Compassion and vulnerability #1000speak


I saw a play last week at the National Theatre.

Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State

It is a piece of verbatim testimony from many voices that look at the current situation of IS and how it affects us. Based on actual testimony and crafted by Gillian Slovo it is a compelling 90 odd minutes.

At one point, one of the voices – a Cardiff priest and specialist in radicalization – talked about what he saw as the unique vulnerability of the young people who are leaving, predominantly, Western Europe and heading for Iraq and Syria to join in with IS.

He saw these young people’s vulnerability not in terms of abuse, either physical or emotional but to the ideas being perpetrated by IS and its adherents which appealed because of the recipients own displacement from the society they lived in. This was echoed in one testimony – a  Belgium mother from Molenbeek – that told of a young man whose mother was born in Belgium and father in Morocco and didn’t feel at home in either place, being labelled foreign in both. And the sixth form student in Tower Hamlets who, post Paris didn’t feel comfortable saying certain words on the Tube or carrying a rucksack, sensing the paranoia and angst all around.

Later I watched a documentary ‘What British Muslims Really Think’ where Trevor Phillips, former head of the Campaign for Racial Equality reviewed a survey of British Muslim attitudes. At root of a lot of the concerns of their place in British society is a sense of vulnerability – to attack, to discrimination at work, in the practice of their religion, in what they chose to wear.

And on the news, after the Paris and Brussels attacks, a lot of time has been devoted to the inevitable vulnerability of our open societies, of how people feel unsafe using public transport, in dealing with people who look and act differently to themselves.

What I see and hear is a duality to the vulnerability that is perhaps not evident in cases of physical or domestic psychological abuse. Maybe, in these complex situations involving IS, it is a multiplicity of vulnerabilities.

I walked around Parliament and Whitehall the other day, taking pictures. Many people were out watching the troops change guard in all their finery. British pageant at its best while at various doors of various government buildings, black flak jacketted machine gun totting policemen guarded the occupants. Two groups, both no doubt aware of their vulnerability but only one displaying it. I wonder if the sense of vulnerability matched the actuality in this case?

It is easy to feel vulnerable and exposed to physical harm, less easy to see the psychological damage coming from undue and malign influences. It is equally easy to react with a mentality that calls for firmer and firmer action, for more security, control, bunkering down. But if there are different groups with different vulnerabilities the problem seems to be more difficult, more intractable.

But recognising our own issues doesn’t seem to me to get us very far other than to enhance the sense of vulnerability and create the conditions in which the young, referenced in the play will feel even more disenfranchised.

In the 70s through the 90s we lost many lives to IRA bombs and shootings, the more so in Northern Ireland but upwards of 100 on mainland Britain. I didn’t hate or feel anxious when I heard an Irish accent, but some did. We didn’t radically change our laws or vilify people wearing green or with red hair and freckles or called Paddy Flanagan – or whatever other arbitrary way you might try and single out someone with an Irish link. We did call them Irish Terrorists as opposed to what they were – Terrorists, in the way we call today’s version Islamic Terrorists. Perhaps the sense of vulnerability wasn’t, generally as deeply ingrained on both sides as it feels it is becoming now. We love easy labels but they condemn a vast majority to being linked even if they have nothing in common. And in so doing we make it doubly hard to find a way through. We enhance the vulnerability on both sides.

If this play and that documentary told me one thing it is we need compassion when dealing with these vulnerabilities not more knee jerk action. Maybe it’s because we don’t always see the vulnerability in others but only in ourselves that we fail to see the need for compassion. I don’t doubt we need to be vigilant and alert; we need security and we need watchfulness. But what we don’t need is to create the conditions for easy labelling and a mindset of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us’.

Please do not read this as excusing the intolerable behaviour on the part of IS. I abhor the violence. But there was no one way to solve the problems the emanated from Northern Ireland; there will be no one way to deal with the threats emanating from IS. It certainly won’t be wholly military.

This month, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion continues to work toward a better world with a focus on Compassion and Vulnerability.

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About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published four books - Dead Flies and Sherry Trifle, My Father and Other Liars, Salisbury Square and Buster & Moo. In addition I have published two anthologies of short stories, Life, in a Grain of Sand and Life in a Flash. More will appear soon, including a memoir of my mother's last years. I will try and continue to blog regularly at about whatever takes my fancy. I hope it does yours too. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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19 Responses to Compassion and vulnerability #1000speak

  1. Judy Martin says:

    I agree Geoff, there is no easy answer to this solution, but knee jerk reactions, suspicion and stereotyping is not going to help matters.


