Published in the Courier Mail 7 Sep 2004
WHAT are we to do? A 12-year-old, who watched terrorists kill her friends, asks if she will ever forget.
A teary grandmother sobs that her town is visited by evil. And we watch in horror as the events half a world away play out on our television screens. What are we to do?
It is beyond us to fully understand the complexities of the ethnic and religious interplay in this situation.
The historical animosity that exists goes a small way to explaining the situation.
The climate of international Islamic terrorism perhaps sheds more light upon the events in Beslan.
Yet still we struggle to comprehend. What are we to do?
We don’t know, and yet we must do something, and therein lies the paradox. For we are deeply moved, but strangely paralysed.
We are disturbed by the events in Russia, but we are plagued by a sense of impotency.
We echo the feelings of US writer Norman Mailer: “The horror of the 20th century was the size of each new event, and the paucity of its reverberation.”
In a world of chaos, we are getting used to devastation, if one can ever truly get used to it.
We are learning to live with the cloud of terrorism. We expect increased safety measures at major events. To the dismay of civil libertarians everywhere, we are more willing to give up areas of our personal rights for national security.
But even with all our sophistication, and our compassion fatigue, events from the past few days strike at our heart with particular force. It was the first day of school. It should have been a happy day.
The only tears should have been from first time pupils who didn’t want to leave their parents and go to a classroom. At the end of the day, there should have been joyful reunions, as children gleefully recounted to their parents what they learnt and the new friends they had made at school. Instead, there is a mounting death toll.
For those fortunate enough to survive, their innocence has been stolen and nightmares remain.
So, what are we to do?
We can send assistance and messages of support, which we are doing.
We can provide intelligence to help find the masterminds and catch the perpetrators, as well as attempting to prevent further such tragedies.
We can petition our governments to do even more on this global war on terror.
We can keep up international pressure on state-sponsored terrorism.
And while all of this is good, and should be done, it still does not heal the wound in our hearts.
For in one long moment, a terrible crime stole something from all of humanity.
And we long for justice.
We want to see justice for the children of Beslan.
We want to see justice for the world that watched in horror and felt vulnerable. We want to see justice for the sake of our children, whom we held a little closer as news broke of the siege.
Evil men and women must not be free to do this.
And we want justice.
Someone once said that crime takes but a moment, but justice an eternity.
Sometimes we wonder if it ever occurs at all.
The United Nations’ track record gives us little hope that we can expect a great deal of justice from this international body. Even when criminals are brought to the courts, again we often find that justice eludes us.
Every Australian, touched in some way by the Bali bombing, couldn’t help but be disturbed by the reports of Ali Imron enjoying a latte with the Indonesian police last week.
AMERICAN Edna Buchanan, a crime reporter and mystery author, was right when she acknowledged that the system is not one of justice but of law. Yet we long for justice to be done in this situation. So what are we to do?
Perhaps we can learn from the hostages themselves. In the midst of great distress, reports started to filter through yesterday that within the gymnasium, the hostages prayed, and taught others who had no religious background, how to also pray.
Perhaps they also can also teach us how to pray.
If justice takes an eternity, there is little wonder that we struggle with the injustice we see around us. In a secular and materialistic society such as ours, we do not talk of eternal things. But maybe we should — even if it is just for a moment.
We could pause in our busy lives to reflect upon what may be beyond us, and the comfort that can offer. And as we do, perhaps we could also pray — for Russia, for the children, for ourselves — and for justice.