Those two things – healing, and carrying on – have been a feature of life for all of us in recent times. Last night I watched the One Love Manchester concert with my Mum on TV, and we were both moved to tears for much of it: there was an overpowering sense of love and music (art) transcending any kind of hate or terror directed at the world, and in particular, a way of life where self expression (and music) underpin the best aspects of a culture. A culture in which artistic expression thrives is a culture that is close to ultimate freedom. A world without that freedom of expression is stifling and grey.
Music, writing, performing, films – anything creative and artistic – act as catalysts where we can let go and funnel our fears and uncertainty into something positive. The concert was a beautiful display of that catalyst in action, people coming together and caring for each other, and remembering the good things about life. It offered a measure of hope and the feeling that we can heal from events like this, going forward into a place of love, not hate and intolerance.
Worldwide, agents of terror work by sowing fear and divisions into society, not just by physical threat but by stoking the fires of intolerance. By claiming that they are agents of Islam, they plant seeds of distrust and fear within societies that are learning to be truly multicultural and metropolitan. Having lived in London my entire life, and having met people from all walks of life, faiths, and cultures, I feel privileged to have had a meeting of minds with them all. True faith has nothing to do with violence, fear, or intolerance. The problem comes when religion is co-opted and twisted into something different, that makes people believe they are dying for their God, that a just and kind God of any kind would want somebody to kill themselves, taking innocent people with them.
I’m sad and embarrassed that Muslims feel they continually have to distance themselves from and reassure the general public that they disagree completely with agents of terror. Of course they do – do we see Christians standing up and having to denounce the crimes of people who murder because of their warped understanding of their religion, because ‘God’ told them to? I’m not religious, but even I can see that a kind, benevolent, true God wouldn’t want their followers to murder in their name. We see cults and religions twisted into something else all over the world. Daesh is just that – an extreme terror cult that wants to wipe out any kind of joy and self-expression they see, wants to remake the world in their own image. Defiance is living your life anyway. Loving people anyway. Not allowing fear to rule your life and stop you from doing what you love to do.
Of course, our governments have a stake in how they respond to, and fuel cults like this. Our government in particular is involved in the arms trade, in selling arms to Saudi Arabia which then sells arms to Daesh, and other radical fundamentalist cults. This kind of complicated, sickening puzzle of international arms trading is something that makes me ashamed of our government and I feel that this election is our chance to vote against that kind of trade. In this way, voting on Thursday is an opportunity to also vote for the values and policies that will heal divisions and bring about more healing. Everything is connected. I want to vote for the people who saved the lives of the victims, for the people who will put more police back into communities, who I feel will negotiate well and without aggression for our (now inevitable) exit from the EU. Voting is something that we have to be proud of doing, because it is our chance to vote for the kind of society we want to have. I’ve been impressed with how some politicians, particularly the Mayors of Manchester and London, have put forward a message of strength, leadership, and unity.
At times like this, it might seem like a platitude, but kindness and love always rise to the surface – the people who risk their own lives to help the victims, the taxi drivers who give lifts to people to get them away from the eye of the storm, and the emergency services who promptly arrive at the scene to do whatever they can. These things – kindness and love – are the best things we can offer each other in the aftermath of extremist attacks. What we saw in Manchester is that to make sense of what happened might be next to impossible, but people came together in unity to heal and offer support. We might need to be more vigilant and report anything suspicious, but we also need to let go of hate. Senseless violence only breeds more hatred – it’s a circular situation and only one which we can break by veering away from hate and moving towards honouring victims worldwide with love.
I can’t adequately express everything I’m thinking and feeling about events of recent months, but I do know that I feel a sense of overwhelming gratitude and comfort in how people have come together. That kind of unity leads to healing, and resilience, which is what we need when faced by the possibility of more attacks. The true spirit of humanity shines through when we can help each other pick up our lives and live with a sense of joy and gratitude.
‘Love is the big booming beat which covers up the noise of hate.’ – Margaret Cho.