  2. Ritu says:

    A fantastic post Geoffles.
    Stereotyping isn’t helping.
    That documentary that was on was not a good thing to be honest as there are 3.5million Muslims in the UK yet only 1000 were surveyed… where were they ? which area? I have friend who are Muslim and none have the extremist views they implied that ‘many’ Muslims hold.
    They are human just like us.
    In fact my best friend is Muslim…

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Thank you Ritu. I listened with interest but great irritation to Trevor Phillips. I’m a classic wish you wash white liberal, by his definition but I’m also not a naive dogooder which seemed to be the natural link, in his eyes. Grrrr. And really if you get the chance catch the play. It is fascinating. It doesn’t try and reach a view or even a consensus but is hugely thought provoking for all that

      Liked by 1 person

  3. M. L. Kappa says:

    Very good post about difficult questions with no answers. This issue has been on my mind a lot as well.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. trifflepudling says:

    It seems to me that one difference between the Irish issues in the 1970s and the current issues is that the perpetrators back in the 70s did not seem so different from the vast majority of other people living in the UK. They came from the Judaeo-Christian tradition too. Some people are quite genuinely scared by what they see as the alien nature of the Muslim tradition.

    Many migrants and migrants’ children, but not all, have the feeling of not belonging anywhere. It’s a well-known outcome of migration. There are other groups in society who feel just as disenfranchised, unfortunate, lacking in identity, disgruntled and vulnerable for whatever reason, but they don’t react in the way that I.S. manages to get their recruits to. The public therefore sees their reactions to these feelings as excessive to say the least, with well-worn attitudes such as “we open our doors and let them in, and this is the thanks we get”. Life is often unfair and crap and nearly always imperfect, but hardly anyone becomes a mass murderer as a result. So it’s not surprising that there is ill-feeling towards totally ordinary British Muslims. If your son or daughter goes to work every day on the Underground, are you not entitled to feel anxious without the added burden of feeling racist as a result? It’s all very complex and much, much too late for soul-searching. Looking round the world, there has been conflict going on somewhere all the time since written history began, and probably before, so the outcome of our inability to get on with each other in this instance seems kind of inevitable. It’s all made much harder and more puzzling and unfathomable by the fact that probably, for all white or black British people, all the Muslim people they know are absolutely lovely – I know that is the case for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      Well we disagree in part I think – if I’ve understood right – it is the ease of identifying that makes fir the ease of abuse. I very much doubt there any more potential terrorists in this community than amongst the IRA supporters and their death toll and aspirations to kill are the same. Yet by allowing for the ease of a general branding we alienate even more. To me that means we need to work harder at avoiding simple stereotypes. But your final sentiments I echo 100%. Wouldn’t it be boring if we agreed!


      • trifflepudling says:

        All the thoughts in the second para aren’t necessarily mine – I was trying to put across what I think may be the thoughts of anti-people in general about this. I don’t think I said that there are more potential terrorists now: there may even be fewer, but they are more lethal. We all stereotype each other – it’s not just non-Muslims stereotyping Muslims, it works the other way round too. If you can think of a way of achieving the aim of avoiding simple stereotypes that works, then I would like to know what it is 🙂 ! Changing people’s fundamental attitudes is incredibly hard. In the US there was legislation to help the whites and blacks integrate but, as we can see, that didn’t actually stop stereotyping. The bits of the second para that are me, as well as the final sentence, are the pessimistic bits about humans!
        I am very worried about Euro 2016 in France.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TanGental says:

        Oh well, we will have to agree to differ as usual. I see no point being a pessimist if all that means is hands in the air and it’s all too difficult. I’m trying to be realistic and I know of no silver bullet (silly women, as if I had any wisdom – how long have you known me) but look at history. How many seemingly intractable situations are eventually resolved, or at least the world moves towards them. It can take generations but how many attitude changes come through an adherence to narrow mindedness and repression? So start now but acknowledging the risk, accepting we will make mistake son the way but try and do something to change it. And we sweated shit over the Olympics and a random suicide bomber in some queue. Didn’t happen but it could and maybe will sometime. But it won’t stop football being played. So I’m anxious of course. Vigilant for sure. Just don’t anyone suggest stopping it happening.

