In the wake of yet another terror attack on European soil, and the end of a rather crummy year for anyone framing themselves as any way liberal, progressive (or indeed as a decent human being), it’s easy to feel disheartened about the future, as though there is no hope. Well there is something you can do, and it’s easy.
The Syrian civil war, which has so far claimed almost half a million lives has, after five years of brutal fighting, near enough come full circle this week, with President Assad’s forces retaking the rest of Aleppo that had been in rebel hands. What a tragic waste of life, and what a scandal that this has been allowed (made) to happen under our noses. That NATO and Russia have backed opposing sides and are at this stage fighting a proxy war against each other is no secret. The age of relative peace and prosperity some of us have enjoyed for the last few decades seems to be heading in a bloody change of direction.
Certainly, soon-to-be President Trump’s tweets about bringing back nuclear weapons in a big way is enough to send even a fearless psychopath running to his duvet, as this is surely very bad news indeed for those of us who value peace.
And then there’s ISIS. They, and terrorism in general, seem to sum up this era we’re living in rather well. They’re international, they appeal to the young and disenfranchised, they use social media as a powerful tool of propaganda, and they’re populist.
The stereotypical westerner’s reaction, one of fear, a sense of helplessness and an increasingly paranoid and vicious popular feeling against Islam and Muslims, plays into ISIS hands very well. We also do those illiberal, authoritarian control freaks in governments a huge favour. In our fear, and our clamour for security at any cost, we risk handing over all the reins of power to maniacs who will bring nothing but misery. Oh wait, that should have been last year’s Christmas warning, because in America at least, that horse has already bolted…
But let’s focus on terrorism. The thing about terrorism, what makes it such an effective method of war and why it will probably never be beaten by force, is an individual terrorist only has to ‘get it right’ once. Security forces have to get it right every single time. If they slip up, like they did in Berlin this week, people die.
Against those odds, it is clear that successful terror attacks are inevitable. Even with the very best security personnel, and the very worst draconian anti-liberal laws, an attack will always occur sooner or later.
So if fighting is useless, what else can be done? Well, there’s always good old fashioned fear. But no! We can’t respond to such horror with kneejerk reactions and a fearful outlook on the world beyond our front rooms. We shouldn’t build walls and spurn those who are different from us. We should not react with hostility to refugees, Muslims, or foreigners with suspicion or hatred. All of that plays into the hands of terrorists. Terrorists – and nefarious politicians – don’t want peace and goodwill to all men, they want us to be at each other’s throats – christians, muslims, jews, atheists, rich, poor, right, left, you name it.
The real solution is deceptively simple, but in practise so very complicated.
The only hope of putting a stop to terrorism and, more widely *all* conflict, forever is to embrace peace.
This is the most difficult thing in the world, something which will take generations and centuries to achieve and which has every chance of failing. Why? Because it involves talking to, empathising with and building friendships alongside enemies. As a species, we’re not very good at that, but it emphatically is within our skillset. To use just one example, the Troubles in Northern Ireland didn’t cease because one side knocked the other out with superior firepower. No, the IRA and the British government sat down, around a table, and talked to each other – one adversary to another. They talked, they negotiated and they showed willingness to compromise. The solution they came up with (the Good Friday Agreement) isn’t perfect and doesn’t satisfy everyone’s wishes, but it is good enough that the fighting has more or less finished.
It sounds sanctimonious, and it is. Nonetheless, we have to come together as a species, to love one another, to treat each other with kindness and forgiveness even when we really don’t want to. All of us have to agree that violence, fighting and killing just is wrong, and everyone has to agree not to engage in it, because if everyone (and I do mean everyone) refused to fight, there would be no war.
You see what I mean? It’s so simple, yet it’s going to be practically impossible to achieve. In the short to medium term, the strong likelihood is that we’re going to carry on making the wrong decisions. The way current affairs are going, things could get a whole lot worse before they get better. But that doesn’t stop you or I from individually making the decision to spurn conflict and embrace peace. Every great movement has to start small, so why not you? Why not us? Why not now?
Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy solstice, yuletide greetings, enjoy the season – to all and any with the patience to read this post to the end.
Be kind, and love one another.