From my windows I can see the London Eye lit up in the stripes of the French tricolore, as it was last night.
I am shocked and saddened by what happened in Paris on Friday night. I haven’t listened to the radio today, watched the television or read news updates online, so I hope that there have been no more bloody incidents.
On Friday night watching the news, I listened disbelievingly as a member of the US military said that the death of Mohammed Emwazi would be a blow to ISIS. From all accounts Emwazi was a sad and rather pathetic creature. He lacked self-esteem, was teased at school for having bad breath and all footage of him in his teenage years shows him covering his mouth with his hands or a convenient piece of clothing. In other words, a perfect candidate to be groomed by people who would exploit his neediness. As Jihadi John, the knife wielding horseless man of the apocalypse, he inspired a fearful respect; a seemingly pitiless executioner, he was also a victim. Sadly, ISIS probably has already filled his shoes with some other recruit desperate to be regarded as important. Who mourns Emwazi? His family, one hopes, but probably no one else.
James Foley’s mother, interviewed when the news broke, expressed no joy at his death. Others have voiced concerns at this extra-judicial killing. True it would be have been hard to have arrested him and tried him at the Old Bailey, but this year we have been celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, which is all about the rule of law. We do not have the death penalty in this country, so this deliberate hunting down and killing appears doubly illegal.
I think it also plays into the terrorists’ hands. Our morals are shown to be elastic. ISIS, like fundamentalists of other religions, operates in a black and white world. Its members believe they, and only they, are right; they have read and understood the Qu’ran. To the end of hastening the end of the world and killing all who are not true believers, the slaughter of people out to enjoy an evening in Paris at a football match, a restaurant or a rock concert, is all part of a just cause.
It’s not just ISIS, or even fundamentalists, who use religious texts to justify violence or bigotry. How many times have you heard Leviticus cited by those who oppose gay rights? And how often have women been told that the Bible makes clear they are subordinate to men? In the Old Testament women are even denied souls. Mother had a very annoying habit of ending family arguments with a biblical quotation.
We say we are a Christian country; that our culture is based on Christian beliefs even if most of the population is no longer credent or practising. Now, I had a Christian upbringing. I heard the gospels every day of my school education. And over and over we learned that God is Love; that Christ told us to love our neighbours as ourselves; to turn the other cheek; to pray for those who persecute us. I must admit that I find all these things more than hard, and although I consider myself formed by Christianity, and hold much of its teachings dear, I am not a believer. I fantasise about revenge on those, like my ex-boss, who have wantonly injured me and those dear to me. My current favourite fantasy involves putting them altogether in the Big Brother House. Now, that I would watch.
But I do think Christian teaching gives us food for thought when faced with situations such as these. Christianity is not about vengeance (though if you look at the history of the Christian church you might be forgiven for thinking otherwise). Somehow I don’t think bombing ISIS held territory to bits, satisfying though it might seem in the short term, is a solution. I don’t mean we should be neutral either, but we need to understand and be true to our own moral compasses in how we (re)act.
The news that one of the Paris terrorists held a Syrian passport and entered Europe via Greece will doubtless be used by some to argue that we should not accept refugees, and by Teresa May to garner support for her Snoopers’ Charter.
It’s all very depressing.
Nothing will bring those killed on Friday back. All we can do is to reach out and create community; remember that we are all human; that race and creed and politics are secondary to the need to love and respect one another. So I was delighted to read in the Guardian yesterday that the Isle of Bute is preparing to welcome fifteen refugee families imminently. I am agog to know what they will make of the weather, but the story gave me a renewed faith in humanity that was very much needed.