The Word Rabbit

Information

This article was written on 23 May 2017, and is filled under Uncategorised.

Manchester: a personal reflection

A friend died in the July 7 bombings. She wasn’t a close friend, but we had lunch on occasion, spoke on the phone and she came to my wedding, giving me and my then wife a wholly unbidden gift of a beautiful duvet cover. Over lunch in the BBC canteen, where she was freelancing, we talked about a few things, mainly the Iraq war march and the fact I had seen Palestinian flags held by many of the marchers, which seemed then, as it does now, to be a disastrous collision of two disparate causes and a way of alienating people who may have cared about the war, but who might have felt that to protest would have seen them making common cause with people they may not have agreed with.

We talked about this in particular, because my friend was Jewish, and she had marched. She said that the Palestinian issue was a complex one but it was, for her, set to one side in the face of the protest against the Iraq war. And she was right, as it turned out, vindicated by events which were set in train by that war which, I think, may have cost my friend her life. The bombers were perhaps motivated by British foreign policy and, while I’m aware that what bad men may do makes a poor reason for a government to choose one course of action over another, I would be untrue to what I think were I not to articulate it.

This is not, though, the main point I want to raise. For the period of time during which she was missing, through to her identification and funeral, I was a very angry man. A better person than me might have pointed out that it was not my place to be angry as I was not closer to her and that any emotional reaction to her death was, quite rightly, the preserve of her family. This was wisdom I was not minded to hear. I wanted all Muslims locked up, I wanted anyone who looked like a suicide bomber killed and to mention Islam to me would have been to make me vibrate with anger. I was, in short, being an idiot, and my emotional reactions were no use to anyone and would have been actively injurious to the cause of peace which she cared about. But then something happened.

At her funeral, some words were spoken which changed my perspective. Memory tells me that they were spoken by the rabbi,but they may have been spoken by one of her friends. Either way, they said, simply, that if you gave in to hate, then you violated the principles by which my friend had lived her life. And in the shadow of this simple statement was, perhaps, the idea that she would not have wanted to hold any malice at all. In that moment, it was like someone had taken a rucksack full of rocks from off my back. I had been freed from the hate I was carrying around and freed to look at the world more reasonably again. Things assumed their correct proportion and reality was restored to my worldview.

Working out how I felt about the person who killed her took a while and the conclusions I came to are not empirical – how could they be – and are mine and mine alone. Were her family or close friends to say that they hoped he roasted in hell, I could hardly argue. I forgive him, for what it’s worth, a young man lied to by older ones and led by his zeal rather than his brain and it was only tonight, when I checked, that I realised he’d come from Leeds and lived in the same town as someone I was once close to, which also, oddly, draws the sting.

However. In the aftermath of the Manchester atrocity, a lot of hate is being stoked by right wing media figures who are no more than talking heads and who rely on their ability to whip up cheap and petty hatreds to get paid. Being paid for your opinions is fine if you’re a scientist or someone with direct knowledge of the subject under consideration but, I’d contend, when it becomes an end in itself and you are paid to babble, then you need to look at yourself. And when you are paid to babble, controversy is your friend, because it gets you talked about and raises your profile. And on the whole ghastly circus goes.

So what I’d say to society is this. Ignore them. They have no more validity than the stupid, angry voices in my head before my friend’s funeral. By all means support police anti-terrorism efforts and certainly remain vigilant, because, in the same way that vaccines keep us all safe, it is by individual wariness that we are protected. But don’t give in to hate for Muslims, or for refugees, or for asylum seekers, or for immigrants, or for whoever else. Such things are insane and would be tantamount to being afraid of white men because you disliked David Cameron, or being wary of a man with a beard because you were scared of Brian Blessed. The enemy is, and remains, extremism, which cuts across races, creeds and religions and which damages everyone touched by it, however briefly and however permanently. An extremist killed the schoolchildren in Norway and an extremist killed the young people in Manchester. Both were technically opponents, but both shared a worldview which holds that innocents must die.

We are on Earth for a short amount of time. If our answer to a hurt is to hurt someone else, then we are trapped, in perpetuity, in an endless cycle of pain. Should that cycle be broken, then there is the thinnest hope that humanity can prevail. After the Enniskillen bomb had gone off killing Gordon Wilson’s daughter Marie, he was interviewed on BBC radio, a interview I heard over dinner with my family. Everyone was quiet, because it was one of those moments which are very, very rare, in which you hear true greatness. This, from William Ury’s book, is what I heard and which represents our only hope.

“In an interview with the BBC, Wilson described with anguish his last conversation with his daughter and his feelings toward her killers: “She held my hand tightly, and gripped me as hard as she could. She said, ‘Daddy, I love you very much.’ Those were her exact words to me, and those were the last words I ever heard her say.” To the astonishment of listeners, Wilson went on to add, “But I bear no ill will. I bear no grudge. Dirty sort of talk is not going to bring her back to life. She was a great wee lassie. She loved her profession. She was a pet. She’s dead. She’s in heaven and we shall meet again. I will pray for these men tonight and every night.”

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.