense of others. Too bad for them: but after all, "you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs". Somewhere in this attitude is a certain disdain for life, including our own, which we deliberately sacrifice to money and power, to all sorts of personal "gods" that are perhaps better known as "demons" . We each have one hand to gather together and another to separate; one foot to run to someone's assistance and another to crush; and if we have only one heart, then it is divided. Let us respond and live out our short lives as creators, not destroyers. As sons and daughters of God, not as creatures of pride and stupidity.
Otherwise, nothing will ever be sacred.
What we need to do to win the war for the sacred is to lay down our arms. Just as a certain Francis of Assisi did in Damietta at the mouth of the Nile in Egypt on June 24, 1219. In the middle of the Crusades, the barefoot beggar crossed enemy lines and was received by Al-Malik al-Kamil, the nephew of the celebrated Saladin. They entered into a respectful dialogue. Because he had gone to the Muslims in a spirit of peace, rejecting the crusades and their armies, Francis was received by the sultan with the greeting "Assalam aleikum". Francis felt strongly that religion should bring people together, not divide them.
We need heroes like these who can build bridges between people. Bridges that are founded on respect for the other in his otherness, his diversity, his uniqueness.
The Hindus have an admirable respect for life. All life is sacred, from the ant to the cow and human beings.
Among the Muslims, the Coran proclaims respect for life.
Among Christians, the Bible proclaims respect for life.
Among the Jews, the Torah proclaims respect for life.
Among humanist atheists, there is an innate respect for life in their selfless works.
This respect for life is sacred.
So where have we gone wrong? Where did we take the wrong path? And who will put humanity back on the right one?
The Patriarch Athenagoras once said this:
The most difficult war is the war against oneself. I have fought this war for years and it has been terrible. But I have laid down my weapons. I no longer have any fears, because love casts out fear. I have laid down my desire to be right, to justify myself by saying that others are wrong. I am no longer on my guard, jealously protecting my riches. I welcome others and share. What is good, true, real, is always the best thing for me. That is why I am not afraid anymore. When you do not have anything, you are not afraid anymore. If you put away your arms, if you put away your possessions, if you work for the God-Man who makes all things new, then He will erase the evils of the past and give us a new time in which all things are possible
Wanted: someone to be a Champion of Life, please!
Michel Fortin, M.Afr.