A tale of two bomb attacks

Last night’s news of the explosions in Boston was truly horrendous.  Within moments of it happening my Twitter feed went into overdrive with every picture and piece of video flying round the world as it was hastily retweeted.  Even though the horror of the 9/11 disaster is burnt into our collective conscience, we still find that any bomb attack within a western nation such as the US still has the power to surprise and shock.  There are families who are in mourning as a result of the actions of one or more individuals intent on spewing out evil and destruction on a day that was designated for celebration and enjoyment.

There’s something deep within the human psyche that compels us to react to traumatic events by doing something.  Sometimes as with the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 we give and give money in the hope that it will do some good.  Most of the time though we respond by sharing a thought or a comment, often through social media, because there is little else that we feel able to do.  Such responses allow us to emotionally connect to the event and demonstrate to both ourselves and others that we care.

President Obama has done the obligatory thing by giving a speech to reassure his people that chaos will not ensue and that good will overcome evil.  Over here David Cameron and Ed Miliband have both offered their thoughts.  Offering your thoughts is a funny thing really even though we all do it.  It basically indicates that you care about what has happened and those who have suffered. It always seems second rate to praying though.  Inevitably the Twitter hashtag #prayforboston has sprung up and at the time of writing this is trending high up the list on Twitter.  Prayer is still seen by the majority as of more power and consequence.  We don’t see #offerthoughtsforboston and probably never will.  It just doesn’t carry the same weight and authority.

So I’m praying for Boston, for those injured and those whose lives have been devastated in an instance.  I’m praying that God will bring healing and comfort and peace where there is currently mourning and pain.  I’m praying too that the killers will be found quickly and that there will be no further attacks.

But the events in the US have also prompted me to pray for those affected by a worse series of attacks that took place yesterday as well where many more people died.  It hasn’t been getting the wall-to-wall coverage on the 24 hour news channels because it’s not seen as newsworthy, because it’s the same old story that we’ve heard time and again, in fact most people wouldn’t have seen it on the BBC website unless they were making the effort to find it.

Yesterday’s bombings in Iraq have killed at least 31 people and wounded more than 200, yet we hardly react to it at all.  What’s the difference?  Is it that we have become so numb to the regular loss of life in places like this that it’s easier to ignore it than to think about the reality of the situation?  We choose to suck up every tidbit of news from one attack whilst turning a blind eye to another.  Somehow the Boston attacks feel closer to home because we understand the culture and our worldview allows us to comprehend what has happened.  We are aware of places like Iraq where life is more fragile, but struggle to comprehend the religious tensions that cause much of this loss of life.  It’s hard for our brains to make sense of it.  If you have read a book by the Vicar of Baghdad  Andrew White, then you’ll have had a taste of what life in these conditions is like and it begins to hit you.  Losing a friend or parent or child through violence is no less painful no matter where you live even if you’re more accustomed to experiencing an unnecessary loss of life around you.

The tragic events in Boston deserve our attention and prayers or failing that, our thoughts.  But as we remember those who are suffering there perhaps it would be good to also be praying  that our hearts would not be hardened towards the other parts of the world where this sort of devastation is more regular and that our sense of compassion wouldn’t be limited to those caught up in a media frenzy or who think and live like we do.

Categories: Media, Prayer, President Obama, Terrorism

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 replies

  1. Thank you for this reflection. There is so much about it that is helpful, and it puts me in mind of a thought I have had lately that the existence of people who can care about multiple tragedies at once are perhaps something towards evidence of a God who does.

    I take one issue with the language that I invite you to ponder. You use the term ‘places like’. I know it is a figure of speech but I believe that every place, like every person, is completely unique. There is nowhere exactly like Iraq with it’s unique history, geography and precise culture. There is nowhere like Boston, with it’s unique history, geography and culture. The people lost to humanity yesterday were each unique. I think we can be braver and name our failure to sustain compassion for the people of Iraq. I think we can say that it is precisely because we are used to hearing about death and destruction in Iraq specifically, not just ‘places like Iraq’, that we find it tragically easy to ignore.

    (Racism and otherness are also playing their part of course. It is that too.)

    • Thank you Ellen for this. Your criticism is an important one and reminds me of how easily despite my best efforts I fall into a western mindset and lump people unintentionally together. Someone on Twitter pointed out that it’s our lack of connection that is part of the problem and it’s so easy to think of the parts of the world we’re not familiar with as a homogeneous entity which it clearly isn’t.

