• At Times Like These

    The last few weeks have been a time of fairly titanic proportions in British politics, in the lead up to Wednesday’s debate. And when faced with such senseless tragedy as the murders in Paris, it’s easy to see why some choose to grasp at apparently easy answers and emotive either-ors. But there are of course no easy answers, away from the simplistic glare of much of the press.

    Being practical, we can talk about Isis, what they want, what propels them, how we can best counteract their toxic theology - if their end-times mentality actually amounts to so grand a term. We can talk about the measures of our governments; more surveillance, ever tighter procedures over immigration and surely there are plenty of grounds for dissent. But if there’s a traction to get more involved, to offer our piece, many also may try to switch off altogether.

    But really there’s no switching off at times like these. We know that tens, if not hundreds of thousands of immigrants are facing grueling conditions all across Europe’s borders. We think too of the even higher numbers in camps throughout the Middle East. We can think about the suffering in Syria itself whether at the hands of Isis or Assad. And all of this mounts up when we think of Paris; the harrowing brutality, the sense of so much beauty, so much life and promise so needlessly lost.

    What Paris and the refugee crisis has shown more than anything else is that there can be no looking away, if we ever did, over the plight of the Middle East. For each life lost in France there have been many, many more in Syria itself. It’s possible, if not likely, that the Paris attacks were partly a response to Western bombardments. But they also reflect the fact that Isis are bent on an all out confrontation with the West and the absence of coalition planes would not negate the fact that they would seek this out ultimately anyway were they ever to achieve the full caliphate they seek in the region.

    Perhaps it’s as well then to reflect that contemporary societies around the world are rich in everything that Isis are intrinsically opposed to. Populations of many faiths coexist with generally little friction. Our collective civic response to terrorism in Europe and abroad can – or should - reaffirm the values of tolerance and the mutual respect that we hold. We can respond to the plight of refugees with a practicality borne from our sense of shared humanity. We can unite in wishing for a better day in Syria.

    Isis seek to undermine all this. They seek to sow division through their agencies of fear. They seek to perpetuate an ever greater sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Like other death cults, they steep themselves in corruptions of hope, relish conviction over the end of all things, where life in this world is rendered cheap by belief in the next, where nothing is hallowed or precious and they can indulge to a far greater extent than the culture they claim to despise.

    Fear is the mind killer. Revelling in perpetuating it, they kill themselves a little by degrees so that they can justify their own barbarity. In standing against them, as a global society, we can do so with a greater sense of our capacity for kindness. That does not negate the consequences of Western actions and inactions. But does it mean that, as people, we can choose to live our lives with compassion and, in our hearts, without fear.

    When wars wage, when tides of people making their way to our borders speak of the scale of conflagration we can retreat into ourselves, wash our hands of the pain of the world or seek to engage in a way that is both practical and helpful. We can choose to side with the tireless efforts of so many who are seeking to alleviate the plight of refugees. We can seek to go forward as a strong society, however concerned we may be by this latest engagement. We can hold a sense of utter scepticism about what yet more warplanes over Syria achieves, while maintaining the knowledge that Isis are far from an imaginary threat.

    In the meantime we should continue to commemorate the fallen of Paris – not from some sense that any life here is worth more than those further away. But - because this is so close to home - it helps bring home too the reality of distant wars. It reminds us of what every life is worth. Perhaps, too, part of the route ahead lies in our capacity to value that which we have all around us, in each other, what we have in this world, in this life. Perhaps the greatest thing we can do is to assert and live by our own sense of shared humanity. In this respect we never had a choice.

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branchlines

The posts here originally grew from a website that was set up to advertise a book that describes things a long time ago. That book was always intended to address more than any single issue, even if it encompassed that as well.

At its broadest, I hoped it could help express how things can be when anyone of us acts on behalf of the environment, of their community, of our collective future itself. It was informed by far more than simply the times it describes; it was an attempt to articulate a feeling that has carried on and grown and means more than just a narrow 'us and them'.

I'm mainly working on other writing at the moment but thought there was probably something to be said for keeping these posts online while the issues they deal with remain relevant. I hope you find something on these pages that proves of interest or use as we all rise to meet the new times.

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