I was listening to a special episode of ‘Any Answers’ on BBC Radio 4 the other day. It was extended while people phoning in tried to make sense of what happened in Paris on the evening of Friday the 13th of November.
You can listen here to a wide range of opinions from keeping calm and carrying on, to rounding up sundry folk, who may or may or may not be seen to be guilty by some vague association by the caller, and placing them in concentration camps on some ‘miserable’ (his word) Scottish Island.
I, probably like many of you, have been pulled in by the horror and the terror of the seemingly random deaths caused by what is believed to be 8 young men wearing bomb vests and brandishing Kalashnikovs.
I can only imagine what it must be like to be exposed to the rawness of the vivid and intense fear of not knowing where to run and hide.
I was watching the Andrew Marr show this morning – Frank Gardner, the BBC journalist, was talking about how, in his work, he’d lived amongst Muslims in the Middle East and had found the vast majority of the people he’d met to be kind and hospitable.
Quick as a flash, Andrew Marr responds with, ‘Yes, but one of them shot you…’
So one of them shot you – fuck ’em – fuck ’em all.
Andrew Gardner had been shot 6 times in an attack by Al-Qaeda sympathisers in Riyadh in 2004. One of the bullets caused spinal damage that partially paralysed his legs.
And yet he was able to extol the virtues of the lovely people who he’d lived with for most of his career.
I’m a white man living in a wealthy western, possibly Christian, occasionally secular society. I think I’d be less than delighted if people around the world mentally packaged me up with the mass murderer, Anders Breivik or the enthusiastic purveyors of war, Mr Bush junior, and our very own Mr Blair.
There are around 1.6 billion Muslims in the world – give or take.
In much the same way that I’m not our murderers – these people are not represented by these 8 terrorists – you/ me and others might have other names for them now or later on…but for the moment, I think the word ‘terrorist’ is as good as any.
But already we know this story is bigger than that. Perhaps we feel more empathy with the people of Paris because it’s easy to see us in them.
But what about the 147 people killed in the Islamist attack in Kenya in April this year?
Or the bombing in Beruit killing at least 43 people, injuring as many as 200 that took place earlier in the week by suicide bombers claiming allegiance to the same organisation who are claiming responsibility for the atrocities in Paris.
Where’s our empathy, understanding and outrage for them?
But they’re not…?
Fill in your own reason here….
but remember, they are people – just like us – who are feeling everything that we’re feeling.
Tragically though, that’s not even half the story.
What about the state sponsored terrorism meted out apparently in our name?
I could start with the 110 thousand civilians in Iraq who died following our invasion…
I could tell you about a thing called ‘tapping’, where drones drop a small explosive on a building that allows the inhabitants to escape before following it up with a second decisive blast that blows it to bits…
The same drones that wander the skies above Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria…and others – sometimes invisible – sometimes clear for everyone to see…
Can you imagine looking up into the airspace around our lovely country knowing that these remote controlled harbingers of death could rain down their Hellfire missiles at any time.
Flying weapons that you have no control of, and somewhere between little and no way of fighting?
Can you conceive living in this almost permanent state of hypervigilance and fear in the knowledge that, on top of all this, western powers were using tactics they call ‘Double Tapping’?
To clarify, a missile will be unleashed – unit cost $110 thousand dollars – on a building…those in control will wait for the first responders – people – humans wanting to help in any way they can – before following up the attack with a second lethal explosion – effectively slaughtering people whose only crime was compassion for others.
Yes, but they must be guilty by association…mustn’t they?
A report in 2012 found that just 1 in 50 of those people killed in ‘Surgical’ drone strikes were known militants.
Well, that must be some unreliable, foreign propaganda surely?
No, it was Harvard University that gathered this information.
1 in 50!
That must mean the rest are….what?
You and me. Flesh and blood, vulnerable to the ever present fear of terrorism from the sky.
We could carry on avenging and revenging on all sides but…
I was watching NCIS the other day…yes, you’re right, I’m right dead cultured…when I heard agent Dinozzo utter some very wise words,
‘If you follow a policy of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ you’ll end up in a world of blind toothless people’
Already there have been reports of some misguided, so called ‘revenge attacks’ on one of the refugee camps in Calais…
We can shout out our indignance, we can express fear and anger…even hatred. We can demand that our government should ‘DO SOMETHING!!!’
We can reel off a shopping list of differences between ourselves and these perceived ‘others’…
We can carry on as before and nothing will change.
But let me take you back to the beginning of the blog and the question I asked at the start of all this
‘What are YOU going to do?’
I’ve got to say, I’m pretty clueless. But, to be fair, no less clueless than our great leaders.
So I decided to reach out. I contacted a guy who I know, whose Muslim faith is important to him. I told him I was thinking about him and his – our – community, and that I knew that things were potentially going to be shitty as once again we’re hit by a wave of prejudice. I said hello, and asked if there was anything I could do.
Walk a mile