  2. Thank you for this. It is encouraging to be reminded of the power of prayer, and its continuing presence and relevance in an increasingly secular culture.

    I’m glad that you pointed out our incapacity to focus on Iraq and other countries affected by violence played out on a larger scale and over longer periods of time.

    In agreement with Ellen though, I think it’s vital to recognise the role that othering plays. The huge cultural, racial and social differences between Boston and Baghdad allow us to distance ourselves from the desperation and the loss. Supported by a media who possess a racial and cultural hegemony informed by the very people they seek to inform, we objectify people with differences, those who are other than ourselves.

    Worse still, we use the resulting dehumanisation as a reason not to care. I remember this being described in my journalism lectures along the lines of ten lives in the UK being worth a hundred lives in Spain and a thousand lives in Africa.

    It is my conviction that only the grace of God revealed to us in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ can shatter the chains of racial, social and political injustice, and transform our hearts and minds to bring the deep and lasting change we long to see, in our own lives and in our world.

    • The Bible tells us that we are all made equal in God’s sight and if we are going to take what it says seriously, then we have to act accordingly. Following God should cause us to be aware of our own attitudes to how we treat others and also to seek to fight injustice such as racism and inequality. Without God guiding us the job becomes a whole lot more difficult.

  3. Thoughtful stuff. I was reminded of the “prayformuamba” hashtag. I got into a discussion with an atheist friend who had tweeted just that. He said that, despite not believing in prayer, it seemed to be a better term than “thinkingofmuamba”. Although I did notice a few left wingers tweeting something along the the lines of “solidaritywithboston” last night, somehow it just doesn’t say the same!
    I know it would upset an atheist, but I’m moved to wonder if it’s a bit more than just searching for the best sounding word. Is this an echo of the “god shaped hole” in everyone (I think that was Pascal)?
    As to your other point. I remember a study many years back when I was at uni that showed that humans have difficulty in maintaining interest (including compassion) in things that are further and further removed from them in both time and space and also diminishes with repetition. (seems a given when i put it like that!) I always felt that as well as physical space, cultural space was important. America, seems to be close to us – despite being thousands of mikes away, the TV brings so many of them daily into our home – and of course they dress like us, sound (mostly) like us etc. Those in Iraq really do feel thousands of miles away…and of course they aren’t like “us”. Add to that the repetition; even post 9/11 we are surprised by a bomb in Boston precisely because it is unusual.
    Not that I’m letting myself off the hook; far from it. The tendencies of human nature are just that – tendencies – how I deal with them, that’s all down to me. There was a bombing in Somalia on Sunday…I didn’t even click the link. I hate to admit it, my reaction was probably ” well, they’re always killing each other, aren’t they?” – God forgive me!

  4. Thanks for this Gillian.
    I think we find these things more shocking when we feel they could ultimately happen to us (public sporting event.) Perhaps the Indian Ocean tsunami was more shocking than other tsunamis partly because it includes places where westerners take holidays? I remember feeling stunned after the Clapham rail crash, simply because a couple of years previously I travelled on that particular commuter route. Some of the media reporting perpetuates the ‘it could easily have been us’, which probably adds to the selective compassion thing we seem to be easily sucked into.
    There were deaths in Syria again yesterday too which didn’t make it onto the radar. And now I have a young relative serving in Afghanistan my heart skips a beat anytime something comes up on newsfeeds, whereas it never did before.
    Lord, have mercy

    • When there is a personal connection at some level we care. Without those connections it’s hard for us to do that. It also feels like a huge job caring about everyone on the entire planet. Fortunately God can do what we cannot. I guess the important thing is to not feel that some people’s lives are of less value than others’. Going down that root causes all sorts of potential problems.

  5. A good summary, especially valuable for expressing how one seeks to do something based on a care about one’s fellow humans. It also sits well with avoiding the knee-jerk reactions that plagued the world after 11/9.

    It should be realised that the power of intercessory prayer is to motivate the pray-er to get off their butt and do something, however. If there’s no specific talent that can be brought to bear, do not look down on donating money to a cause: areas affected by disaster can always use funds as a lubricant, one way or another.

    Therefore I think there’s little difference between thought, care and prayer.

    • Donating money for some situations is absolutely the right thing to do. Prayer is important, but prayer without action is sometimes hypocritical. Often when I’ve asked God to intervene in a situation, he turns it back on me and says, “You do it!” It’s very hard to ignore him if he does that.

  6. Great and challenging post as usual. Thank you for your concise and well written take on these two horrible events.

  7. This is thought provoking, & the best I have read on the subject:


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