Tuesday 28 May 2013

Selfless courage shines a light of hope in the war on terror

As its few survivors commemorate the Battle of the Atlantic 70 years ago, I cannot help wondering how they would have felt if Churchill had gone to “chillax” in Ibiza while they were facing the German U-boats.

The “war on terror”, clearly, is played by different rules.

Still, at least our glorious leader will have leisure to reflect that the real swivel-eyed loons he needs to worry about are not those in his local Conservative associations.

They are the ones out on the streets quoting the Old Testament under the apparent delusion that it is the Koran, and wielding meat cleavers and butchers’ knives.

I have asked myself what steps I would take if I were ever confronted by such fanatics, and regret to say that they would almost certainly be very large and fast ones in the opposite direction.

Hence my boundless admiration for those brave women in Woolwich who stopped to try and reason with the killers and to comfort their victim.

I have read suggestions elsewhere that this marks the critical difference between the male and female of our species, but I do not believe that to be strictly true. Yes, men may be statistically more susceptible to murderous lunacy, but there are also women who claim to hear voices in their heads telling them to kill. One female was jailed only last year for the random knife murder of a 13-year-old girl in a Doncaster park.

The only difference is that those behind last week’s killing appear to think themselves motivated by some monstrous perversion of religion, and our response occasionally seems to be hamstrung by hand-wringing concerns to avoid giving offence.

It is fortunate that the Conquistadores took a more robust approach to Aztec human sacrifice, and the British to the Indian customs of thuggee and suttee, or we would still have widows flinging themselves (or being flung) onto their husbands’ funeral pyres and no doubt be warned not to judgemental about the customs of other faiths.

Now, let's not be judgemental here ...

Though oddly enough it is fine to offend many Christians, whether through legislating on gay marriage or banning the display of their symbols, because with any luck they will have read enough of their Bible to know that the line about “an eye for an eye” is updated in the Gospel with advice to “turn the other cheek”.

The good news is that madness can be defeated, just as the apparently unstoppable forces of Nazism and Soviet communism were. Only last week I rejoiced as the European Commission hurriedly withdrew its proposed ban on olive oil jugs and dipping bowls in restaurants, in the face of a positive tsunami of ridicule from across the continent.

True, on past form this may prove to have been a tactical retreat by the Commission, rather than an outright defeat, but it is at least a sign that the forces of sanity may occasionally bring even the European juggernaut shuddering to a halt.

We must now aim for a similar and much more important triumph against those forces that prey on the vulnerable and frankly thick to convince them that they have grievances that are worth killing and being killed for.

Because no offshoot of any religion that preaches this deserves to survive even for a nanosecond, and should be stamped out with all the forces of logical argument and ridicule at our disposal.

Faith surely only has value when it makes the inevitability of our own deaths seem a little more bearable and reinforces in us a desire “to do the right thing”, as Ibiza Dave likes to say.

Whenever a natural disaster, major accident or horrible murder comes along, perfectly ordinary people emerge from the shadows displaying quite exceptional reserves of selflessness, decency and eloquence. 

Illustrating that there are ultimately only two kinds of people on this planet: those who always put themselves first and those who care about others.

Some of the good among us may be motivated by a religious upbringing or teaching, but many of no faith at all display equally outstanding selflessness and courage. Let us thank God for that (if we believe in Him) and wish that more of us could be like them. I know I do.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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