The death of innocents

We are accustomed almost every day now to reading about or seeing on television news of murder and mayhem somewhere in the world. Indeed, so habituated are we to reports of violent atrocities and mass suffering that we are almost inured to the grim statistics emerging from war zones such as Iraq and Darfur.

It may well be that such conflicts are too far removed from our daily reality for their true horrors to be genuinely appreciated. After all, they are other people’s wars, aren’t they?

But it takes only one chance encounter like that experienced by Dennis Wiggins, as described in his letter of 4th November (“Armed struggle is not an option, peaceful co-existence is our only hope”), to bring home to us the full enormity and murderous savagery of internecine warfare. And as thinking, feeling human beings, we wonder, along with Mr Wiggins, at man’s inhumanity to man and the seemingly boundless capacity for vicious terror that exists in too many of our fellow human beings.

The tale of the lady from the Congo, as related by Mr Wiggins, is a salutary one. And while memories are being resurrected here about our own tragedies of the early 60s, her scribe’s message regarding “the reality of the pathology of violence against the innocent” and the need for “dialogue and reconciliation” has a certain resonance.

Let us, however, for the moment, move from the macro to the micro, from the big picture of revolution, civil war and armed struggle, which we may not always be able to comprehend, to the frequent reports of brutality and terror inflicted on individuals going about the daily, mundane business of simply living, in places far from the frontline.

On Wednesday, in Tuusula, near the Finnish capital, Helsinki, in a bloody reprise of the type of massacre more usually associated with the gun culture and dysfunctionality of American society, an eighteen year-old student killed seven of his fellow pupils and their headmistress at a high school, before turning his gun on himself. The mass murder is all the more shocking as Finland is one of the world’s most stable and liveable countries and, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the sixth most peaceful country in the world.

Last week Thursday, in Perugia, Italy, a drunken party became a nightmare of sex and murder for a twenty-one year-old British exchange student, who was sexually assaulted and had her throat slashed in her own apartment. As the horrific details emerge, it seems that the victim’s American flatmate, her Italian boyfriend and a Congolese friend were all involved and the Italian police have charged all three with murder and “participation in an act of sexual violence”.

Right here in Guyana, nine year-old Sade Stoby of Mocha was last weekend battered to death and, it would appear, also subjected to sexual molestation. She had last been seen on Friday afternoon making her way home from school sucking innocently on a piece of sugar cane.

It is every parent’s nightmare, the disappearance or death of a child. And it is all the worse when the circumstances are so heinous. From Mocha to Perugia to Tuusula, evil stalks the global village.

Even as our thoughts and prayers go out to the family of little Sade Stoby, we should grieve for the death of all the innocents and for the unimaginable pain of their mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and all who knew and loved them.

The 17th century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, is much quoted for his description of mankind’s natural state, before the imposition of societal order, that is, living in “continuall feare, and danger of violent death”. Hobbes’s summation of the life of man in this state, as “solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short”, would appear, all too sadly, to be apposite to this day.

One of the tragedies of the human condition is, of course, that even with material and technological progress, even with development and the outward trappings of ‘civilization’, evil is never far from the surface, lurking in the hearts and minds of sick men and women everywhere.

Good versus evil, reason versus base instincts, love versus hate, these are concerns for the ages. But we need not surrender to despair, depression or worse. Violence begets violence and hatred begets only hatred.

If we look around us, there are sufficient tales of heroism and love, which may not grab the headlines but which give sufficient cause to believe in the power of the human spirit to triumph, in spite of all the suffering and the death of innocents.

And as some email chain letters urge, let not a day pass without letting your loved ones know that you do indeed love them.

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