No Safe Haven


Christchurch, New Zealand. What could be a more peaceful sounding name for a safe city in a safe nation? 

The poignantly named city was hit by two severe earthquakes in recent years, proof that no matter how secure and placid a place might appear to be, it is not immune to devastating acts of nature. Sadly, last week showed that it isn’t immune to vicious man-made violence either.

The horrific shootings that killed dozens of innocent Muslim worshippers at two mosques, allegedly at the hands of an ultranationalist racist, proves that no location has protection from such attacks. And because mass shootings occur with such unrelenting frequency, it is hard to find the words to describe our revulsion, condemnation and sense of despair. 

In October, when 11 Jewish worshippers were massacred at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, the responses were heartfelt but predictable. There were official expressions of shock, revulsion and solidarity with the victims and their families, a visit from President Donald Trump, interfaith services and the all too familiar refrain of “thoughts and prayers” going out to those most directly affected by the onslaught.


In New Zealand, the alleged attacker is a 28-year-old Australian who describes himself as a white nationalist and says he identifies with the shooter at the Pittsburgh synagogue. The world of social media has brought together merchants of hate from around the world. It even enabled the shooter to livestream the massacre from a camera he had mounted on his body.

Long after the media commotion dies down, the grief and trauma of the more than 50 badly wounded survivors and those who lost loved ones in the massacre will continue. Almost as many of the Muslim worshippers were wounded as were killed in this cowardly act of pure hatred.

Around the nation, including here in St. Louis, Jewish leaders and members came together in solidarity with Muslims in our community to express solidarity with them as they process their shock and grief. The interfaith gatherings recalled last year’s showings of solidarity with the local and national Jewish communities after the Pittsburgh killings, as well as the money raised by Muslims after the desecration of the Chesed Shel Emeth cemetery in University City.

At times like this, people look for true leadership. They crave more than the tepid response from Trump, who has stoked mistrust of Muslims with his rhetoric and his travel restrictions. When he was asked last week whether the New Zealand killings reflect a rise in white nationalism, he dismissed the notion, saying, “I don’t, really. I think it’s a small group of people with serious problems.”  

Instead, everyone should look to the forthright response of New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who impressed the world and showed the proper mix of condolence and defiance when she said, “To the people who did this: You may have chosen us, but we utterly reject and condemn you.”

And, Ardern asserted flatly:

“I can tell you one thing right now: Our gun laws will change.”

Stricter regulations on firearms will do some good. Yet we know that this latest tragedy is not likely to be the last of these vicious and hate-driven attacks. Social media and other online connections can indeed bring out the worst in people, like the shooters in Pittsburgh and New Zealand, and earlier at an A.M.E. church in Charleston, S.C.; a Jewish center in Overland Park, Kan.; and a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc.

But far more people are responding with solidarity with the victims of such crimes and using education and increased security measures to minimize their frequency and casualties. Such responses can provide a ray of hope in dark times that come far too often.