- 17 Dec 15
Darkness seemed to be everywhere in 2015. It is hard to maintain any sense of hope, when barbarism is so militantly on the rise. But if we don't, we surely will be lost...
What an appalling year that was. For sure it had its good moments. But so consistent and unrelenting was the bad news that there were times when it seemed like we were being bludgeoned repeatedly over the head with a lump hammer. Sorry. It didn’t feel nice.
The year began with the appalling massacre, on January 7, of members of the staff at Charlie Hebdo by Cheríf and Said Kouachi. I have heard people argue that the editor of the French satirical magazine was misguided, to allow the prophet Muhammad to be satirised in its pages. Well, of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion. As an editor, it isn’t something that I would have elected to do. But to argue that there are some things that cannot be satirised is to engage in exceptionalism of the most insidious kind.
It is part of the European tradition that religions are open to criticism. That can extend to satire. Satire doesn’t come any more blatant, for example, than The Life of Brian. Doubtless some Christians were offended by it. But the right response from anyone who believes in the Christian message is to say: so what? And that is what happened. And in the long run, did the film do any harm? No.
People are entitled to their beliefs. Other people are entitled to disagree. Discussion, debate and argument are healthy. And that can take any of a thousand different forms, from the written word, through visual imagery and comedy sketches to songs, stories and films. Shout it out loud: Moonies and Scientologists are as entitled to their beliefs as Hindus, Jews, Christians, Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But there is no justification for anyone, no matter what their religious creed or background, taking up a gun and shooting people, to force their own private beliefs on anyone else – even members of that lowliest of all castes, journalists.
The year ended with another outrage, the Paris massacre of November 13. On that Friday night, 130 people were murdered. 88 of them were at an Eagles of Death Metal gig in Le Bataclan. The rest were out enjoying themselves in restaurants and bars, when they were mercilessly gunned down. Truly there are no words that can adequately describe the sickening barbarity of what happened. The fact that brutish acts of this kind are carried out in the name of religion only makes them all the more grotesquely stupid and despicable. But saying that will not bring back to life the desperately unfortunate people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And in between? Things like music, films, books and football provided some kind of solace, making it possible, just about, to soldier through the dark times. Meanwhile, however, as the year progressed, the situation in Syria and elsewhere across the Middle East and North Africa deteriorated dangerously.
On the one hand the sick, macho killing machine of the self-styled Islamic State gathered momentum, taking control of significant parts of Syria, beheading people as if it were a source of amusement and sticking the videos online in a particularly nasty form of propaganda war.
On the other, we also had to reckon into the roll call of atrocities the barbarous behaviour of the Israelis in Gaza; the massacre of innocents in the drone strikes carried out by the US army in Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan; knife attacks on Israeli citizens by Palestinian jihadists; the blood-thirsty excesses of Boko Haram in Africa – and so on... and on… and on.
Over 50,000 people were killed in Syria this year. Over 30,000 in Afghanistan. Almost 15,000 in Iraq. And 11,000 in Nigeria. Over 6,000 people died as a result of drug wars in Mexico. And a similar number were slain in Yemen. And citizens of these benighted places came to Europe in their tens of thousands to escape all of this madness, many of them dying in horribly ignominious circumstances en route.
And then there was the Berkeley tragedy, in which six students died. It might seem small in comparison to the global impact of war, but it was a tragedy which devastated the lives of the families and friends of those Irish students who were misfortunate enough to have stepped out onto that badly built balcony to get a breath of fresh air on what had seemed like a warm and convivial occasion – until it turned into the ultimate nightmare.
I know. We have to retain our optimism. We have to cling to the idea of love. We have to believe that we can make the world a better place. And recognise that the only way to do that is to act with an even greater sense of responsibility and care towards one another. Because, in the end it is up to us, flawed, mortal, and sometimes beautiful human creatures that we are. I’m sorry. There really is no one else out there to help. Now read on...