The disturbing images continued to play out on our screens and in our newspapers – photographs and videos depicting the atrocity at the Westgate Shopping Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. While the death toll soared, it took security forces three days to seize control of the centre, although the insurgents had yet to be tracked down.
On Sunday, as the tragedy entered its second day, an equally vicious atrocity was perpetrated in another part of our troubled world. In Peshawar, Pakistan, at least 80 people were killed and more than 120 injured by two suicide bombers who cruelly struck as worshippers were leaving the All Saints Anglican Church. The pictures are as distressing as those from Nairobi.
Our outrage seems to escalate as news filters out of the victims. We hear of pregnant women, a devoted couple, an award-winning poet, and a British mother and daughter. Our prayers are for those who have been killed or injured, and those who have lost family and friends. We continue to intercede for those who await news, agonisingly still unaware of the fate of their loved ones.
Condemnation of these vicious, cowardly killings comes from all sides. Even the Pakistani Taliban condemned the Peshawar attack. What possible justification can there be for mowing down innocent people in a public place?
But the more information that emerges about these acts of terror, the more foreboding the situation becomes. That inevitable "Why?" brings alarming responses such as apparent revenge attacks for alleged atrocities perpetrated somewhere else. Al-Shabab, a Somali Islamist movement, said it carried out the attack in response to Kenyan military action in Southern Somalia, while Taliban-linked militant groups Jundullah and Junood ul-Hifsa claimed the Peshawar bombing was in retaliation for US drone strikes in north west Pakistan.
War has always been a blight on humanity. The toll on human life is always excessive and the detrimental effect on our society is incalculable. The ominous message confirmed by these attacks on innocents is one we have come to understood globally – there are no boundaries to war zones.
Modern communication has turned the world into a global village and along with the benefits and challenges of this, there is also the sobering fact that protagonists of any war can choose any spot to wage it. Nairobi and Peshawar are stark reminders that the war zone is global. According to reports from Nairobi, Al-Shabab had recruits from various parts of the world. It was also reported that teenagers were involved in the attack. I find it disturbing that young people can be attracted away from the society we value and hold up as ‘best practice’ and be radicalised to give up their lives to causes which are so flawed, extreme and brutal.
Sadly our society is also flawed. Injustice, poverty, inconsistency, corruption and alienation is rife. And while I acknowledge there is no simple answer to this challenge, perhaps, part of the answer lies in being even more intentional about tackling those flaws in our own society so that we truly model a better way of being community. It might restore faith in our leaders and give us the moral authority to promote ‘our way’ to our global neighbours – again, something we are unable to do as long as we continue to struggle with keeping our own house clean.
Finally, these atrocities have caused me to think about the Church. Despite possessing the message of Jesus, we struggle to attract young people and to lead them to embrace the life of discipleship to which Jesus points – where love, not hate drives to good not evil. Perhaps it is because they, like the radicalised young people who join the extremists and perpetrate the kind of atrocities we have seen this weekend, don’t see enough of that ideal being modelled before them.
And so I mourn the world – the loss of life, humanity and hope. I mourn the endless conflicts, the collapse of community in the face of society’s challenges, and the frequently ineffective witness of the Church. There are many who mourn with me today. I pray that Jesus’ promise will come true: Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted – and that we do all we can to enable that to be so.