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.
Write a relevant post and add it to the link-up right here by clicking the blue button below.
Here’s how to get involved:
Join 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion on Facebook
Visit the 1000Speak blog
Follow @1000Speak on Twitter
Use the #1000Speak hashtag across social media