When Will We Ever Learn? A Reflection on the Bombings in Sri Lanka

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By Sister Karen Donahue

Like many, I woke up on Easter Sunday morning to the horrendous news from Sri Lanka. At that point, close to 200 people had been killed in a series of bombings at churches and luxury hotels in and around the capital city of Colombo. Over the next few days, the death toll would rise to more than 350. Thankfully that number has been revised down to 253.

Incidents of mass violence like that which took place in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday have become all too common in our world. Sometimes I fear that I am becoming immune to them. The initial shock and sadness for the loss of life quickly wears off and I go back to business as usual. Just think of Norway (July 2011), Sandy Hook (December 2012), Paris (November 2015), Orlando (June 2016) and Parkland (February 2018), just to name a few. The list goes on and on. While these events capture world attention, countless acts of violence are perpetrated every day in homes, places of business, public spaces and conflict zones on every continent.

I struggle to make sense of this reality. (Maybe that is an exercise in futility, as there is nothing sensible or justifiable about violence). But still, I have a deep desire to get to the root of this global scourge that seems to be increasing and is causing so much suffering, with no end in sight.

While some of these acts have been carried out by individuals with deep-seated mental and emotional issues, a common thread that seems to run through so many of them is fear/hatred of the other—those of other religious, racial, ethnic, national, social or political identities/beliefs. The young man in Norway saw the students who embraced democratic socialism as a threat. The Christchurch, New Zealand, shooter was motivated by white nationalism. Religious fundamentalists, no matter their creed, see followers of other faith traditions as heretics and infidels.

Nonviolence, Polarization and Oneness

We are living in an ever-more polarized world in which deep differences over a whole range of issues can spark violent confrontations. We have seen white supremacists march through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, and self-appointed militia groups take the law into their own hands at the U.S.–Mexico border. Young men of color continue to face violence at the hands of law enforcement officers on city streets in the United States. Similar conditions exist in countries across the world.

Click here to learn more about our Critical Concern of nonviolence.

How do we respond? Our Chapter 2017 Recommitment statement, A Call to New Consciousness, challenges us to look at our Critical Concerns through the lens of nonviolence. One way would be to deepen the realization that we are all one. Here, our anti-racism work takes on added significance by addressing white supremacy and white privilege, which create a chasm between people and deny our common humanity.

Just a few days ago, the United States marked the twentieth anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado that left 14 dead, including the two perpetrators. Little did we realize that 20 years later, rather than being a tragic anomaly, Columbine-type events would be common occurrences. I fear the bombings in Sri Lanka will be just one more entry in an already too-long line of tragedies from which we never seem to learn the lesson.

Join us in supporting Sri Lanka with Shoulder to Shoulder, our partner organization, which seeks to end violence and further justice and inclusion for all.