Message from the Dean

women peacebuilders stand together in Northen Ireland

Tragedy and the Power of Political Will

The recent mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, left 50 people dead and as many injured. This tragic episode unfortunately appears to be increasingly common in many parts of our global village. We seem to have an epidemic of individuals worldwide expressing hatred of an “other” by shooting people indiscriminately in places of religious worship, shopping malls, the streets or other public spaces. This is not simply one person’s madness, an issue of mental health. The pattern begs us to ask questions. What is feeding such hatred? What can be done to stop the epidemic from spreading? Perhaps reasons can be found in macro-factors such as rising inequality. It might be greater religious and nationalistic fanaticism. There are probably issues of personal history and circumstance. What is clear is that we must seek to understand, identify steps we can take to create change, and then be relentless in enacting those steps.

We are in a moment when many heads of state and national politicians, expressing the sentiments of their base supporters, are accentuating social divisions. They are presenting issues in black-and-white, looking for easy solutions. The language and, more importantly, the narratives have real consequences as they divide societies between an “us” and “them.” We must be on the alert and react even more critically when global leaders propose to solve crises by uttering threats, bullying, and means of force.

The world is paying attention to how the people of New Zealand and especially its prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, have responded to the Christchurch tragedy. In order to stop the growing trend of mass shootings of the “other,” it is utterly necessary—and inspiring—for a society and its leaders to focus on reconciliation as a first step. Reconciliation is not just kind words said in the aftermath of the moment. Reconciliation requires actions, which in the case of Ardern included wearing a hijab to express solidarity and leading her government to ban military-style semi-automatic weapons. The hope is that this will eliminate easy access to high-powered weaponry while laying the cornerstone toward greater social unity. These steps have worked to reduce violence in other nations. More leadership like this is required in the present moment.

In the midst of this latest sadness, New Zealand is giving the world a lesson of political will. The epidemic of shootings that kill innocent people must be addressed. Shock and grief can galvanize a majority to change legislation. Ongoing leadership can change normative social behaviors toward more unity and harmony. New Zealand offers a lesson for countries, such as the United States, plagued with gun violence: there are alternative paths. Gun control can be achieved in the short term. 

Dean Patricia Márquez Dean Patricia Márquez "What is clear is that we must seek to understand, identify steps we can take to create change, and then be relentless in enacting those steps."