Amid the aftermath of the Woolwich attack this week, as the shock and horror of the whole thing subsided, and questions were raised, there was one in particular that stuck with me.
This attack was an act of terror, extremism, hate.
We call it senseless, unjustifiable and unforgivable.
But those responsible didn’t think so. They called for an audience, displayed their bloodied hands to the world, they had a message to convey, to them it made perfect sense, it was an act of justice, a necessary evil.
What is it that makes people, human beings, hate so much, to such extremes that they could take another human life so violently in the name of some higher purpose?
They are born, kicking and screaming into the world just like the rest of us. They must learn to crawl, talk, walk like everyone else. They must make mistakes, learn what hurt, heartache and forgiveness feel like. They are taught what is good and what is bad. Is that where their path in life diverges from ours? Is there a moment in their lives where the decision they must make will cut a fork in the road, one good, one evil? Or is it something that happens gradually over time, is it a series of decisions, like wrong turns in a maze that brings them somewhere dark and angry?
Why do the haters hate?
We throw the word around a lot, freely, unthinking.
We hate our jobs, our boss, our parents, siblings, best friends, our hometown, our hair, thighs, knobbly knees. We hate our exes, we hate the old guy who creeps on schoolgirls at the bus stop, we hate Michael Ball, George Osborne, the Go Compare adverts. We hate brussel sprouts, PPI cold callers, cyclists, motorists, people who don’t understand the concept of personal space. We hate people who are self-obsessed, attention seeking, fake, people who lie, cheat, bully. We hate animal cruelty, child abuse, wife beaters, husband beaters, traffic wardens.
But we don’t always mean hate. It’s not always something as extreme as hate. Mostly, we’re just annoyed or irritated by these things temporarily, sometimes irrationally, in our otherwise blissful little lives.
To hate, is “to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest”.
We’ve seen a lot of hate in our modern, civilised era. We’ve seen planes crashing into buildings, school children fleeing indiscriminate gunfire, bombs explode on crowded high streets, buses, tubes.
To most of us, it is all senseless. The kind of hatred that pulls the trigger of a gun or pushes the button to detonate a bomb, that kind of hatred is difficult to understand for those of us whose greatest grievance in life is discovering that a chocolate chip cookie is actually raisin.
As infuriating as that can be, to my knowledge, there has never been bloodshed over the chocolate chip – raisin hoodwink.
So where does hate come from? If not from confectionary.
Religion always seems to be at the centre of these things.
I don’t understand this, how something that teaches of the importance of love can as a consequence, be the source of such evil. I’ve never understood it.
I’ve grown up in the middle of it in Northern Ireland, hating the kids on the bus who wore a different uniform, without really understanding it.
I was dropped into hatred at the age of eight when I moved to the North and found myself on one side of a divide I didn’t understand. But in hindsight, I don’t think any of us really understood what it meant at that age.
I remember tracing the letters ‘IRA’ onto the steamed kitchen window one evening, I was so big and clever. My mum just looked at me, “Do you know what that means?”
I didn’t. And when she told me, like the good history teacher that she is, I never wrote those letters or any like them anywhere again.
Perhaps that was one of my moments, had I drawn a different conclusion from the lesson on the political history of Northern Ireland which my mother fed me that evening, perhaps I would have gone on writing those letters on windows and walls, and who knows where it would have led? Had I been taught the same lesson by my father, who as a Dubliner, is in general much more fantastical and nationalistic in his take of the North’s political divide, perhaps I would have taken a different point of view. Had I been brought up and taught the same lesson in a different house, a different townland, where the curbs and gable walls were painted and flags and bunting flew from the streetlamps, who knows where I would be, what I would believe, or who I would hate.
Pretty much every biblical lesson I can recall from my misspent Catholic youth taught that anger and hatred and violence were generally frowned upon by the big man upstairs. In all shapes and forms, hate and evil were a no-no.
That is the long and the short of it. That is the enduring sentiment that I took from the years of religious education spent doodling in my jotter and endless Sunday mornings staring into space and anticipating the fresh scone bread cooling on a rack in my Granny’s kitchen.
It is the lesson that my parents, grandparents, godparents and teachers all instilled in my pliable young mind.
Treat others as you would like them to treat you.
Forgive those who trespass against you.
I don’t remember any footnotes by those teachings, any asterisk following the commandments.
“The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’. There is no commandment greater than these” * [Mark 12:31]
(*except the gays, hate the gays loads.)**
Religion doesn’t teach you to distinguish between who you should hate and who you should love, it teaches you to love all, regardless of colour, creed or sexual orientation. Granted my knowledge of Islam is pretty sketchy, but from what I gather, the same basic principles apply as they do in Christianity and in Bill & Ted: “Be excellent to each other”.
So why do people who hate homosexuals or Muslims or Women use religion to justify their own prejudices?
Why do idiotic groups such as the EDL, BNP and UKIP tell us that Islam is to blame, Muslims are behind the death of a British soldier? How is their hate and disposition to violence any different from the hate of the two extremists who spilled blood on a London street earlier this week? These political groups have launched a campaign of hate and incited violence against a religious community who have absolutely nothing to do with the extremists responsible for the Woolwich attack. Mosques have been attacked up and down the country, innocent Muslims have been threatened, spat at in the street, attacked.
Yet the EDL, BNP, UKIP do not distinguish between the murderers with blood on their hands, and innocent people going about their day to day lives. And all the while Islamic religious groups have cried out the same words that the people of Northern Ireland have cried out in the face of political violence: Not in our name.
Senseless, unjustifiable, unforgivable.
But those responsible don’t think so. They call for an audience, don balaclavas in the face of the police and the world’s media, they have a message to convey, to them it makes perfect sense, it is an act of justice, a necessary evil.
Funny how two beliefs at opposite ends of a spectrum can meet in the middle.
(** Incidentally, I believe gays should absolutely have the right to marry. However, in an entirely selfish sense, I hope that they choose not to, because in the ever more likely inevitability that I will end up rocking spinsterhood I’d like someone fabulous to go dancing with on a Saturday night).