Thoughts on a London Bus Attack
June 11, 2019
I have been trying to decide what to do about my outrage from the recent news report about the attack of two girls on a London bus by a group of boys who were bent on hate. If you have not seen the report, here is a Toronto Sun report, one of the many flooding the internet.
Seeing the bloodied faces of the girls fills me with rage. They had gone out together to have a quiet enjoyable evening in London, only to be terrorized, threatened, and physically hurt by a group of boys who can only be described as thugs. In all the outrage going on in the world, this seemed to tip the outrage scale for me. Perhaps because it happened in Europe where I live, and not the United States where I have grown accustomed to this kind of hate. But mostly because I can feel the pain of these two women and feel the desire to do something in return. Their bloody faces in the photo sum up the suffering of so many at the hands of banal hate. Comments on this story range from shock, to “I wish I was there to give those bullies a beating.” I confess I too want to be that “hero” who gives them a beating. How can this happen. I want them to be thrown in prison and locked away forever. I want justice!
In a time of outrage, this is our normal response. The world is divided into hate filled camps, and I too am in one of those camps. But, I am trying to consider what a different world would look like. What it would be like to not hate.
So, I think about the boys. What forces made them decide to socialize this way? What made them feel that they needed to attack two innocent bystanders to show how “manly” they were? What made them think that this kind of cowardly violence was going to make them feel better about themselves? And, why did they feel the need to feel better about themselves? This tragedy is not simply the result of individual choices. We would be comforted by that. We could say they were just bad boys, thugs, deviants. But they are not. They are a symptom of a larger problem. A problem of insecurity, rage, of the idea of retributive justice. They are our problem.
What about the parents? Are they evil? Did they raise these boys to be like this? Are they too people who have socialized into this system of hate? Or are they terrified at what is happening to their sons? Do they lie awake at night wondering if they will be vilified in the news for actions of their children that they cannot control any longer? Every time there is a terrorist killing, a school shooting, there are the victims. But, there is also the mother or father of the perpetrator. No one cares about them, yet they too lost a child. Perhaps they lost them years earlier, but now they are lost forever. While everyone comforts the parents of the victims, the parents of the perpetrator are left to grieve alone, often with hatred and threats directed at them.
And here is my dilemma. Retributive justice simply doesn’t work. Why not you ask? John Wayne, Bruce Willis, every Hollywood film ever made has a hero who gets even and we are rid of the villain and life is returned to good. Indeed this is an integral part of the myth of American rugged individualism. We have individuals who are evil, and heroic individuals can kill them and all will be well.
BUT, what if we do not have individuals who are evil? What if we have a damaged system that runs on hate, that elects the best hater, that demands justice for themselves and no mercy toward its enemies? How will retributive justice work then? When we respond to hate with hate, the world merely has more hate. When we respond to anger with anger the world simply has more anger. When we respond to being othered by people, by retreating to our tribe and othering them, we simply create more tribal divisions. When we go to war to make peace, we merely make more war.
On the other hand, we can begin to fix the system with individual action. Or, if we cannot fix it we can at least rebel against it. When we respond to hate with love we reduce the hate in the world. When we respond to violence with mercy, we reduce the violence. When we respond to evil with good, we lessen the evil in the world. Any other response merely adds to the problem.
But this is not satisfying. We want our anger justified. We feel that to respond to hate with love justifies hate. To give mercy to those who are doing evil will only justify their evil. And there is a degree to which we need law to enforce containment of violence until we can fix it. But, we must hope for something better than more law enforcement. More profits from prisons. More hate. We need to eliminate evil, not by eliminating the people, but changing their way of viewing the world and their place in it, and by changing the system that makes them feel that it is ok to hate. Perhaps there are sociopaths for which this is a lost cause. But the vast majority of men and women in this world simply want peace and safety. We have a world in which the vast majority do not want to live in hate, and we can begin with this longing and build on it.
Love does not condone hate, it negates it. Mercy does not condone crime, it denies it. Love produces more love, mercy more mercy, kindness more kindness. What kind of world, what kind of system do we want? One built for the for profit justice industry? Or one in which it is normal and safe to love, show kindness and mercy? I know which one I want, I also know that love is hard.