Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Double tragedy: When mass shootings diminish our humanity

Double tragedy: When mass shootings diminish our humanity
Published 13 Jun 2016 

As the world reacts to the news of the Orlando shooting, it is striking how these events are becoming a shoulder shrug away from reality. So intense and regular is media coverage of such incidents that the impact is being muted. The terrorists are failing in their goal of instilling fear because to feel fear we need to be human and each mass shooting diminishes our humanity.

Recent events, be it hooligans at a soccer game or the bashing of atheists in Bangladesh, are proof that around the globe the normative barriers that stop people crossing the line to the use of violence are eroding. Most people now acknowledge the US has a problem with its gun laws but the issue is much wider than that. Countries around the world are building up their military arsenals against perceived threats and this has a trickle-down effect, sending messages of distrust that resonate across societies.

Nevertheless, there is hope; little glimpses that unite to present a contrary view. [fold] The recent 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre demonstrated how the tragic events of that day are firmly wedged in the collective memory of the Australian people. As someone who only became an Australian citizen a little over three years ago, I was captivated and overcome with emotion as I watched the anniversary ceremony broadcast live from the tiny Tasmanian town.

At the time, the profound impact of the Port Arthur event extended from that community across a country, thanks in a large degree to the leadership of then Prime Minister John Howard. The senseless violence and loss of innocent lives affected the entire population and the united nation responded. As Malcolm Turnbull put it in his ceremonial speech:

Twenty years on, we realise then that from the heartbreak and the grief of this tragedy has risen a legacy of a freer, safer nation.

Because, to this nation’s and its leaders’ great credit, we stood up for the victims of this crime and their families. 

Our leaders gave voice to those whose voices were silenced.

This is exactly the human effect that an event such as the tragic Orlando shooting should prompt.

The proposed Bali Peace Park on the Sari night club site where 212 people lost their lives in 2002 is another striking case study of the symbolism of terror attacks and the ‘sites of death’ they leave behind. The BBPAI, an organisation put together by victims and other affected individuals, has been working persistently to gather the funds needed to buy the land so that a symbolic peace park can be built on the site. After years of controversy, mainly due to the landlord’s refusal to sell the land for the market price, the peace park is still to be realised.

Recently I asked a sociologist visiting from New York how we could get people get engaged in a project such as the Bali Peace Park, more than a decade after the event, to raise the funding still needed. He said people’s emotions have to be evoked. Similarly to when we read a book or hear a song that take us places only our hearts know, the Bali Peace Park project needs to somehow reach people’s emotions.

The Port Arthur anniversary recently underlined how that tragic event continues to resonate in our collective memory. Now we must somehow find a way to connect with the emotions of the American people. For the sake of the humanity as a whole.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images



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