Dangerous Baggage

Nullius addictus jurare in verba magistri

Cold Cuts

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Why now? I keep asking myself… Whatever.

Though only a few may hear my voice, I hope it does some good. I sit here reading numerous, frustrating news reports and I find Tony Soprano drift into the forefront of my mind.

An episode of The Sopranos from my student days many years ago saw Tony worried by some news report about terrorists attacking America. Here is one of the toughest gangsters in the city, frustrated because he doesn’t know how to defend his family and country against terrorists. It is clear that the episode is referring to religious terrorists – specifically ‘Jihadists’ or ‘Muslim Fundamentalists’… or whatever was in the headline of the last news report you read.

Now the war is most definitely on British soil, on the doorstep of a democratic nation. Terrorists in a far away country have made bombs inside printer toner cartridges and these have been delivered, and detected, in the UK.

Stephen Timms MP may or may not be a good man, he may or may not be a useful MP, I don’t know. He is, however, lucky to be alive after Roshonara Choudhry tried to murder him because he voted in favour of going to war with Iraq. I do not want to discuss his intentions, I don’t know anything about the man. Though I do know that he did not himself commit war crimes, he did not rape any Iraqi women nor murder any Muslim children. I may well look into his background, if only to make the point, for now though I would put money on his condemnation of the atrocities that took place. I would also bet that he was very worried about a ruthless dictator building an army in Iraq, threatening western civilizations and possessing ‘weapons of mass destruction’; and that these factors (rightly or wrongly) weighed in heavily on his vote. In other words based on the evidence he had at the time he made the most just call he could.

I worry about the headlines next week? Next month? Next year? Will a bomb or nerve gas or some biological weapon result in thousands dying in some UK city centre? In Paris? New York? Amsterdam?

And the question keeps coming back to me, how the hell can I do something about this? I wouldn’t know a ‘terrorist’ if I walked past one in the street. Even if I wanted to debate and talk to someone who freely admits she wants me and all of my friends and family to die regardless of the consequences – the nature of the argument ‘I’m going to kill you now in God’s name, and that’s that’ isn’t an argument that can be debated. I doubt any amount of reason or logic would make the slightest difference.

(Incidentally all that Tony did was smash the bar tender round the head for saying ‘well, you’ve just gotta live for today’. I think the bar tender lived but lost hearing in 1 ear and Tony didn’t address any terrorist threats.)

So what can one do?

Firstly, do not treat that question as rhetorical. Answer it.

Secondly, do not be the ‘just live for today’ bar tender. Putting it to the back of your mind, leaving it for someone else to deal with is a shameful act. The fight is here, it has been for years.

Thirdly – very important this – do not be Tony. Half killing the nearest person to you is no answer. Attacking the nearest Muslim, the nearest Mosque or the nearest Pakistani or Indian (because you have confused ethnicity, race and religion) is an act of cowardice and ignorance. It is and should remain punishable by an impartial and secular justice system.

So what do I do? What can I do?

This country is mostly secular, it is generous and kind, it is powerful, it is intelligent. In ways of science, of reason, of logic and of education this country is advanced. The age of enlightenment began many centuries ago. We have pushed painfully through industrial, political and technological revolutions. This country has many problems, but it has many great qualities and virtues. It is a democracy in which everyone is granted the freedom to speak, and coupled with right to listen comes the freedom to be heard.

Turning to age-old barbarism and attacking terrorists would be an insult to our ancestors, an insult to our own intelligence and a step backwards in our difficult journey of discovery. This includes condemning any guilty terrorist to death – we do not do that in this country!

We have the right to speak about religion, about politics and about terrorist acts. We have a right to uphold our values. Values like freedom, like justice – just because we are so angry that someone is willing to attack our loved ones and our basic freedoms does not mean we are entitled to break our fundamental principles.

Now here’s the tough part – freedom and justice are powerful and positive words, but there are few rights that one can have that don’t demand the loss of other rights and the addition of further responsibility.

I demand the right to not be murdered – I therefore lose the right to murder and I have the responsibility to prevent murder where I can and bring murderers to justice.

The right to freedom of speech means I lose the right to not be offended – and that I have the responsibility to defend those that are being silenced.

These things are tough. Tough to understand and to admit but they are the building blocks of our society. It is these that are under fire and it is these that we may be tempted to give up in a counter-attack.

I implore you not to.

Retaliate by fulfilling your rights without fear and face up to your responsibilities without shame or hesitation.

One of the fundamental rights of our society – to be able to voice an opinion without fear of violent reprisal – is being attacked. To keep quiet about that is to lose by default. To become violent in retaliation is to lose by default. To continue to exercise this right and face this fear of violence is the toughest thing to do and the best weapon we have.

I’m writing this not to change the world, not to stop the next bomb exploding nor to discourage the next terrorist, but as a call to arms. To arms far removed from those we see throughout history. Our weapons are reason, forethought, humour, imagination, education, generosity, humility, scientific study, curiosity, questioning, exploration and hope.

This is war different from others in history and we would do well to understand exactly what is being attacked, for therein lies our defence.


Written by matthaughton

November 5, 2010 at 10:50 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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