A High Standard

Three folks on a streetcar in Utrecht, Netherlands, didn’t get off. Not alive.

Someone, maybe the man in that picture, killed them.

He’s been caught, apparently no more bodies have been found, and that’s as much as I know so far. Know for sure, anyway.

This incident grabbed my attention, partly because it’s been happening in the Netherlands: one of my wife’s ancestral homelands. Instead of trying to focus on something else, I decided to share what I’ve been reading — and some odd speculation.

Feelings Happen

I’m not, putting it mildly, happy about Friday’s mass murder in New Zealand or today’s streetcar killings in the Netherlands.

But my being angry or scared won’t help anyone, or change what happened.

There’s nothing wrong with the emotions, by themselves. Trouble starts if I let the feelings take over. (June 13, 2018)

I wrote most of what follows before Utrecht police said they’d caught the suspect in today’s killings. Instead of going back and re-writing the post, or starting over, I’ve left the thing pretty much as I wrote it.

Death on a Streetcar

(From PolitieUtrecht/Twitter, via BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“Police released this image of Gokmen Tanis”
(BBC News))

Utrecht shootings: Hunt for gunman after attack on tram
BBC News (March 18, 2019)

Three people have been killed following a shooting on a tram in the central Dutch city of Utrecht, the city’s mayor says.

“Nine others were injured in the incident, which police say appears to be a terrorist attack.

“Police are looking for a 37-year-old Turkish man named as Gokmen Tanis and have warned people not to approach him….”

Utrecht Shooting: Gunman Kills 3 People On Dutch Tram In Possible Terrorist Attack
NPR (March 18, 2019)

“…Details are still emerging about the incident, which took place around 10:45 a.m. local time (5:45 a.m. ET).

“The Netherlands has been shaken by the attack, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a televised news conference.

“‘An act of terror is an attack on our open and tolerant society,’ Rutte said, according to NPO Radio. ‘If it is an act of terror, there is only one answer: our rule of law and democracy is stronger than violence.’…”

The killings happened when the streetcar was at or near the 24 Oktoberplein stop.

It could have been much worse.

Maybe it is, or will be.

Police haven’t found the man they think killed those folk. Utrecht’s population is around a third of a million, so he needn’t run short of targets. Not unless he’s picky about who he kills.

A Dutch anti-terrorism official said that attacks happened at other locations, but didn’t say where. News from Utrecht is, understandably, a trifle sketchy.

Another disturbing possibility is that a pile of bodies somewhere in the city hasn’t been found yet.


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Utrecht officials and news media figured this morning’s carnage was terrorism: not in the generic ‘actions causing or related to terror’ sense, but the more specific sociopolitical definition. That seems to have been the default assumption, at any rate.

Whatever the motive, the attack or attacks stopped Utrecht streetcar service and political activities connected with this month’s provincial elections. Authorities evacuated the city’s mosques and schools are closed.

For all I knew this morning, Gokmen Tanis might be completely innocent. Maybe the killings were a disgruntled student’s way of declaring a school holiday. Or someone wanted another day’s preparation for an election debate. And Mr. Tanis was hiding somewhere: considering whether it’s safer to turn himself in, or flee the city.

Motives, Probable and Otherwise

(From Google Maps, used w/o permission.)
(Utrecht’s 24 Oktoberplein tram junction, on a bright blue October day in 2018.)

The disgruntled student or desperate candidate scenarios might make a nifty conspiracy theory, but I’d be astonished if either was true.

Without more information than what little I’ve seen, “terrorism” is a likely motive. Quite possibly the sort with a particular religion-themed ideology.

Or maybe the motive is a trifle more eccentric.

The attacker may be a sensitive architect, driven to desperation by the bourgeois banality of the 24 Oktoberplein’s facades. Or someone enraged that Utrecht recently added streetcar service to its traditional bus routes.1

Perhaps an owner of the nearby driving school feared that public transportation would put him out of business.

Or maybe other nearby businesses are involved. Perhaps vegetarian options at the Thai Orchid offended a gourmet. Or someone seethed with fury at inadequate service at the hair salon or furniture store took out their frustration on commuters. All three business are within a few blocks of the junction, on Admiraal Helfrichlaan.

None of those motives make murder okay. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 22682269)

Killing an innocent person was among the ‘you shall nots’ of the Decalogue. Our Lord said that cherishing anger and hurling insults were wrong, too. (Exodus 20:13; Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy; Matthew 5:2126; Catechism, 2262)

“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.”
(Matthew 5:22)

The ‘no grudges’ idea wasn’t new. Just one that keeps getting lost in the shuffle.

“Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.”
(Leviticus 19:18)

Friday’s mass murder in Christchurch and today’s deaths on a streetcar don’t affect me personally. Dismissing whatever anger I’ve felt about the incidents is easy. Or maybe not.

Maybe I didn’t dismiss the anger so much as diverted it. That could explain the weirdly-improbable motives I imagined. That’s something I should think about.

On the other hand, I’m not concerned enough to hit the ‘delete’ key. Maybe they’re examples of emotionally-appealing but irrational motives. Or evidence that I’ve got a ripply sense of humor. Maybe both.

And maybe a family fracas sparked the killings:


(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)

Christchurch shootings: Stories of heroism emerge from attacks
BBC News (March 17, 2019)

Stories of heroism have emerged from Friday’s attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people died and dozens were wounded.

“A worshipper says he confronted the gunman and threw a credit card reader at him.

“Two police officers, one of them armed with only a handgun, chased and arrested Brenton Tarrant, 28.

“The suspect had explosives in his car and was planning more attacks that day, said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern….”

Friday’s mass murder, bad as it was, could have been much worse. Folks at the Linwood mosque say Abdul Aziz saved lives there when he threw a credit card machine at the attacker, who shot back. And missed.

Others died while trying to stop the attacker, or helping others get away.

“…Farid Uddin said his wife had helped several women and children escape from the building as the attack unfolded.

“‘We feel proud of what she did. She died in a good cause. She did exactly what she loved and what I loved,’ he told the BBC.

“‘I lost my wife but I don’t hate the killer. As a person I love him,’ he added. ‘I forgive him… I pray for him.’…”

Since I think only God can forgive sins, lambasting Mr. Uddin for daring to forgive his wife’s killer is an option. But not, I think, a reasonable one.

I think only God can forgive sins and that Jesus said we should forgive others. (Luke 11:14; Catechism, 1441, 2759)

Books have been written, parsing exactly what “forgive” can mean. I’ll opine that the word, in my language and in this context, has a whole mess of nuances: and leave it at that.

Saving Lives

(From BBC News, used w/o permission.)
(“No words to describe the pain”
(BBC News))

“…The video showed 50-year-old Naeem Rashid, originally from the Pakistani city of Abbottabad, apparently trying to tackle the gunman before being shot. He was taken to hospital but later died.

“‘There were a few witnesses who said he saved a few lives by trying to stop that guy,’ his brother Khurshid Alam told the BBC. ‘It’s our pride now, but still the loss. It’s like cutting your limb off.’…”
(BBC News)

I think there’s much to be learned from the example set by Farid Uddin and Khurshid Alam. And this excerpt from Sirach —

“Forgive your neighbor the wrong done to you;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
“Does anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?”
(Sirach 28:24)

I’ve talked about this sort of thing before:

1 Background:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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2 Responses to A High Standard

  1. irishbrigid says:

    Missing word: “Gokmen Tanis might completely innocent.”

    The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

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