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Opinion May 3, 2019 3:01 PM EST

The politics of tragedy — where do we draw the line?

What I've come to realize,which some media personalities, politicians, and activists may not admit to, is this: a tragedy is a tragedy is a tragedy. No matter the colour, religion or politics of the victims — their worth does not end where grievances begin.

The politics of tragedy — where do we draw the line?
Alex Singh Dhaliwal Montreal, QC

This article was published more than 1 year ago, information might not be up to date.

Whether it was Christchurch, Sri Lanka or one of the world’s forgotten tragedies, our tendency to exploit the suffering of others proves concerning. Personal gain should never triumph over the need for genuine, heartfelt condolences to otherwise good people and victims of circumstance.

Standing for basic human decency, especially when morality has become relative and compassion has become selective, is needed, now more than ever. Claiming to be a force for good or a voice of reason requires one to hold a principled stance, even when it costs one their popularity, or among today’s activists, a few likes on Instagram or the perfect opportunity to try out that new Snapchat filter.

To enable the politics of the self is to polarize the general public further — ego and pride are not what we need more of. Not now, not ever.

Though tolerance is what we preach, some fail to actualize it; instead, its pretense is practiced. Once ideological bubbles have been popped by those seeking to expand their horizons, discrimination or poor treatment is inevitable. It’s not that they are necessarily bad people per se, they’re fearful of being challenged intellectually in the event their worldview comes crashing down.

However, reaching the points we have where debates have shifted from principle and policy to questioning the humanity of our opposition is disheartening. That is a line we should never cross, as far as identity politics are concerned.

No single political sect holds a monopoly on the ‘right way’ of doing things, nor the right to dictate when grey areas have been crossed without first reaching a consensus.

Perception is vital, and those who are afraid of having their hypocrisy made public should not engage publicly, to begin with. If your stated intent does not reconcile with your actual intent, the public will see past it — they are not fools to the opportunism disguised as ‘compassion.’  

With great power comes great responsibility, and the duty to represent those who subscribe to your values takes priority over personal ambition.

This holds in politics — ditto for social justice advocacy.

The tears of those mourning in the aftermath of Christchurch and Sri Lanka, their tragedy, and the inexplicable horrors they faced are not yours to prostitute for political capital.

Becoming a beacon of hypocrisy rather than hope is a testament to the self-interested — to those who grasp at the chance to be in the limelight for their two hours of fame at the expense of one’s self-respect.

Politics & tragedy with Reyme Sekhon

Reyme Sekhon, activist and reporter for R24canada, spoke with The Post Millennial on last Tuesday's Sri Lanka vigil in Calgary. Only days before, she abruptly left as one of its hosts.

She attributed this to the differences of opinion with the other hosts, who, “had issues with the list of speakers” she brought forth. They claimed “people aren’t happy” as questions were raised on whether the vigil was “a debate between the UCP and NDP.”

“I had to excuse myself for that reason,” she states. “For me, it was supposed to be a candle vigil, mourning those who lost loved ones. Using these incidents to promote yourself is very low.”

“Also, the said host was adamant that I not use the word terrorism to describe the tragedy in Sri Lanka.”

While it remains no secret that severe lapses in communication among Sri Lankan officials failed to prevent the tragedy that has since taken the lives of 360 plus, injuring 500 in targeted bombings of half-a-dozen locales holding Easter Mass across the country, attempts at self-promotion during such calamities is morally reprehensible.

To provide some context, I was expected to speak at last Tuesday’s Sri Lanka vigil as one of the youth representatives from the wider Calgary community; however, that no longer held after Sekhon’s involvement ceased. Her hope for the vigil was to impart “an uplifting message to the rest of the world,” and “not argue the NDP’s platform on social issues.”

Myself and Saliha Haq, former Liberal Party of Alberta Candidate for Calgary-North, were expected to speak. She was given 20-seconds to talk at the end of the vigil, whereas I was not. Like Saliha, we were both present for the right reasons — to be there as an act of solidarity, in support of our Sri Lankan brothers and sisters in mourning.

The vigil, though organized in support of Sri Lanka’s fallen, “was not about recognizing any particular attack on religion,” states Sekhon. “It was to touch on the assaults made against our freedoms, and our very existence. These kind of attacks are acts of terror. As Calgarians, we share similar views about peace, joy and togetherness, which is characteristic of our friendly, secular city. The message I sought to promote, through our youth leaders and every day people were we felt the pain and loss experienced by Sri Lankans and New Zealanders. This vigil was to let all the sufferers know that we are with them, regardless they were directly or indirectly affected. We were also going to speak on the attacks in Quetta, Pakistan.”

A bomb exploded and killed 20 people in Quetta, Pakistan on April 12th by Sunni militants , yet no such vigil was organized nor thoughts and prayers given en masse on social media. “No organization from Calgary came forward against it because, per me, there was no political, nor personal gain in recognizing this. As a result, there was no candle vigil; nor any prayers made public.”

Similarly, little acknowledgement was given to the political and ethnic-inspired attack by gunmen who shot and killed 14 passengers traveling from Karachi to Gwadar on April 18th, 2019

What I've come to realize,which some media personalities, politicians, and activists may not admit to, is this: a tragedy is a tragedy is a tragedy. No matter the colour, religion or politics of the victims — their worth does not end where grievances begin. Their worth as human beings remains unwavering, and their memory should not be sullied by actors engaging in the politics of tragedy.

“During the candle vigil for the attacks at Christchurch, a particular party questioned the absence of UCP members and tried to paint them as racist, Muslim-haters at that vigil,” Reyme concludes. “Portraying someone with these low-blow remarks divided people for the sake of a few extra votes from the community. The attacks in Quetta were ignored because there were no political, financial or personal gains for them from this city and province. Ditto the Makran massacre in 2019. Not many people know about that either.”

Just because there was no political benefit, as to Alberta’s most-recent elections, doesn’t mean our thoughts and prayers should not be given. Attributing the necessity of such by how it serves our ambitions instead of acting in good faith as people lies the crux of the issue. Exploiting tragedy in benefit of oneself is not needed — not now; not ever — nor is the Messiah Complex that comes with the blatant political opportunism.

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