On 1 April a shelter for abused women will officially open in the small hillside town of Gclilma in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. It will accommodate 27 women and children fleeing domestic violence.
South Africa has a problem when it comes to such violence. Police statistics are limited, but 15,609 murders and 64,500 reported rapes in 2011–12 point to massive levels of domestic abuse in South African homes. Yet despite the urgent need to protect women from such harm, it’s the only safe house of its kind in the entire district.
The remarkable thing is that this beacon of hope, in a country where domestic violence is so prevalent, is a light born from the flash of an improvised explosive device – more often referred to as an IED.
Five years ago, the right-wing Norwegian extremist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in a bombing and gun massacre that shocked the world, as he had intended. On the morning of the attack, Breivik parked a van in the centre of Oslo and lit the fuse on 950kg of homemade explosives, before setting off to the island of Utoya, where he then shot 69 people.
One of the eight people killed by the IED that Breivik left behind him was a 30-year-old woman called Hanne Løvlie. In a profound act of love and memory, her family has used the compensation money they received from the Norwegian state to open the shelter, along with additional funds raised through networks and friends.
The IED is the scourge of the modern age. In the first two months of this year alone, at least 6,793 people were reported killed or injured by explosive weapons around the world. Of these, 3,581, or 53%, were killed by IEDs, the catch-all term for home-made bombs – 123 bombings that claimed an average of 29 victims per explosion.
Last year an Afghan resolution on IEDs was adopted by the UN General Assembly. Afghanistan’s government called for greater global awareness of the threat, asked for more security information sharing, and sought the increased involvement of the UN Secretary General on the matter.
Inevitably, though, the quotidian response by states has all too often been to fight fire with fire. Aerial bombardments and military strikes are seen as the quick-route to beating into submission groups that use IEDs, such as Islamic State. Whether this approach works is highly debatable. The website Airwars.org has charted more than 1,000 likely civilian deaths in the 18-month Coalition air war in Syria and Iraq; one can only imagine the effect such a death toll has had in recruiting more to the black flag of ISIS.
Hanne’s shelter is a rare moment of hope among the endless violence caused by the IED. She had spent time as a student in Durban, at the University of KwaZulu Natal, where she been exposed to the issue of violence against women in South Africa. It deeply affected her, and Hanne’s shelter was the Løvlie family’s way of responding to the explosive violence of terror.
At an opening ceremony a few days ago her brother, Jørgen Løvlie, told the audience: “My sister wanted to help the women of South Africa as she had spent time here as a student and understood the problems they faced when it came to domestic violence. This shelter is something she would have to wanted to do and we can fulfil this wish for her. She loved life and if she was here now she would want you all to be happy and to enjoy life too.”
States will all too often seek to combat the threat of IEDs through blunt force. Individuals, however, can respond to the horror of terrorism through love. Imagine for a second if every single one of the 32 people killed in the recent suicide attacks in Belgium (or Pakistan, or Baghdad – the list is endless) were remembered in a similar way. You would then have not just Hanne’s shelter, but many more refuges and hospices named after other victims of terror.
These peoples’ lives, so abruptly ended, could be remembered with dignity by the tens of thousands of people such shelters would impact. It would, in a profound way, show terrorists that their acts of hatred are worthless when framed against mankind’s immense capacity for love.
We should follow in the footsteps of the Løvlie family. We should actively seek to remember those who die from the nameless horror of an unexpected bomb through shelters and hospices, charities and centres. For how else to beat terror but to sow hope where a terrorist would seek to plant fear?
This article first appeared in the Guardian
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