Restoring Faith

In a week that has seen a siege in a cafe in Sydney’s central business district end with three dead, yet another senseless gun massacre in the US leaving six dead, and, only today, over 140 students and teachers murdered in cold blood in Pakistan, it is harder than usual to stay optimistic about the human condition. Why, when we have so much potential to be peaceful and loving individuals, do so many willingly walk the path of hate? Not only that, but choose the most innocent of all people as their victims? 

But amidst the horrors of the past few days some buds of hope and goodwill have slowly begun to emerge:

1. First came the hashtag #illridewithyou, created by a woman in Australia in response to the siege, to encourage her fellow countrymen and women to support all those who felt frightened to travel alone for fear of Islamophobic reprisals by ignorant people who fail to realise the vast majority of people who follow Islam are no more terrorists than they are. Before long the campaign went viral, with people all over the country declaring their pride to be residents of a place that refuses to tolerate Islamophobia and prejudice in all of its forms. And good on them.

2. The next ray of light comes in the form of the good folk who came up with the concept for the Casserole Club, which encourages people to make an extra meal when they cook each week to share with a lonely elderly neighbour. Friends of the Elderly also gets a mention for its fantastic Be a Friend campaign, which urges people to do small and easy things each day to help reduce the loneliness of the elderly. This was borne out of a survey the charity conducted which found that people do want to help, but often don’t know how, so both their campaign and the Casserole Club are wonderful ways to make a tangible difference to people’s lives. Just fantastic.

3. The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds has fed 10,000 people with 20,000 tonnes of unwanted but perfectly edible food, ticking every box in the book where helping the homeless, the hungry and the environment is concerned. Bravo to the founder, Adam Smith. The world needs more like him.

4. When this student realised she had lost her bank card after a night out in Preston a homeless man named Robbie gave her his last three pounds so she could safely get a taxi home. In return, she has started a campaign to raise money for a deposit on a flat for Robbie, who has been homeless for seven months through no fault of his own. So far she has raised £9k by asking for £3 donations in support of her living rough for 24 hours.

It’s a utopian ideal to think the evil in the world will ever be entirely stamped out, but as long as people like the ones I have described above exist and have the opportunity to share and grow their genuinely philanthropic goals with their communities and the wider world, I believe there will at least be a few very good reasons to keep faith in humanity.

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Down by the river

Down by the river all was quiet, save for the occasional beating of runners’ feet against the stony ground some feet away, or the call of dog walkers whose pets had strayed out of sight. One such pet – a cocker spaniel with a pronounced limp – was here now. His wet nose pressed into the leaves he inhaled deeply in an attempt to track a scent that was too faint for his old nose to detect. With a snort the old dog gave up and limped off.

But it would not be long before another, younger canine would be successful in its quest to track the scent. It would sniff at the damp soil beneath its feet, dislodge it with a paw, slowly at first but with increasing fervour once the scent became stronger. The surface soil brushed aside, it would inspect the object protruding from the earth with something close to reverence, if dogs were capable of such an emotion. And once the finger was licked clean the dog would bark, it’s owner would come, and her screams would shatter the early evening peace into a million irretrievable pieces.

But for now, at least, down by the river all was quiet.

Hate for hate’s sake

I know I shouldn’t jump on the bandwagon after yesterday’s shocking attack on a soldier near his army barracks in Woolwich, but I’ve been so shocked and appalled by the outpouring of anti-Muslim sentiment on social media in its wake that I feel compelled to write about it.

What happened was both vile and unforgivable. But whilst the true nature and circumstance of the crime has yet to be revealed, let’s get one thing straight. Whether this was truly an ‘act of terrorism’ – as the media so gleefully report – or the act of two delusional individuals with extremist beliefs, it is beyond wrong to lay the blame for this incident at the door of the Muslim community.

For the English Defence League – whose website claims they are “are an inclusive movement dedicated to peacefully protesting against Islamic extremism” – to arm themselves with bottles and attack police and mosques in the wake of the incident is despicable.

Why do some people in this country – and the world at large – have such a strong propensity for hate? They claim to be fighting a cause but in reality it’s simply violence for violence’s sake. An eye for an eye is what they misguidedly believe, but do they even understand what they’re allegedly fighting for?

