It is striking for us to look at the photographs of Azzedine Soufiane, Mamadou Tanou Barry, Khaled Belkacemi, Aboubaker Thabti, Ibrahima Barry and Abdelkrim Hassane, the six Quebec Muslims who were gunned down while praying in their mosque on January 29th. When we think of the 17 orphans they left behind, the other shooting victims, a couple of whom are still in critical condition, or the 39 people who were able to leave the mosque physically unscathed but deeply distraught, we cannot but feel compassion for them. Instinctively we experience a sense of moral outrage that this could possibly happen here in peaceful Canada. And our outrage makes us want to lay the blame on something or someone - yes on the assassin but also on what might have led him to commit such a heinous act. We might blame recent elections in the US, Quebec nationalism, lax gun rules, vulgar talk radio in Quebec City or lack of political leadership. But where is the individual, the human person in the midst of this? Those six faces that look out at us awaken a deep sorrow within, a pain that they are no longer here among us, a pain for their children, families and loved ones.
How ironic that as those Muslims were praying in their mosque, seeking a meaning, a link between their ephemeral everyday existence and the face of mystery, their lives were meaninglessly taken, that ephemeral existence was, as it were physically wiped away. A meaningful gesture was attacked by an action devoid of any sense. Violence is always devoid of meaning and the lack of meaning always causes us to react, ultimately violently, with ourselves and others. And when we see no meaning to our existence, it becomes difficult for us as well to understand that the other, the one who is different from us, the one we might disagree with can actually be a good for us.
If our first reaction is not moral outrage and to search for a culprit, if it is sorrow for the loss for those among us, it also becomes easier to see that the beginnings of a response to such evil are not to be found in systemic reform, which nevertheless is important or in political solutions, which certainly are significant. Rather a first response to the tragic and dramatic events of January 29th is in the human heart, a heart that seeks a meaning, the only Meaning that can quench its thirst. For only if my heart has had the taste of an otherwise impossible satisfaction will I be able to recognize that the other is a good for me.
Even if it seems impossible for us today, that simple gesture of prayer of our Muslim brothers as they were being slaughtered, is a possibility of hope for all of us. Our simplest response would be to take up our path again and live our everyday ephemeral existence with a new awareness that it has meaning, precisely because it relates to the Infinite.