Wednesday, January 16, 2019

The Ubiquity of Evil

For those blog readers who may have wondered: yes, M and I are safe in Nairobi. For those who have not heard by now, there was just a terror attack here. You can read all about the latest breaking news on BBC, CNN, AP, and many other outlets. The image above is a screencap from Citizen TV, the biggest TV station in Kenya.

The attack took place at 14 Riverside Drive, in the compound of the DusitD2 hotel, in the high-end neighborhood of Westlands, Nairobi. It is about 20 minutes away from our house, and we drove past it twice on the day of the attack, mere hours beforehand. (I was and am still furloughed and therefore not working.)

I won't pretend I have any idea what it was like to be trapped in the building for hours not knowing whether I'd make it, to be praying for my family member who works in the area, or to be on the ground during the attack. If I know anything about the intrepid reporters who call Nairobi home, those accounts will come soon enough. I only had a few thoughts I wanted to share with whomever happens to read this.

First, nothing sparks fake news quite like a crisis. From the moment the attack began, rumors began flying around on social media. I saw everything from false contact information for emergency services to rampant speculation about the terrorists' target to conflicting descriptions of the details of the attack (including something as basic as the number of attackers). The takeaway: very few sources can be trusted in a developing crisis. It's worth taking everything you hear with a grain of salt and to verify information with official sources - in this case, those would be the Government of Kenya security services (and, if you're a U.S. citizen, the U.S. Embassy).

That being said, if you're an American and you want information from the U.S. Embassy in a crisis, please register for STEP. This is the only way we know to email you when something like this happens. We do our best to disseminate information as widely as possible, including on our website and social media, but if you're not in the STEP system for that country you just might miss crucial information at a crucial time.

Aside from the practical things, I hope you'll indulge me to share a few reflections on evil. Hannah Arendt argues in her famous book Eichmann in Jerusalem that Eichmann, a man billed as an architect of the Holocaust, is more clown than monster and more average Joe than fanatic anti-Semite. In this book, she coins the now-famous expression "the banality of evil", concluding that the actors behind the Holocaust and their motivations are unexceptional even if their actions and the outcomes were extraordinarily horrific and cruel.

Well, if evil is banal I'd also say that it's ubiquitous. There are many people back home who might be worried for our safety, but the reality is we live in a fallen world with many broken institutions and people. In Kenya, there's the ever-lingering threat of Al Shabaab, the Somalia-based terror group that has claimed responsibility for the most recent Nairobi attack. Yet when I interned in Paris, France, the Charlie Hebdo shooting happened. Even in our beautiful home country, the United States, schoolchildren and parents prepare themselves for the next mass shooting. The perpetrator may be an incel or an ISIS-inspired recruit or just someone who didn't get the help he needed in time. In places like Kabul, Afghanistan, terrorism strikes with even more alarming frequency.

There's nothing separating you or me from the innocent victims of these unimaginable acts of violence except sheer, dumb luck. "There but for the grace of God, go I." So may our hearts and thoughts and prayers be with the victims, but let's do more. Let's donate our time and blood and resources to those who are most afflicted. Let's help bear one another's burdens, mourn with those who mourn, and comfort those who stand in need of comfort. Let's stand in solidarity together, strengthen partnerships between nations, build up each other's communities, expand access to education and opportunities, and pursue policies that will help us root out evil wherever it festers and mitigate its damage when it strikes...

For if there's one thing tragedy has taught me over and over again it's that, though evil may be ubiquitous, goodness is even more so. And with that goodness comes hope, love, charity, and - with time - healing. No terrorist or mass murderer or evil actor of any kind can change that, and at the end of the day that's why they'll never win. In the meantime, the rest of us have work to do.

No comments:

Post a Comment