“Look at this,” Gertruida says as she points to her laptop screen. She’s just acquired a dongle – upsetting Servaas very much. However, once the term was explained to him, he did relax a bit. As an astute guardian of the town’s morals, he takes no chances. “They’re saying that Germanwings crash is Germany’s own 9/11.”
She reads the report stating that the copilot was a recent convert to Islam and that he deliberately ploughed into the mountain, killing all on board. “Apparently this man, Andreas Lubitz, locked the captain out of the cockpit and flew the plane to destruction on purpose. If the suggestion that there is a link between his religion and the crash is true, it is a sad day for people of all faiths. I mean, would God command such a thing? No matter what you believe Him to be, surely killing innocent people, including babies, should be regarded as a sin. All life, after all, is sacred.”
“Ja, you’ll get two responses from government agencies in the next few days.” Kleinpiet loves urban legends – he says living in South Africa provides fertile ground for far-fetched ideas to grow. Lately he’s said a lot about how the officials remain silent about the 4000 jobs they’re cutting at PetroSa, the state refinery. He says the most dangerous tactic of any government is to say nothing. “Either they’ll do it the old-fashioned way and blame it on human error. You know: the co-pilot had a blackout, fell asleep or was mentally unstable. There must be a thousand ways to blame the crash on something unforeseen happening to the poor man. And the public would have no choice but to accept the official findings, because who can prove anything else? The only people to know what really happened, were those on board.
“Or, they’ll remain tight-lipped, feeding the public only enough to confuse the situation. Can you imagine the backlash in Germany – and the world – if Islam gets blamed? No government would encourage such instability within its borders.”
“That may be true, Kleinpiet. But it also says here that the Islamic State is lauding Lubitz as a hero. That is enough to incite hatred already. I certainly hope it’s not true.”
“Ja,” Oudoom sighs, “beheading people and kidnapping westerners aren’t clever ways to promote the values of faith. If that crash has religious undertones, it could spark a lot of negativism towards Muslims who are sincere in their faith. Religious intolerance is a horrible thing. It’s caused wars in the past.”
“True, Oudoom. Most wars seem to have a religious or ideological basis. The Arab Conquests (632-732), the Crusades (1097-1291), the Reformation Wars of the 16th century, Hitler’s stance against Jews…the list goes on. But…” and here Gertruida pauses dramatically, “the cause of war isn’t religion. It’s people. Neither the Quran nor the Bible commands us to kill each other. We may differ in our views, but in both doctrines there are more than enough to promote tolerance.
“The problem arises when some individuals start interpreting certain passages in a way to promote their own goals. That’s where the danger lies. It’s a matter of opinion – skewed as it might be – as opposed to religion, which directs us to harmony, not destruction.”
Vetfaan stares dolefully at the counter. “I like our isolation, Gertruida. Ever since you brought that dongle into our lives, we’ve been fed on a diet of bad news and conflict. I don’t want to be reminded of religious fanatics, social unrest and rising petrol prices. I want to talk about the drought and sheep. So, please, would you mind terribly much to keep that laptop at home?”
“Keeping the laptop at home won’t change what’s happening in the world, Vetfaan.” Her tone is soft, almost apologetic. “Events in the Alps do have an influence on us, even if it is indirectly. We can’t play ostrich all our lives.”
Oudoom holds up a hand. “Let’s not argue about the necessity of news – or not. Let’s think about the families and friends of the passengers who boarded that flight. We can’t change the world and neither can our arguments in this bar solve the question of why the plane crashed. But we can sympathise with the people who are directly involved.
“Blaming religion won’t solve the problem. The question to ask ourselves is: why would a normal, rational man be led astray to such an extent that he starts killing others? Why did radicalism seem so preferable? And the answer is simple: because people stopped caring about each other. Personal gain and personal glory are the matches to light that fire. If, in your quest, you happen to step on others, then that’s just too bad.
“So, a finger points back at the rest of humanity, as well. What are we doing to reflect the virtues of a kind and loving religion? Or has the world become so egocentric, so uncaring, that religion is something we fall back to only when we need something? What, my friends, do we do to live our faith?”
They fall silent after that. Copilot Lubitz may have crashed the plane on purpose, but – they realise – he might be only a symptom. If that is true, the disease is far too frightening to contemplate.