by Simon Cole-Savidge
Mulling over what to write for the ‘Soho Gathering’ blog this week, I considered a ‘Brexit vs. Bremain’ response, where I would discuss the nuances of my ‘Soft Eurosceptic – Remain’ stance. I wondered whether elaborating on altruism towards Syrian refugees and other ex-pats heading into the UK, could actually be re-framed in our public debate as positive; where the emphasis could be on infrastructure town-planning and effective delegation of those entering the country rather than marginalising minorities that don’t fit into our deified concept of ‘British Values’. I was recently inspired by the idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is a Labour-endorsed restructuring of the welfare system so that everyone, regardless of merit, received enough weekly (£71 as a starting point) to be above the metaphorical poverty line. As anyone who reads my ramblings might be aware, I whole-heartedly endorse the idiom that ‘there is no such thing as the undeserving poor’. I also considered debating ‘media conditioning’, one of my most ardent ‘hobby horses’, where I would wax lyrical about Noam Chomsky’s pacifist activist counter to the soundbite, Tory-dominating press and TV agenda where “the smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum”. I was also intrigued by the notion of bipartisanship, diplomacy and the fine art of compromise; where the middle ground, the centrist pursuit towards ideologically ‘moderate’ notions would be worth discussing, but despite the merits of discussing any/all of the above, not after what happened this morning.
This Sunday morning, one of the worst hate crimes in American history took place in Orlando, Florida. 50 people were killed by gunfire and 53 injured in a gay club called ‘Pulse’, with Omar Mateen as the prime suspect, and allegedly, is believed to have committed the crime out of ideological contempt against homosexuality.
After writing that, I just need to take a minute as I’m sure you do after reading it…
Atrocities like this are never pleasant to contemplate, and unravelling such a tragic event with all the different left-wing to right-wing interpretations is going to be a painful process. The meaninglessness of existence seems all-encompassing when a continuation of hateful, horrible things happens at exponential rates; humanity at its most disconnected and menacing.
Yet maybe out of the ashes of these painful things and these disparate hypothetical ramblings on how to put the world to rights, that there might be hope amidst all of the despair.
Whatever race, religion, gender, sexuality, ideology, age, intelligence, culture, personality, mentality each of us have, the moment we treat someone else as ‘other’, we embark on that slippery slope of ‘dehumanisation’. Whilst humanity is innately compassionate, our capacity to become sociopathic grows exponentially when the popular consensus towards a specific group sways negatively one way or the other.
Right now, popular media rightfully condemns the actions of IS. However, the first step of the slippery slope is to consider IS criminals as ‘monsters’. Their actions were not just ‘monstrous’, they actually are ‘monsters’. The next step is to associate the crimes of IS with the Muslim faith. Now that a man named ‘Omar Mateen’ may have committed these crimes in Orlando, we can quickly jump to the conclusion that because of his Middle Eastern name, he must be a Muslim and as a result, we can associate this crime with the Muslim faith. The next step is to discuss how unsafe our country is becoming because of immigrants, and particularly those with a different belief system to the majority. The next step is to assert that because of increasing numbers of migrants entering the UK, there will be an increased risk of terrorism. The next step is to associate the entire Muslim faith with terrorism. Whilst this slippery slope of dehumanisation might seem ludicrous to the most progressive readers here, this logic is overwhelmingly popular, as proven by Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and even elements of supposedly moderate political parties.
But there’s another ‘auto’ mode that left-wingers like myself tend to revert to when a tragedy like this takes place.
