Yesterday morning, as is my regular habit, I switched on the TV to watch the BBC Breakfast programme whilst waking myself with my first coffee of the day. I hadn’t been watching long when the whole tenor of the programme changed, and it became apparent that something serious was happening in Brussels. For the next three hours or so I couldn’t tear myself away from the sheer awfulness of what was happening. I was going to write something about this yesterday, but just didn’t feel that I could. It’s not as though I knew anyone involved, or had ever been to Brussels, but I needed to gather my thoughts and deliver a calmer response to these events. Attacks like this strike at the heart of our society. London is now on heightened alert and must be a strong candidate for an atrocity such as this. I was working in Central London at the time of the 7/7 bombings, only about half a mile from Edgware Road station, where one of the bombs was detonated, and the eerie silence, broken only by sirens, that descended over London that day came back into my mind yesterday as news of the bomb on the train at the Maelbeek metro station came through.
I posted after both of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, and this now seems to be becoming a sadly regular occurrence. On those occasions I asked one simple question: why? I cannot begin to understand what these people think they are trying to achieve. Do they want to destroy our way of life so that they can impose theirs? Do they really think that killing and maiming innocent people will achieve this? The fanaticism innate to such beliefs is way beyond my comprehension. And it makes me angry. My two daughters both live in London and I don’t see why I should fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives. What have they or the 31 people killed yesterday ever done to deserve to live in fear of such an attack which will, in the end, achieve nothing except murder and slaughter on a large scale? It is inconceivable that terrorism will ever win, but these fanatical, cowardly, murdering lunatics are incapable of understanding that. Such terrorism and acts of war, allegedly in the name of religion, have been a part of history going back way before the Crusades, so it would be naive to believe that they will ever stop.
The phrase “Man’s inhumanity to man” is first documented in the Robert Burns poem Man was made to mourn: A Dirge in 1784, although it is likely that he reworded a similar quote from Samuel von Pufendorf, who in 1673 wrote, “More inhumanity has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes.” Nearly 350 years after von Pufendorf that lesson has not been heeded, and is still so true. Man is still doing so much harm to man, and the utter horror and futility of this leaves me deeply saddened.
As I often do at difficult times, I sought solace in music. There have been many wise words written in songs, and the one I found myself listening to last night was this:
To my shame, I had always thought of that as having been written by Nanci Griffith, and it was only when I went to YouTube this morning to get the video that I realised that it was actually written by Julie Gold. There were several versions of it but I chose that one as it includes both the writer and the singer who has, for me, produced the most simple and moving version of the song. No doubt you will know it from the Bette Midler version, but this is, I think, far more subtle and retains the meaning of the song far better. Please, whatever you are doing, take five minutes out of your day to listen to the words of this song. Its message that we have no reason to be so different from each other is stronger today than ever. It is a simple truth, yet so many are incapable of grasping it.
The other thing that made me angry about yesterday was the sadly all too predictable political response. Here in the UK, both sides of the debate on our membership of the European Union took to the airwaves to claim that the Brussels murders proved their point. And of course Donald Trump had to proclaim that France and Belgium were ‘disintegrating.’ Moron. I don’t intend to start a political debate here, but the important word in all of this is ‘Union.’ If a songwriter can understand the basic goodness of man, why do people distort this so much in the name of religion, politics or whatever cause they espouse? I’d like to think that I will never feel the need to write something like this again, but I fear that it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’
My heart goes out to everyone affected by yesterday’s atrocities. I just wish that no one else would ever be touched in this way again. But we are looking at peaceful co-existence ‘From A Distance,’ aren’t we?