This is the post that I had to write. Normally, I try to avoid topics like this, simply because it’s not worth the grief – there’s little I have to say that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over in much larger forums than this little blog, and I’m fairly confident that the only people who read this blog are me and my dog – and I think the dog’s losing interest.
But I’m not writing this post for anyone else in this case. Sure, it would be nice if there were people out there who admired the succinct nature of my views, and my unshakeable moral foundation, but I’m not counting on it . I’m actually writing this for myself – I want to get my thoughts out there – on virtual paper, so to speak – in an effort to straighten out some of the wrinkles in this issue.
I am, of course, talking about the horrific killing of the British solder in Woolwich earlier in the week. It should go without saying – but I’ll say it anyway – that the killing of anybody is horrific. If you believe in evil, I imagine you’d have no hesitation in categorizing it as an evil act. I remain, as ever, opposed to the use of violence for any purpose, least of all political statements. My objection to violence is twofold; firstly, morally, it’s wrong to take someone else’s life to further your own cause. By acting in such a way, you condone others to do so, and any claim to morality is quickly subjugated to the maxim of ‘might is right’. My second objection is practical: I don’t think that using violence to advance your cause – whatever cause that may be -works. Violence very rarely leads to any kind of lasting peace beyond the temporary re-arming and re-tooling that characterizes the gaps between periods of conflict.
Let’s leave that there for the moment. For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking about the idea of virtue. There’s a famous idea that virtue untested is no virtue at all. I think that’s an interesting point, and certainly applies in this case. If we, in Australia and England, claim to be a tolerant, humane society, then when that claim is tested, we really have the opportunity to find out if its all talk or if we are actually committed to these ideals. It’s easy to be tolerant when things are okay and we’re not being challenged, but it grows more difficult by several orders of magnitude when we are challenged. In times of great stress – and let’s pause to think about how media and social media can exacerbate that stress – our real values often become apparent.
I bring this up because my Facebook stream has been littered with threats, promises and blatantly prejudiced messages. Some of the less extreme ones have promised to kill all the Muslims living in England. Harsher ones have threatened ‘blowing Afghanistan back to the stone age.’ Underneath it all is a nasty little thread of patriotic pride – best exhibited by the idea that Great Britain was great before we let all these nasty immigrants in, and it will be great once we kick them all back out again. Of course, social media being what it is, these things rapidly gain a following, as they are shared between friends, and soon it’s like an echo chamber.
I’m not criticising people’s sense of outrage. What I am criticising is the cynical way that people – like the EDL – have seized upon this opportunity to attempt to galvanise public support and spread misinformation. I’ve even seen that old chestnut where Julia Gillard supposedly says, ‘You have the freedom to leave.’ That gets trotted out regularly at these things. None of this really surprised me. I’ve seen it before. What did surprise me, however, was the push back form other people. Although not of the level of the hate groups, there seems to be numerous groups who are demanding – from the press, from their peers, from the world in general, more clarity of thought regarding these events. While not taking a backward step on the issue of violence, there are calls that we should not condemn whole gorups of people for the actions of a few. There are others who have suggested that Christian groups have their fair share of extremists and they don’t exactly have unbloodied hands.
And a final point on patriotism. I reckon it’s the most pathetic of emotions. Pride in your country? What are you proud of? The sheer blind luck that you had in being born in a country that is better off than most of the world’s population? And if you’re going to say you’re proud of it, surely that means that you have, in some way more meaningful than getting a tattoo or putting a sticker on your car, contributed to your country in order to be proud of it? I don’t see that happening for a lot of these so-called patriots.