Yes, times are hard, and many people are looking for someone to blame. But for God’s (and by this I must be clear that I mean any god) sake let’s not lose the one thing that makes our species great: Our humanity. Because without that what are we but animals? And savage ones at that.

Fight hate with love

Like many I was shocked and horrified to hear of the bombs that rocked yesterday’s Boston marathon, killing three – among them an 8 year old boy – and injuring many more. When I expressed my outrage at this latest tragic atrocity, however, I was shocked when someone challenged me to explain why it was any more tragic than the almost daily bombings in Iraq or Syria.

Ever since it was asked of me that question’s been playing on my mind in a loop – in much the same way as the video clip of the Boston marathon bombs going off has been played on every network since it happened. Did I feel more sad hearing about the marathon victims than when I heard news reports of innocent civilians being blown apart in Iraq? If so, what did that say about me? Was it possible some form of racism, classism or snobbery had crept into my consciousness without me even noticing its existence? Did I, in truth, value the lives of those people in Iraq less than the lives of the marathon spectators?

After a thorough period of introspection I’m pleased to say the answer to those questions was a resounding no. Whether they lost their lives in Boston or Iraq, I feel the same deep sense of sadness, the same feeling of shame that there are other human beings capable of such terrible acts of malice and hatred against their fellow men, women and children. The Boston bombings aren’t, therefore, more tragic; not at all. But, for those of us in the western world who are fortunate not to live in war torn countries, it is more shocking. Why? Because, quite simply, it’s far less common for a bomb to go off in the middle of a marathon taking place in an American city than it is on a normal day in an Iraqi city.

And there’s another reason. We see so many international news reports featuring the images of bloodied, limbless children’s corpses and wailing men and women beating their chests with grief that we are systematically desensitised to their effects. We’re used to death in Iraq and Syria. What we’re not used to is death in our own communities – or at least not the kind of death we witnessed yesterday in Boston.

No matter where terrorism strikes it sends shockwaves through not only the community whose beating heart it strikes, but also across the world. But whilst each time they strike the terrorists may think that they are winning the fight, what their hate-filled hearts will never comprehend is that through love for our fellow men it is we who will win the war.

I fell completely head over heels with this, a tiny model scene in the wall of a toilet in a Manhattan restaurant. I think it’s quite appropriate given the end of today’s post.

Doris

As the days go by he finds he mourns the passing of the time more than her. For this he bears such crushing guilt he is tormented through his every waking moment, sometimes even in his dreams. She was not, he recognises, an easy or a pleasant woman. Many a time he’d heard her referred to as formidable, cantankerous, nasty and mean.

But for all her numerous faults, she had been his mother; dark-skinned, curly-haired, thick-ankled Doris. No nonsense, take-dat-spoon-on-da-back-of-yar-legs-and-dat-be-a-lesson-to-ya Doris. He’d lived his life in a combination of fear and awe; fear of her anger at the world, which all too often manifested itself as anger towards him, and awe at her ability to cope after all she had been through.

It’s what she’d been through that made it hard for him to turn away. The people who gossiped in the street didn’t know, they took her at face value and never bothered to look beneath the surface. But he knew everything. Not that she knew he knew. He was only a small boy when he’d crawled under her bed, found the box with the photographs – and the letters.

In her native Jamaica, at the age of seventeen, Doris had been gang raped and beaten so badly that she miscarried her firstborn – his brother. Two years later, when she was heavily pregnant, her husband was murdered by the very same gang. It was all there in the letters, the heavy black scrawl of the condemned asking – no, begging – Doris for forgiveness. He never could bring himself to ask if she had granted her rapist – also her husband’s killer – the absolution he so desired.

He had simply allowed her to exert her grief on him.

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Thinking about a mother’s love for her son reminded me of my time living in a remote orphanage in Kisii, Kenya, in 2007. It was run by this lovely lady, Rebecca, and her husband Amos. They were the most wonderful hosts for the six weeks I spent there, and despite them speaking limited English we struck up a very warm relationship. Even though I sometimes found it so hard being there, I look back fondly on their family and the hospitality they showed me.