        Liked by 1 person

      • trifflepudling says:


        Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent post, Geoff. It makes me think of those disenfranchised Americans who are drawn to the appeal of militant groups. We need to pay attention. There is an undercurrent of anger, that is only being enhanced by some of the current political bias.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mick Canning says:

    This seems a good analysis, Geoff. The one thing that we can all do which is constructive and could even end up making a difference, is not to generalise and stereotype. Although we cannot unmake the conditions that have led to ISIS, we can try not to continually create the differences that lead to the radicalisation of yet more people. The disaffected are disaffected generally because they feel that they do not fit in; that they are not welcome in what is their homeland. This seems to be especially true of second and third generation immigrants, who, quite rightly, feel bitter that they should be victimised in the land of their birth.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. This is a very good article Geoff. Do you know the bit that bothered me most was reading that armed guards now stand around in tourist areas [or any areas]. This must be a post 9/11 thing, yes? Guns are always a sign that society is unhealthy. For me it’s a sign of ‘them and us and by god, [whose god?] we are keeping ours!!’ Don’t tell me ‘they’ started it. The US and UK and their allies have been terrorising and invading these countries [mostly for their oil in recent years] for centuries. The history is long and complex and mostly forgotten [or supressed] now.

    The abolition of ‘Social Studies’ in schools in favour of more exams and more technology studies etc meant the loss of a great opportunity to learn about other lands and other cultures and to break down the barriers that arise from lack of understanding. It starts young. The media of course keeps the fear alive and well while willfully ignoring examples where cross cultural bonds and helping hands and people welcoming people events occur. I am forced to ask why those who have influence continue to promote fear in the unthinking populace? Imagine what might happen if the fourth estate put the same amount of effort into promoting cross cultural meetings and understanding.

    While we don’t have the same amount of generalised fear invading our society the same amount of uncouth ignorance is alive and well. I know a lovely Afghani man and his Pakistani wife, both well educated – he a doctor, she a dentist – both kind and gentle and wanting to ‘fit in’ both unable to get work to support themselves apart from menial jobs. He has been shelf stacking in supermarkets in the middle of the night for months now.

    My coffee is getting cold. It is time to look out at the day and be grateful I do not live in a perpetual state of fear and distrust even though my government would like me to. An excellent article Geoff, did I say that already?

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      You are very generous. It is a sad indictment of how I have become inured to the site of tank traps and guns outside parliament that I noticed their lack when in Wellington. We wandered right up to the beehive without challenge. Like England circa 1980


  8. Yes, we will just have to disagree. That doesn’t mean that I don’t admire your standpoint, though, and admire your views and the way you put them across. I suppose, on reflection, my standpoint is to hope for the best (you’ve got to or you’d never get out of bed in the morning) but not to be too surprised if it doesn’t work out. Living in London, you don’t have a lot of choice but to get on with it but I must admit I do think twice now about coming up (still coming to the first day of the Test at Lord’s in June, though!).
    It is nice to come into a discussion about – nobody I know is particularly interested! Thanks! Also nice to see amongst your followers that people are more decent than I often give them credit for.
    And you’re wrong about your possession of wisdom!


  9. Yvonne says:

    Geoff, I think this has to be one of my favourites among your posts. It’s very well reasoned and makes a lot of important points.

    And I agree with (almost) everything you’ve said. I particularly agree with: “what we don’t need is to create the conditions for easy labelling and a mindset of ‘if you’re not with us, you’re against us.”
    Totally, we need to create conditions for more understanding between cultures and for people to feel they matter. That really shouldn’t be so hard, yet it seems to be a huge challenge for many, and it’s mostly driven by fear, which you also point to.

    The part I’m not 100% sure about is whether it was actually any better for Irish people in the 70s and 80s than it is for Muslims now. Yes, there wasn’t the obvious differences of appearances, but I knew a lot of Irish Catholic people back then and some did feel victimised by the protestant population, disenfranchised by UK politics and hostile towards the UK. Some guys I knew from the south were frequently asked why they bombed places etc. And in 1971 the law was changed (at least in Northern Ireland) giving the power to indefinitely detain suspected terrorists without trial, which I think was partly what led to the hunger strikes. (Could be wrong about that last bit.)

    Still, I do agree totally with the essence of your message!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I probably made it unclear. The situation was as you described it – I well remember stupidity like you describe when someone Irish background became apparent. But there were few outward signs beyond the accent unlike now. So people didn’t have the opportunity to overtly stereotype. The damage down by the terrorist was similar though and yes internment and Diplock courts made northern Ireland unique in the erosion of civil liberties. But those limits while egregious were far less than now in their range. You are right though. These are analogous and for those easily cast as vilians intolerable.

      Liked by 1 person

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