Murderous ‘difference’ can be beaten by our shared humanity

7th July 2005, I am driving to Swindon to meet my Service Manager and his engineering team for a catch up that is intended to culminate in an evening out which I shall cover on my expenses. The tone on 5Live changes as news of ‘power surges’ turns into reports of explosions and lives lost. I come off at the first Services I encounter and attempt to call my parents who are regular visitors to London. Satisfied that they are safe and well, I travel on to my destination. I am sad, bewildered, and angry. We won the bid to host to the Olympics yesterday, life will go on.

It is a more subdued evening than I had previously experienced with this group. One of our party is particularly quiet. He is usually one of the more gregarious characters in the team but he expresses that he would rather be elsewhere, he wants to process the events of the day. Before he leaves, he explains that his primary thoughts are with the family and friends of those affected by the bombings but he admits to also being concerned about the effect on his family over the coming weeks. As one of the few Muslims in his neighbourhood, he remembers how relationships were affected after 9/11 and how long it took to feel a full part of the community again.

I remember that day every time I hear of terrorist outrages and see the reaction to them. What this engineer described to me was not outright hostility – he and his family were not subjected to violence or abuse – but instead a wariness from those he thought he knew that made he and his family feel isolated. They were treated differently to how they had been previously because they were now seen as ‘different’.

In the aftermath of such atrocities, when we try to make sense of what has happened, look for reasons and try to protect ourselves and our loved ones from experiencing the same horrors, it is perhaps understandable that people see those ‘differences’ as something to recoil from. But isn’t that what the terrorists want? Their creed is pure ‘them’ and ‘us’. They do not want to see those they disagree with as fellow human beings. They see them as ‘different’ to them and their lives have less worth as a consequence. How else to explain such seemingly unconscious, wanton murder?

This is why the response to such barbarity has to be to move closer to our neighbours not to seek to paint them as ‘different’. To recognise that the sanctity of life covers everyone and that no cause or belief trumps it. That the religion that you follow, or world view, sexual preference, gender, race or intelligence, does not make you superior to anyone else or render others lives of less worth.

I passionately believe that we are social animals whose default setting is to act co-operatively and to assist those who require help when we can. It was seen in the ‘open door’ response in Paris last night and here in the UK in support of ‘Children In Need’. The search for ‘difference’ to justify seeing others of less worth is learned behaviour.

In this context, we need more multi-culturalism not less. Greater inclusion and far less selection and division on spurious ‘faith’ or other grounds in our schools. Celebrating cultural differences as a whole community reminds us of our similarities. Refusing to treat fellow human beings differently because of the actions of those who happen to share a faith, colour or nationality with them.

To do otherwise is to do the terrorists work for them.

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