We’ve had a bad year. From the endless war in Syria and Iraq to the horror of the Paris attacks, humanity would seem to be a nation at odds. So this is my word. Based on the whole torrid mess that is Islamic-Western relations I have one thing to say: please, please don’t get angry. No matter how many ghastly attacks we witness, no matter what horrific stories we hear, how many parents weep and how often the stories are told and retold via the media, I want you all to try one thing: hold the middle ground.
Terrorist attacks like these will happen again. And again. And the West will make mistakes, or at best decisions which will lead to far more Muslim deaths than any terrorist ever caused. Again and again most likely. This is not an easy reality for either Westerners or Muslims to face. It is one of the greatest tasks and constant banes any person or people may face to control ones anger, and respond in a proportional, constructive way, especially when one feels one has been wronged, time and again. But remember that as horrendous as Bataclan was, at the end of the day the actual threat from terrorism is minimal. A sense of perspective and proportion is essential.
So this is our societies’ challenge. The ultimate challenge of a pluralist, democratic society is incorporating many, many different ideas, even ones some may find repugnant, backwards, decadent, or alien. Of holding together when exceptions – and they are largely exceptions – like this occur. Pluralism does not mean selling out one’s own values. Nor does it mean simply handing power to somebody else. We cannot afford more failure in this system either in its internal policies or its international practices, for the consequences of our anger would be worse than what caused the anger in the first place.
The nightmare scenario is the savagery cycle continuing. The West gets lured into invading country after country without end, destroying the administration, government and bonds which hold these fragile states together, replacing them with nothing but anarchy which groups similar to Daesh will fill.
Our own countries would also be hurt by that outcome. It would result in a ceaseless cycle of ignorance begetting fear begetting hate begetting violence. Imagine societies that are simply ghettoes: communities based on crude identity, on people who only know themselves in opposition to somebody else. Northern Ireland is a mild example; Rwanda is the logical conclusion. The failure to peacefully handle the conflict with Islam now would lead to wider failures and to a precedent we know all too well: how many more social problems would have to be solved by ghettoisation? What of differing ethnicities, religions or sexual orientations? How many of these issues would have to be solved by the quick fix solutions of restrictive laws, like Europe in the 1930s? This is not a civilisation I would recognise, nor are they societies with values I would choose to hold. With millions of refugees on the move we must not allow the negativity in our natures to prevail. It is too late to disengage from the Middle East. While we have a very real responsibility, as westerners, for having created many of the problems which those in the East now face, from Sykes-picot to Iraq in 2003.
We must ask ourselves. As minorities from Yazidis to Christians huddle in their few remaining holdouts across the Middle East, as Sunnis find themselves caught between barrel bombs and beheading, as Shias find their very existence called into question. As Westerners with the cries of Bataclan in our ears we find ourselves caught at the same crossroads we faced in 2001; which was clearly not handled well. And we see the results of the overreaction to 9/11: countless families stranded in tents, people scared even to walk the streets of Europe’s largest capitals, and the slow destruction of the bonds that hold our multi-ethnic societies together. So we must ask ourselves:
Are we a compassionate society or not? Are we a loving people or not? Can we see the other as ourselves? Can we not see terrorist attacks in proportion to the wider conflicts in the Middle East, which we have partly created. In these times of tribulation our true values come out.
I know it is so very easy to let anger be our response to things which are so very threatening, so very damaging.
But no matter what happens, lets break the cycle. Hold the middle ground. Look to a future where this is just a distant memory. Let’s use this New Year to better ourselves. The year we ignore the voices seeking vengeance and look to the voices seeking answers, tough answers, to think outside our own civilisation and look at our own actions. Talking – informed and balanced, proportional and honest – is one way of doing this. Daesh will be defeated. But only a holistic solution will work long term. Violence and anger need not be the answer.