Coffin 3-13-2013

My Word: Shared humanity as prime identity

By James Coffin

On March 3, a bomb blast in Karachi, Pakistan, killed at least 45 people and wounded some 150 others as they exited a Shia mosque after evening prayers.

On Feb. 16, a bomb exploded in the main bazaar in the Shia section of the Pakistani city of Quetta, killing about 90 and wounding more than 200. On Jan. 10, multiple bomb attacks targeting Shias in Quetta and the Swat valley killed more than 130 and wounded about 270.

Add to these numbers hundreds of Shias killed in Pakistan during 2012, and a clear pattern emerges: Pakistan’s Shias are being systemically exterminated by what is probably a small but ruthless group of Sunni radicals.

I’m neither Pakistani nor Muslim. So it’s all too easy for me and those like me to simply turn to the next page of the newspaper or switch the TV channel when such horrors are reported. Actually, that may not even be necessary because events that are far away in terms of geography, culture and religion often scarcely rate a mention in the U.S. media.

Despite the labels we wear because of where and to whom we were born — and despite the allegiances we’ve intentionally chosen — our prime identity should be our shared humanity. Every victim in Pakistan is not just someone’s sister or brother but my sister, my brother, because we’re all humanity’s children.

Yet for the whole of recorded history, we’ve arrayed ourselves against each other on the basis of the labels we wear. Nation against nation. Culture against culture. Religion against religion. Sect against sect.

Despite advances in human knowledge, blood, death and mayhem remain our source of woe and our weapon of choice. Like a pendulum, we swing back and forth between victimhood and villainy. Today the persecuted; tomorrow the persecutor. No group can claim clean hands.

But we can do something. At the very least, we can speak up.

In today’s world of mass media and the Internet, an avalanche of condemnation of such barbarism can make more impact than we might think. We can also respond to the plaintive cries from other areas of the world where similar persecution is equally rampant.

And we can all work to counteract ignorance, bigotry and hatred right here.

James Coffin is executive director of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida.