Imagine your college community completely traumatized, many wounded and at least 147 dead. Garissa University College was a new university in northeastern Kenya with a mission to help everyone in the region:
Mission: To nurture talent through research, innovation, consultancy, community outreach, entrepreneurship imparting knowledge and skills to meet the needs of the society.
On April 2, 2015 the school was attacked by a handful of men. The killers separated Muslim Garissa students from Christian Garissa students; students that daily interacted constructively, as friends, studying together, playing sports, debating, having fun together. Imagine being sifted out from friends who would be shot. Imagine not being sifted out. I cannot imagine it, but I cannot stop thinking about it.
What Kind of People Would Do This?
The Al-Shabaab murderers who planned and executed this horror were kids once. How did they become so evil?
Poverty, war, suffering, anger at injustices and such were certainly contributing factors. But hardships and deprivation are not sufficient forces to directly spawn a disciplined attack on unarmed and unthreatening students. A warped “Idealism” was necessary to pull them together. Al-Shabaab runs on religiously fueled “Idealism”. So is the problem identified by pointing to their specific religion; maybe religion in general?
Religion is the problem! Right?
Religious Idealism is a powerful force with a prominent role in the history of human suffering.
The Klu Klux Klan, ISIS, Spanish Inquisitors, Shinto Imperialists, Khmer Rouge, Nazis, and Maoists are famous examples unified in their forceful idealism. Even Buddhists identified with detachment have ancient and modern examples of atrocities. The fact that this easily generated sample list contains religious & anti-religious, far left & far right political/economic theorists is a problem to the lazy forms of semi-intellectual outbursts often found on social media. The Killers listed above come from widely contrasting ideologies. The unifying toxic ingredient is “Triumphant Idealism” applied passionately and forcefully to a world that is anything but ideal.
Idealism is the problem? Kinda.
“Triumphant Idealism” moves us toward delusion. The frustrating reality of life is that it is complex. We want the ability to evaluate good and bad, wise and foolish with full confidence and simplicity. In delusional states there are exhilarating breakthroughs from experiences of cognitive dissonance. Indecisiveness about who or what is good or bad is processed through filters which purify the diluted perceptions leaving clean, crisp, clear vision of what is, and what is to be done. Triumphant idealism is exciting! Triumphant idealism is crazy.
Anti-Idealism is a balm for those who have been burned by Triumphant Idealism. Delusional certitude is replaced with despairing cynicism animated by satirical disregard. When we reject the filtered images Idealists use to distort reality we want to boast in our #nofilter images of Real reality. Seeing that everything is ambiguous means everything is opposable, everything is ironic, everything is absurd; everything except for clever jabs pointing out the absurd and ironic in others.
Despairing Realism<Diligent Hope>Delusional Idealism
Garissa University College was the first public institution of higher learning in that region. They brought together people with diverse understandings of life’s ideals: religiously, philosophically, politically etc; but not delusionally. They did not overcome the incertitude of life’s complexity and insist on a tidy sectarian way of thinking and living. Nor did they give into the despair of meaninglessness and resign themselves to complaining about the absurdity and hopelessness of East African challenges like colonial impact, tribalism, globalism, poverty and such. Garissa University College embodied diligent hope with this vision statement:
The university college shall also engage in research with a keen interest on applicability of such research in solving immediate societal as well as unforeseen problems. Innovation will be a major guiding factor in the research at GUC and is also expected to influence every activity that the institution will be involved in, including teaching and learning.
147 is my daughter’s favorite number…
147 is a very odd number to have as your favorite, but it is her’s. Now it is also a very sobering number. As an exchange student to Kenya for a semester last year I know that my daughter does not need to think hard to feel the reality that #147notjustanumber. There are far more than 147 reasons to resist embittered ideological retribution as a response to Al-Shabaab. There are far more than 147 reasons not to make a passing post on social media and just move on, secretly despairing of any real hope of making a difference. My prayer is that my daughter, and her friends in Kenya, and as many of us as are willing, will humbly rally around the reasons to pursue the ideals of justice, along with the messiness of reality that calls for mercy, such that together we pursue a diligent hope.