A crowd of folk walk the city street. Some on their way home from work. Others on a trip-of-a-lifetime, taking in the sights, scarcely able to believe that over there is the Tower and beneath them flows the brown Thames, holding all that history in sediment. As targets go, they are hardly strategic, but in the upside-down logic international terror, who they are does not matter for no one is allowed to continue to conceit of innocence. Someone has to die. Blood has to be paid with blood.
So it becomes logical to use a car as a blunt instrument. To plough through bodies like blades of grass. But this is not enough – bright blood has to flow. Slogans must be shouted. God must be glorified by the stabbing of flesh, by the slicing of throats. The instruments of God must themselves be blessed by bullets, shooting them skywards towards glorious reward.
And once is not enough. Violence is born in us like cocaine, like masturbatory completion. It is not always there on the surface, but buried deep in our collective understanding. Violence gives permission for more violence, It becomes possible, understandable, compulsive, unstoppable. It is a circle that can not be broken.
Perhaps religion can help? Perhaps the God we make might be bigger than theirs? Our God might be mightier, more violent. After all, our God has better weapons. Our God can kill remotely, his bombs are smart. His bombs are righteous.
Lord, forgive me, for what right have I to talk of these things? I have lost no limbs, no loved ones, to flying steel. The streets I walk are endangered only by dog shit.
How dare I talk of peace, when the blood still stains the streets of London and Manchester?
How dare I compare blood with blood? For surely one drop of ours is worth gallons in the gutters of other places? Our God saves. Although he only saves us. Them – they have it coming. There is only room for the chosen in this promised land.
Meanwhile, politicians seek power, one sound bight at a time. Nothing legitimises like completing the circle. Nothing convinces us of power like words of violence. Chose an enemy to aim at and watch the polls soar.
“Strong and stable.”
“Enough is enough.”
It seems, according to our Prime Minister, that we have been too tolerant. The problem is that we have not been violent enough on those who are violent. We have been soft on terror and soft on the religion that surely causes terror.
In the face of their extremism, we have not been extreme enough.
Time to take the gloves off. Time to close borders. Time to release the dogs of war. Time to close ranks and silence any opposition.
Time to raise flags in our places of worship.
But what if all we do is to perpetuate the circle of violence? What if each and every reaction stimulates another counter reaction?
What if the defining narrative tells each new generation that the only solution is to kill, because ‘they’ are killing us? ‘They’ are not like us. ‘They’ are monsters, subhuman. ‘They’ follow a different God, who is not the true God.
Where will it all end? How can a circle ever be broken?
Of course, many of us will read the stories of violence and rightly point out that we need protection. We can be proud of our police and emergency services in London, who seem to have responded with such bravery and professionalism. I am in no way excusing the choices made by the perpetrators, or suggesting that we should do nothing to protect ourselves. If you should leap to this accusation, then I would respectfully caution you to pause and ask some questions;
Can you envisage a society in which such terror events as have happened in London and Manchester can ever have been made impossible? Do you think this really possible?
If so, what would this society be like? How much control and surveillance can you accept? How much targeting of minority ‘at risk’ groups? How intolerant would we have to be?
If it is not possible to fully eradicate the violence, what else should we do? How much should we seek to engage, to talk to one another, to understand? How do you do this?
Think about this; each and every society is a spectrum. There are those on one edge who are moved by compassion and those on the far side who are driven more by conquest. Most of us are in the middle, pulled this way and that.
When we give voice to the violence in the midst of us the whole spectrum shifts. When we prioritise peace, it shifts again. It is not that the violent men are less violent, or the peace makers disappear- rather their dominance is enhanced or decreased.
Jesus knew this. The Kingdom of God he talked about incessantly was one in which a different set of rules applied. This Kingdom did not seek to bring about victory through orgiastic violence, but by prioritising love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, self control.
Violence will always be in our midst. There will always be disenfranchised people who are more susceptible to finding their identity and meaning in extremism. But if we are to disrupt the circle, if we are to shift the spectrum toward good, we can not allow intolerance and warmongering to dominate our discourse. Partly because, as should be as plain as the bloody nose on our face it DOES NOT WORK. It is part of the problem.
We have to seek understanding. Who are the men and women of peace in the other spectrum? What God do they serve?
There is much hope to be found in the religion of the ‘other’. Here are the words of the ancient Sufi poet Attar;
Muhammed spoke to his friends
about a newborn baby, “This child
may cry out in its helplessness,
but it doesn’t want to go back
to the darkness of the womb
And so it is with your soul
when it finally leaves the nest
and flies out into the sky
over the wide plain of a new life.
Your soul would not trade that freedom
for the warmth of where it was.
Let loving lead your soul.
Make it a place to retire to,
A kind of monastery cave, a retreat
for the deepest core of your being
Then build a road
from there to God
Let every action be in harmony with your soul
and its soul-place, but don’t parade
those doings down the street
on the end of a stick!
Keep quiet and secret with soul-work.
Don’t worry so much about your body.
God sewed that robe. Leave it as it is.
Be more deeply courageous.
Change your soul.”