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Holding on to our minds: Holding on to our humanity, by Emma Went

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

As I fly to Spain for a holiday I sit on the plane and the breaking news about another mass murder in  Barcelona flashes onto my Smartphone when I put it in flight mode. I comment to my fellow traveler and the lady in front overhears and asks me about it. Later in the flight she tells me that she will only fly abroad from our small provincial UK town rather than save  money and fly from London. After all what ever would terrorism want here? So, as intended, she is another victim pierced by the shrapnel of a distant indefinable war: Her life has become smaller, and her decisions are tinged with fear.

How do we begin to engage our minds with horror when everything in them is biologically designed to avoid it? In the face of disaster we shut down, clam up, fly away or give in to an uncontrollable rage. It is how we are made. Freud refused to leave Vienna as Nazism overcame Europe. He would not abandon his country until his doctor observed that as a Jew his country had already abandoned him and then, with the help of friends, he fled. 

If all history teaches us is that history repeats itself It would then appear then we must always be at war with extremism. In whatever form. Why then does this feel so very different? 

We are used to being shocked at mindless violence. Somehow it feels comprehensible. We are all "out of our minds" from time to time, even if not to the extent of inflicting physical damage on others, but the violence we are observing now seems very clearly mindful. Loaded with intent its purpose to cause the most damage in the shortest time to the most people: The physical victims...and the psychological ones who watch in horror as they realise they could be next. It is happening in streets we know, to people we are connected to,  in ways we could not otherwise predict or imagine. And that is where the battle lies: Not in our bodies but in our minds. In the creation of terror.

So how do we defend ourselves from, the carrier bags  with bombs in them and vehicles which leave the road and plough us down regardless of who we are?  We don't. We can't. But we can protect our minds from being hijacked when it happens? One option employed by many is to simply sit In a position of blanket mistrust of anyone or anything that may expose us to this violence. But, like the motorists killed on the road after 9/11 because they were too afraid to take the plane across America, we then expose ourselves to greater risks: Air travel will always be statistically safer. Our multiracial communities are suffused with mistrust. Neighbours turn on neighbours. Innocent children are victimised on the way to school despite the fact that statistically those people are law abiding and safe. 

More Americans are killed by Americans every year than by terrorism. Yet we don't automatically assume every American is dangerous. Why then do we feel afraid of everyone of a specific race just because a small group of members has committed inexplicable violent acts. 

Our local heroine Edith Cavell was a nurse in German occupied Belgium during the first world war She was sentenced to death because she assisted in the escape of over 200 allied soldiers;  however she had refused to distinguish based on sides and had helped every soldier that came to her whether German or allied. The night before she was executed in 1915 she said to the chaplain who visited her.

"Standing as I do in view of God and eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone".

We must I feel take her lead and, in the face of such injustice and unreasonable actions, hold on to our humanity, our thoughtful considered reasonable minds; make decisions about ourselves and others based on truth not the phantoms of fear and attempt, despite the achingly painful events occurring around us, to have "no hatred or bitterness to anyone". 

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