The victims of this tragedy are night-clubbers at a perfectly legal LGBT venue. I would then think of the conversations I have had with people about homosexuality and the most critical of this lifestyle tend to be from one group, in particular. To me, this atrocity is a symptom of a society in the throes of endemic homophobia; ‘hate crime’ taking place as a result of increasing casual bigotry, normalising its hatred in a similar way to racism or sexism. I would then make the jump to criticise Conservative evangelical Christian doctrine with their ‘pray the gay away’ agenda and its need to passionately rebuke a practising homosexual lifestyle as an ‘abomination’ despite theological conjecture on ambiguous passages, to the same degree that pro-life campaigners aggressively shame people at abortion clinics. My next step might be to become increasingly contemptuous towards certain denominations of Christianity that view ‘secular or Christian liberalism’ as ‘the devil’. You know the ones who passive-aggressively touch your arm whilst gazing at you in the most condescending manner in order to say, “I’ll pray for you” as they disagree with your ‘wishy-washy’ interpretation of Scripture, driving you to near-implosion. The fact that I would then assume that these ‘homophobic Christians’ probably endorse the NRA and the war on Iraq, somehow believing that George W Bush Jr. and Tony Blair really did ‘hear from God’ when they decided to commit war crimes with their 2003 ‘shock and awe’ campaign of humanitarian destruction, because that’s where my mind goes…automatically.
Despite my supposedly progressive worldview, I am quick to sneer at right-wing Conservatives for their attitudes, almost becoming intolerant of their intolerance, and as a result, creating a new kind of intolerance. Very quickly, they can become the ‘other’ to me, despite my very Conservative evangelical upbringing (for my sins, I am now a bleeding-heart liberal/libertarian socialist Christian who becomes fairly Agnostic when ‘playing devil’s advocate’) and genuinely believes that Jesus (whether Messiah or political revolutionary) was a socialist through-and-through.
In fact, regardless of our ideology, we can all be challenged by who we turn into the ‘other’. In order to do this, we need to challenge our thinking patterns. Why do I vilify this ‘other’ so automatically? Why am I not questioning my prejudices? It’s easy to consider our prejudices as unquestionably ‘right’, and no-one can fully understand why unless they really knew us. But the more we unravel these thoughts, the more we realise just how obliquely we’ve dehumanised someone else, no matter how right our principles were in the first place, we may have come to a damaging conclusion in a wonky pursuit for our interpretation of ‘justice’.
Biblically speaking, we are not only called to ‘love our neighbour’ but Jesus challenged us to ‘love our enemy’, possibly even to the point where they are no longer an enemy, and definitely not an ‘other’. The challenge is to avoid notions of ‘us vs. them’, that we’re all in this together, as a team of 7 billion+ currently in existence. The moment one of us loses, we all lose. We can’t choose our team. There may be good players, and bad players, but the inter-connected nature of society means we have to find ways to collaborate, co-operate and integrate with people we may not like or understand.
For a Brexiteer, that may mean to love the Bremainer.
For the homeless, that may mean to love the CEO billionaire.
For a Muslim, that may mean to love the Jew.
For the British, that may mean to love the European.
For a feminist, that may mean to love the misogynist.
For a homosexual, that may mean to love the homophobe.
For the Liberal, that may mean to love the Conservative.
For the socialist, that may mean to love the capitalist.
For the environmentalist, that may mean to love the frackers.
For the nationalist, that may mean to love the foreigner, migrant and refugee.
For the accused, that may mean to love the accuser.
For the law-abider, that may mean to love the criminal.
For the wise and honourable, that may mean to love the Donald Trump.
And of course, vice versa.
All of this is easier said than done, but surely it should not be taboo to say?
I leave you with Maya Angelou’s Inauguration Speech for Bill Clinton in 1993 in which she read her wonderful poem “On The Pulse of Morning”, where she calls for unity in a broken world:
A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.
But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.
I will give you no more hiding place down here.
You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.
Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.
The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.
Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.
Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.
Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.
Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,
Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.
Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
The River sings and sings on.
There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.
So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.
Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.
Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.
Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.
You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers–desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.
You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot …
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.
Here, root yourselves beside me.
I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.
I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours–your Passages have been paid.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister’s eyes, into
Your brother’s face, your country
And say simply