While terrorism preoccupies policy-makers following the ghastliness in Paris, what could you and I be doing?
Another lethal attack took place last Wednesday. Outside a police college in Yemen a car bomb, possibly planted by Al Qaeda, killed 40 people. The gunmen in Paris may also be linked to Al Qaeda or IS, but this offers scant comprehension of their motivation to kill. They were deranged, possibly psychopathic with a distorted worldview or creed, like the lunatic Norwegian Christian, Anders Breivik, who mowed down 70 teenagers.
All religions attract the saintly and the fanatic. It is each and every human act that counts; no ideology can justify slaughter, no protest requires murder. These were the criminally insane exploiting Islam.
The great majority of victims are actually Muslims who have lived for centuries largely in peace with people of other faiths. May moderate Islam finds its voice and soon. Is it more important, I wonder, to love one’s neighbour than to love any god? It can certainly be harder.
As a sorry aftermath to the murders, the right wing is milking it. Political extremes love to feed off one another. We must be careful not to respond to the terrorists’ intolerance with our own. Radical Islamism is not our only enemy.
Violence is a consequence of a world of inequality which systematically dehumanizes the many people who feel powerless. We shut our eyes and ears to the cries of the oppressed at a cost.
As a member of a team of physiotherapists and acupuncturists visiting Gaza in 2011, I treated a young man who reported crippling pain in his feet. His feet looked fine, but his back revealed seven deep gunshot wounds. He had lived, just, through three major rounds of violence.
His world is impoverished and imprisoned, both mentally and physically. Some of his views were wacky, even frightening, but my heart went out to him. He is one of the millions of youth who stand no chance.
I am glad to live here rather than Africa or the Middle East where life is hellish unless you are rich. European citizens are nearly 2,000 times more likely to die in a traffic accident than as a result of terrorism. We are rightly reacting emotionally because 17 people were killed in Paris, but we must not forget the hundreds killed daily in Syria and Iraq where we send yet more bombs.
So what can we do from our safe corner?
I want to join the many people around the globe who work daily to challenge fundamentalism of any colour – be it Christian, Muslim or Jewish – by insisting on human rights and international law. I agree with my fellow columnist, David Banks, that Western government collusion in torture and imprisonment without trial spur impressionable young Muslims to jihadism.
I want to protest against hypocrisy. Not that long ago President Assad of Syria, whose record for violence is remarkable, was invited by our government to stay at Buckingham Palace. Saudi Arabia, where a dozen or more executions a month is common, is sold billions of pounds worth of weapons. Sowing mayhem surely – and I haven’t even mentioned our history and propensity for invading other countries.
Let us be gracious to so-called “others”. This will be hard to practise as, according to the 2011 census, the highest percentage of the UK population with a white English identity is in the North East.
So I am not going to buy a weapon to defend myself against the invisible and the unpredictable. Nor will I support any attempt to rush through new surveillance and law enforcement powers likely to disproportionately affect Muslims and other minorities.
We can use rights wisely. For one, I will strive not to say, write or draw anything shallow which may cause insult or foment prejudice. That is not curtailing my freedom of expression, it is simple human decency. Mockery is no substitute for serious dialogues to counter ignorance and extremism.
Hundreds of journalists in the Middle East have been attacked and many have lost their lives – especially in Syria, Iraq and Gaza – for simply trying to speak truth to power. May we use our pen so bravely.
Free speech and individual human liberty are not our highest values. We are at our best in treating one another with compassion, generosity and respect.