November 2018, I became a witness to a dramatic and violent event in Melbourne, Australia. Two people were injured and another two died. In hindsight, as I think about my feelings and my reaction to the violence, I have found my attitude to life has somewhat changed. This change was quite sudden, which has caused me to think on how paradigms can change in an instant and how that change can affect your thought processes and your self-awareness.
I love Melbourne. It is usually safe. Naturally like all places it has crime, like all cities do, but I feel safe to walk its streets. Melbourne is a large city and until in recent years, Melbournians (and Australians) have felt safe. For a while, we have felt forgotten by 'terror', we were quite happy about that position, knowing full well that it would not last. The certainty of that has born violent fruit - in the past few years, attacks in Sydney and Melbourne have occurred. Not regularly, but from time to time. People have died; families and heart's have been broken. We are well aware, I am sure, that people like you and I do not hear about the darker side of our cities. Crime is, thankfully, mostly silent to us.
It’s a different world to that of our Parents
The kind of violence foisted upon us and myself recently has been rapid, violent, cruel and abrupt. Death or wounds by gunshot, knife, explosion or car attack create in us an underlying fear and caution. We go through our day to day lives when suddenly fierceness explodes about us.
Suddenly, I was in the middle of chaos! I was at a tram stop in the middle of rush hour. People had finished their day of work and were heading home.
We were waiting for the next tram. There was a crowd. Shoppers as well as commuters. There was a sudden loud bang and at that instant, everything changed. To our right about twenty metres away, a parked car had burst into flames. The vehicle then rolled over to the opposite side of the road and bumped into the curb. Some people withdrew, others moved closer. Then, whoosh! Flames leapt into the sky above the roofs. Luckily due to the perpetrator’s inept bomb making skills the force went upwards instead of outwards towards the people. A man appeared threateningly waving a knife at people. Two police officers arrived. There was a lot of shouting and a loud gunshot. Everyone recoiled! Fire engines, ambulances and more police arrived. The public was moved on and the area was cordoned off.
The offender had killed one man and wounded two others. He was shot by police, as his intent was to continue the attacks on more people. He died from the gunshot wound later in hospital.
Footage (via YouYube) from The Guardian (view with discretion)
Living by the sword
What was my reaction to this? What would yours be?
I believe I was lucky in two major ways. Firstly if I lived in the USA or another country that experiences regular gun violence, the attacker would have been armed with a gun, not just a knife, and many more people would have been hurt or killed.
Secondly I was not in any imminent danger as there were a number of people in front of me and although I saw some of what was going on, I was not really involved. I heard the explosions, I saw the burning vehicles, I saw the tower of flames and I heard the sound of the gunshot! But, I did not see people being stabbed or shot. I felt detached from the intimacy of a life threatening and violent confrontation.
Oddly, you would think that the flight impulse would come into play and people would run. Some did, but many more did not. Many moved closer. This was perhaps to render assistance, or just to see what was going on. To be honest, initially I thought it was just a car fire! So, with many others, the phone came out and I began videoing and moving closer and it was then that all hell broke out. Later, the police interviewed me and asked for my videos, they also offered me victim of crime counselling. I declined, because I believed I had not been traumatised at all. I was wrong. The day after at a shopping centre I was suddenly shaken to the core as a balloon popped. I jumped out of my skin. Despite my belief that I was unaffected, I found that I actually was...
Abruptly, reality is changed.
I am a logical man; there was no logic on that day. What would make a man or woman act that way? You may answer- that the problem is religion, or fundamentalism! Some would say Islam. But I know Islamic people. It is not their aim or beliefs to destroy families. My Islamic friends are pretty much like me. They live in the suburbs and they have jobs and children to bring up.
So, as I walk away from this life event, what is my overarching feeling? I believe in a God of love. People in general usually just want to get along, live their lives and be safe and loved. For a person to be convinced to act in such a way, to me, shows a lack of love. Despite what they or their leaders say.
Time and again we hear of young people putting down their lives for a concept they have only recently been drawn into. Many of these children have parents who escaped from their countries of birth, to get away from such violence. There is so much love around us, yet to them it becomes invisible. Fortunately, hate crimes are uncommon, but are becoming more familiar in our communities. Love needs to overcome hate - we will not be sucked into the hate that terrorism is trying to inspire.
We all have ideals or standards. We have beliefs. Even if your God is not my God or you have no God, I am sure your morals would prevent you from randomly taking a person’s life. But he did! So did the Police Officer, but I believe he had little choice in the end, he was protecting the public, me included.
How does one react to a situation that is totally foreign? Your sense of place, that feeling that you know where you are and what your life is - suddenly turned on its head. I believe that most people are good. A tiny minority will kill and maim to get a message out. Did this man hate me or his victims? Certainly I could have been attacked, but time and position saved me.
Be assured, criminals get caught and wars will eventually end. The one and always constant in our world is that no matter what is thrown at us. Love always wins, it is the nature of our world. It is in our bones.
Main photo: Courtesy of Christopher Newport (Periecho Contributor)
Christopher wants to see equalness in the world and desires to see the doors of Christianity open to all. He feels that, too often, faith and belief are used to promote individual ideologies. Christopher has been a drama junkie for decades. He enjoys reading, theatre, good food and good company. He loves music but can’t play a note, nor sing very well for that matter. He has two adult children and a patient wife. He lives in Melbourne, Australia.
See all previous articles by Christopher Newport