‘Complicit silence’ | Inquirer Opinion
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‘Complicit silence’

“There can be no peace between nations if there is no peace between religions.” Thus said theologian Hans Kung decades ago.

The subtext is that it is ironic that religion—any religion, in fact—preaches peace, and yet can itself be a big factor in the unpeace.


Pope Francis, during Good Friday rites, condemned what he called the “complicit silence” while human beings, particularly Christians, were being butchered by members of a terrorist group who are adherents of Islam. He was referring to the killing by al-Shabab Islamists of more than 148 persons at Garissa University in Kenya.

The terrorist jihadists separated the Muslims from the Christians, then slaughtered the latter. TV footage of the aftermath showed the corpses strewn all over the floor. The dead were young people who were there to get a university education. They were not militants or activists.


That was not enough. The murderers promised to return and kill more. These al-Qaida-aligned terrorists made it known that their acts were in retribution for Kenya’s military presence in Somalia and the ill-treatment of Muslims within Kenya. They warned that Kenyans will see their country awash in more blood.

After last Friday’s Via Crucis, Pope Francis prayed: “Today, we see our brothers persecuted, decapitated, crucified for their faith in you, under our eyes and often with our complicit silence.”

“Our complicit silence,” as if to say, “Mea maxima culpa.”

His sentiments echoed till Easter Sunday. Here was a pope grieving at a time when Jesus’ resurrection from the dead was cause for celebration for Christians around the world. But how could there be total rejoicing when elsewhere in the world there was weeping and unspeakable grief?

Complicit silence, silencio complice. To be complicit means to be involved in a wrongdoing—directly or indirectly, by commission or omission. Complicit silence can mean doing nothing to prevent or denounce a wrongdoing, keeping silent when speaking up is the expected and right thing to do. The reason for the complicit silence can be indifference rather than fear. Worse, it can be intentional noninvolvement, to make the situation worse. It is not mere silence, it is a complicit one that aids in the perpetration and perpetuation of the crime.

The Pope was pointing a finger. He did not merely denounce the silence, he decried the complicity of those who chose to be silent.

But who, in particular, was the Pope pointedly referring to besides ourselves? Fearful Christians? Muslim leaders the world over, Muslims who advocate peace but who would rather be silent? Why is there no outcry, many ask, an outcry ear-splitting enough for their fellow Muslims who are hateful and murderous? Are Muslims afraid of fellow Muslims? Can they not rise up and condemn their own, those who invoke the name of Islam while inflicting cruelty?


Case in point: The raw video footage of the gruesome aftermath of the massacre/misencounter of the Special Action Force 44 in Mamasapano showed apparent members of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters finishing off the dying and desecrating the dead while invoking the name of the Muslim God with jubilation. What do you make of that? What had God got to do with their cruelty? Did they not blaspheme? Just asking.

But non-Muslims, too, should take it on the chin from Pope Francis. Like France’s Prime Minister Manuel Valls who banned from Paris’ transport system concert posters expressing support for beleaguered Christians in Syria and Iraq. Pray tell, are religious groups that are victims of hate crimes undeserving of support? Only after critics denounced him did Valls tweet: “We have to give our total support to Eastern Christians who are the victims of barbarism.”

Post-Easter news reports described how some students in Garissa University ran for safety to escape death. But there was one touching thing that happened. As Christian students sought refuge in the mosque, Muslim students reached out to hide and protect them.

These young people who had yet no hate in their hearts did not think twice about saving their fellow students, Muslim or not. It is the adults who are hateful and vengeful, who think nothing of slaughtering the innocents.

Speaking of innocents, I did read again during the Holy Week triduum—this time more mindfully—the book “How Far to Follow: The Martyrs of Atlas,” which is about the 1996 kidnapping and beheading of seven French Trappist monks during the civil war in Algeria. The evildoers were members of the Armed Islamic Group (GIA). They had visited the monks a number of times, even availed themselves of medical assistance, but the good monks, despite having been warned, never thought that the GIA would carry out its evil intent—that is, use the monks to demand the release of its members in prison.

The book is a blow-by-blow account by Bernardo Olivera, OCSO, at that time the abbot general of the Trappists (Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance which follows the Rule of St. Benedict). The movie on the tragic event (“Of Gods and Men”) won the Grand Prix at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and got great reviews. You can watch the trailers on YouTube.

It is good to know that here at home, a youth group, Akbayan-Youth, has joined the international community in condemning the massacre of the 148 in Kenya. Here’s a portion of the group’s statement:

“[T]he perpetrators of this massacre may have singled out individuals of a specific religious background, [but] their barbarism has no basis in any religious belief; rather it shows a deep disregard for human rights and a distorted interpretation of the teachings of Islam.”

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Send feedback to [email protected] or www.ceresdoyo.com.

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TAGS: Garissa University, Kenya, Mamasapano, Pope Francis, silence
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