Is anywhere out there safe from hatred?

MARCH 24 — Just over a week ago, New Zealand suffered its worst terrorist attack.

Dozens of people were gunned down while praying in two mosques in Christchurch. 

The culprit was a lone gunman motivated almost exclusively by racism. Driven by irrational hatred and fear of people with different skin tones and different religious beliefs from himself, he opened fire again and again. Ruining lives, breaking families, doing endless harm.

The extent of the barbarity and loss cannot be adequately expressed but in the senselessness, I think it is possible to glean at least one clear message: it is crucial that we confront racism, prejudice and ignorance wherever we find it. 

As much as people will try to dismiss this as the work of a single isolated lunatic, the reality is that this sort of violence explodes from an ecosystem.

From forums, online message boards, from divisions fostered by politicians and the media for short-term ratings and popularity, from day to day ignorance. 

This attack happened in a small city in an exceptionally safe, peaceful and prosperous country. Far away from the front lines of the various wars and terror, far away from the images of right wing hate groups we see in the news.   

Flowers, messages and flags of New Zealand and Malaysia are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. — Reuters pic
Flowers, messages and flags of New Zealand and Malaysia are seen at the memorial site for the victims of Friday’s shooting, outside Masjid Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand March 19, 2019. — Reuters pic

If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere — and this includes Singapore. Of course, Singapore’s gun laws are considerably stricter than that of New Zealand and there’s the old temptation to say “nothing like that could happen here.”

But it’s simply not true. Wherever you find corners in which hatred and ignorance have been left to fester, there is always a possibility that the ensuing fear will find a dangerous outlet. 

And there are certainly corners of hate and vast open plains of ignorance in Singapore.

It takes just seconds of Googling to see outpourings of local rage against foreigners, to see glee in the hurt and discomfort suffered by people who aren’t Singaporean. 

But if you Google for a few more seconds, you will find hate and ignorance vented by Singaporeans against Singaporeans of other races, religions and colours. 

It’s all there, and not just online. In thousands of prejudiced conversations by hundreds of ignorant neighbours sharing untruths and half truths about other groups, as family members share memes that seem funny but actually perpetuate stereotypes and prejudices, we have the ingredients for something much worse.  

Now these mindless sharers of ignorance and even the more virulent trolls and purveyors of hate filling up online message boards and creating hateful memes aren’t, in most cases, going to commit any kind of attack but they help create an environment from which attacks can spring.

The man in New Zealand attacked mosques because he clearly wasn’t capable of empathy with the people inside. He could not see those he massacred as humans. 

He was so cut off from them he couldn’t see individual stories and lives, he saw only their skin colour and their religion. 

And this attitude of seeing groups, not individuals, isn’t confined to shooters. It’s everywhere and we see it often in Singapore.  

Whole groups and peoples defined by a single word or race without reference to individuality and shared identity. 

If you go for a walk or step into a local hawker centre, you will see how segregated groups are.

You’ll see different colours, religions and faces but have these groups really accepted each other? As long as unnecessary divisions exist, danger exists and we all face the possibility of a sudden senseless explosion. 

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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