Sunday, 21 December 2014

Of Sow’s Ears and Silk Purses Part 2: Through Heartbreak to Hope

This week has seen two high-profile, tragic incidents in the news.  First the hostage crisis and 16 hour siege in Sydney in which 2 people were killed, and then the attack on the school in Pakistan, in which 132 children and 9 teachers were killed, and 125 others were wounded.  Both of these were, at least ostensibly, religiously motivated actions, although I suspect that political motivations were just as significant, and it seems as though in the latter event, revenge played a greater part than either.

Both were carried out by Muslims, the first by a lone individual, the second by a group acting as part of the Pakistani branch of the Taliban.  There has been very little positive news regarding Muslims making headlines recently, and as a result it’s increasingly easy to immediately think of Muslims when one hears the word ‘terrorist’ or ‘extremist’.  As a result, the Muslim community, both here in the UK, and across the world hardly needs more bad publicity, and the vast moderate majority must be despairing, as well as shocked and outraged by what, certainly in the second case at least, can only be called atrocities.

But on top of this must be a great sense of apprehension, even fear.  After all, when Lee Rigby was murdered by Muslim fanatics in the UK, there was a surge of anti-Muslim feeling, with mosques vandalised and Muslims verbally abused in the streets.  It will be sad, but ultimately unsurprising if these recent events don’t cause similar reactions in various places.

It is incredibly heartening then to see that people have already taken steps to ensure that this doesn’t happen, or at least try and limit it as much as possible.  In Australia, #i’llridewithu trended on Twitter.  The idea was for people to offer to accompany visibly identifiable Muslims on public transport to help protect them from any abuse that might be triggered by the events in Sydney.  To what extent this has worked, or was even necessary I don’t know, but it shows a very encouraging response, a level of understanding rather than scapegoating or generalising.  It would have been good if such a thing had occurred here in the aftermath of the Lee Rigby murder.  I hope that next time, and I fear that there will be many next times, something similar will be seen.

In India, the traditional rival and foe of Pakistan, and between whom there is a large amount of very bad feeling which has festered for decades, #IndiawithPakistan began trending on Twitter, as people in India responded to the attack on the school with an outpouring of sympathy and compassion.  It is far too much to hope that this tragedy might lead to a greater reconciliation between the two countries, but it does at least emphasise the fact that people are not their governments, and that historical enemies can be united, albeit briefly, by grief.

These acts were acts of evil, but as is often the case, some good has come of them.  If it can be sustained and repeated, if forgiveness and understanding can replace bitterness and vengefulness, then much will have been achieved.  They may seem like small, insignificant things in the face of massacres and killings, but it is the many tiny, individually insignificant acts of kindness, forgiveness and love that counterbalance the monolithic evils of the world.  Better that they’d never happened at all, but if evil must occur, and I believe that in our world it must always be possible, then we must strive to ensure that at least as much good comes out of it too.

Last Sunday, before either of these events occurred, the church I attend printed the following prayer in its notices as the Prayer of the Week:

Through Heartbreak to Hope
The assignment is clear:
Bind up the broken, proclaim life restored.
Always be joyful!
Sing a song of hope;
Offer it to the world regardless of ears to hear it.
Lord, keep me fixed on the coming light,
Just visible through the haze of my tears.
Lord, clothe me in hope,
The garment of splendour for a heavy heart.

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