From A Distance

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?

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21 thoughts on “From A Distance

  1. Clive, thanks for your perspective. As Osacar Hammerstein wrote, “you have to be carefully taught to hate.” It seems that is what is being done all over th globe. It is ironic in this day of mass communication that we can be taught to hate so fast.

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    • Thanks Bernadette. Hatred seems to be a mantra for life for so many these days. Whilst I was thinking about this post another Nanci Griffith song came to mind. There may be a companion piece!

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  2. Thanks for writing this, again, Clive. I’ve been in Brussels today and it isn’t the same city. I don’t think Belgium isn’t doing what it’s supposed to do when it comes to trying to stop or prevent these attacks. My guess is, arresting Salah Abdeslam, one of the Paris attackers, was the trigger. We always expected this to happen, but it came a bit earlier.

    The problems with teenagers, young men and women in our schools is one of the reasons I quit teaching. Someone’s asking if Muslims are integrated in our society? A lot are, a lot are not and don’t want to. I felt it was impossible to gain respect as a woman and a teacher… but maybe I wasn’t strong enough.
    And then there’s our side… people in Belgium have been moving toward the right side for the last couple of decades, so racism is part of many people’s lives.
    Sad to see how ‘my’ country is moving in the wrong direction… we’re all just humans, aren’t we?

    gr, Inge

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    • Hi Inge, good to hear from you but I wish the circumstances could be better. I don’t think Belgium is all that different from many other Euopean countries, the U.K. included. We are fighting a fanatical enemy, that finds it very easy to blend into the shadows. Racism is growing here too, and it isn’t the answer. You aren’t alone in this, and it isn’t just your country.

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    • Thank you, Clive! Bette Midler’s has always been a favorite song. (I loved the version in your link as well.) I love the concept of taking a broader view. Many of us here to are repelled by Trump (and Cruz as well) I can’t quite understand that kind of hate, and yet it seems to be rooted everywhere. Certainly, Trump’s supporters seem to have embraced it, and it seems that many in Europe have about the immigrant crisis, as well. I think it starts with fear and lack of empathy. It scares me for our world. When fear responds to hatred with hatred, war always seems to be the consequence. Trump reminds me of Hitler (or perhaps even Nero) fanning the flame of fear, hatred and blame. If only we could step back and take a larger view and “see our brother there.” Thanks for the reminder and the reinforcement in the face of my discouragement with the politics in America. Jo

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      • Thank for your kind words, Jo. We live in difficult times, where hatred seems to be everywhere. I know it’s naive but I wish it wasn’t!

        I’m afraid I never liked Bette Midler’s version, though! For me it is in the same category as Cher’s version of Walking In Memphis and Madonna’s American Pie: abominations! I don’t deny their popularity though 🙂

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      • I had never heard any other version, but loved the words and the concept. I don’t know Julie Gold or Nanci Griffith – going to check her out. I have a vivid recollection of hearing the song on the radio and making up my mind to buy the music for our church choir to sing (which I did!)

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    • Over here, there has been a lot said about Belgium not having addressed the threat of terrorism or taken the situation of the Muslims in Brussels seriously. I don’t know what the perspective is there about Belgium’s preparedness or how integrated Muslims are within their society. I think tip offs would probably have to come from the Muslim community and then only will come if they feel connected to the larger community, I think, but we hear that many Muslims there have gone to Syria and been radicalized.

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