Charlie Hebdo and the deep wisdom of silence

Things fall apart.

The centre cannot hold.

Here we are again. The blood-dimmed tide is loosed afresh in a new city. This time the finger of fate points at Paris. Magazine staff, shoppers, police, security guards, caretakers. Lest we forget, in Nigeria 200-2,000 people (depending on who you listen to) are killed by Boko Haram.

Terrorism looses the same old anarchy in new places, in new contexts. People going about their daily lives have those lives cut short; we watch coverage, the term ‘breaking news’ suddenly scarily appropriate one more. The breaking news breaks us afresh.

As it should. It sounds absurd to say this; until terrorism threw its shadow over us and our community I had no idea how terrible it was. Violence and murder is one thing; to be killed in the name of some specious political or religious point whilst our friend was in a Nairobi shopping mall is something else entirely. What had he done to get caught up in it? He was living his life, doing some shopping. We all do it; simply, it was the last thing he did.

I could try to understand, and sometimes I’m tempted. I can’t, though. I can’t bring myself to try to understand the politics and religion of Al-Shabaab, the group responsible. To understand their politics, the situation in Kenya and Somalia would be, for me, to give them a patina of legitimacy. I can’t allow that to happen. I’d rather remember instead the Imam who stood on the stage with me at the funeral and gave me a hug.

So as Paris and Nigeria struggle for air in the suffocating light of tragedy, my heart goes out to them. I sit in the dust and I weep with them. I mourn, I rend my garments. I am angry, I am sad, I stand with them in their responses and pray they are comforted and emboldened.

As I do so, I see others are reaching for explanations, for qualifications, for understanding. The cartoons were racist and offensive; they had it coming; secular democracy and religious fundamentalism are always on a collision course. All true, probably. But not for now.

Now, in this moment, they mean nothing. Unless you are a policy maker or some such person who actually has to do something, your words are empty. If you qualify, if you explain too soon, you cede ground. You are Job’s comforters. You sound correct, and perhaps you are; but what is needed is silence, tears, mourning and the anger of the wounded, scarred, scared and bereaved.

There are too many words from people with too little influence, too little to actually say.

So be quiet awhile, and let ancient words speak.

So these three men stopped answering Job … (Job 32:1)


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