The story of the attack on a mall in Kenya continues to spill its horrors. The official number of dead is near 70, and as workers clear the rubble from the mall's collapse, that number could grow higher. We hope not. But even if there aren't more dead, we're getting devastating details about how some of the victims met their end. Rescue workers and soldiers say they are seeing evidence of torture in the Westgate Mall wreckage. They reveal the kind of depravity I almost can't believe human beings are capable of.
I don't even want to go into the specifics. It's too horrific. I'll just point out that the attackers hurt people of all ages. Intellectually I understand why the terrorists tortured their victims. It's the whole point of terrorism in general: The more inhumane and scary their actions, the more cowed we'll be. It's a form of bullying, a way of controlling people. Stay out of our way or this could happen to you.
Emotionally it's a lot harder to understand how a human being could do these things to their fellow human beings.
Yet standing in stark relief against these acts of cruelty are far more acts of compassion and bravery. Take the story of Abdul Haji, the son of a former Kenyan security minister. He rushed to the mall after getting a text message from his brother, who was trapped inside. Once he got there, he became a central figure in rescuing hundreds of people, including an American mother with her five children.
Five children! Katherine Walton had gone to the mall with her two teenage sons and her three daughters, age 4, 2, and 13 months. Walton had been separated from her sons (who escaped later), and she was trapped, hiding with three other women. The story of her rescue thanks to Haji is hair-raising, but it also gives me hope for us all.
It seems the more extreme the depravity from terrorists, the bigger the hearts of others grow. People become braver, more willing to risk their own lives, more willing to extend themselves to help each other. I would rather live in a world without terrorism and torture. But that is part of our reality; how reassuring -- and inspiring -- to know that our reality includes courage, love, and humanity as well.
Can you imagine being trapped in a terrorist attack with your children?
Image via bedrocan/Flickr