Toward the latter days of indiscriminate violence, be like the first and better of the two sons of Adam who said, “If you raise your hand to kill me, I will not raise mine to kill you; surely I fear God, the Lord of the worlds.” (Qur’an 5:8)
From a sound tradition of the Prophet, peace be upon him, narrated by Imam Tirmidhi.
On the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp from the Nazis, perhaps it will be helpful to reflect on the experiences of an ethnic-religious minority in Europe over a period of a decade until 1945…
“It was a difficult time for Jewish families, as suddenly the law no longer protected us and overnight we lost our civil rights… Jewish children were thrown out of Hungarian schools, so right away we had no choice but to concentrate on hunkering down and trying not to bring attention to ourselves…”1
I cannot envisage a return to the dark days of World War Two in Western Europe — certainly not a programme to round up minorities en masse.
But a pervasive atmosphere of far reaching discrimination? Alas, I believe that could be on the cards.
I cannot help but fear that the broad sweeping legislation which the Home Secretary is currently rushing through parliament in the form of the Counter-terrorism and Security Bill will unfairly deprive a contemporary ethnic-religious minority of its rights.
We could say that something must be done to protect the security of the nation at a time of heightened concerns about terrorism; that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.
But reflecting on the experience of Jewish communities in Europe during the early part of the twentieth century, the thoughts which keep me from my sleep tonight are these: let’s hope that our leaders really have learned the lessons of 70 years ago.
To defend freedom of expression, we will curtail freedom of speech. To establish peace, we will wage war. To protect our democracy, we will tear up the Magna Carta. But don’t worry, nobody will notice.1
People are sharing an image purporting to show 13 children executed by ISIS for watching a football match on television. I did a reverse image search of the image using TinEye.com and found that it actually shows victims of the Sabra and Shatila massacre in Beirut, Lebanon, in 1982.
I have no way of knowing if the story about ISIS is itself true or false, but the use of images from other conflicts does demonstrate how unethical some reporters of news/rumours are.
Last summer I was Mr Unpopular for subjecting alleged photos of destruction in another conflict to the same kind of scrutiny. A few photos which I encountered — said to show Israeli violence during Operation Protective Edge — turned out to be from their confrontations in earlier years or, in a few cases, from other theaters of war.
Mr Unpopular, I suppose, because truth is supposed to be the first casualty of war… in conflicts like this a generic kind of truth is all that’s required. We’re not supposed to quibble about individual truths, as long as the narrative is broadly correct. Hence the BBC got away with reporting a massacre by Assad’s forces in the early days of the Syria war, even when it was demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the images they used were from the Iraq war a decade earlier.
Ever since, the online press has shown no compunction about blurring the lines of reality, being economical with the truth or just being plainly malicious. Last year, dozens of photos were circulated online alleged to show ISIS atrocities — but many of the photos could be easily traced back to their origin, sometimes years earlier, sometimes on different continents. A Mexican woman beheaded by a drug cartel gang was one; a little girl killed during aerial bombardment by Syrian forces was another.
The propaganda used by all sides is used to prepare us for war of some kind. We could all then say that we are excused from probing. But just as the age in which we live provides ever greater opportunities to mislead and be misled (viral emails, retweets and Facebook posts hardly have a parallel in earlier times), so we have technology at our disposal to investigate and challenge the claims of the devious.
Don’t believe everything you read or see. Be prepared to ask difficult questions, even if makes you unpopular — and even if it seems to be against your own interests.1 Warmongers — on all sides — use extreme imagery to generate extreme effects. Many a goodhearted young man has been so repulsed by the suffering of an oppressed people — reaffirmed one hundred times over — by grotesque imagery on a news feed that he has decided to do something. Many a patriotic young soldier — fed a diet of the barbaric deeds of the other — has been led to war in foreign lands against the barbaric enemy of the day.
Truth need not be the first casualty of war in the modern age. We have powerful search algorithms at our disposal with which we can investigate the veracity of an image. We have access to vast databases of all that has been said before. While we may not be able to uncover the motives and intentions of others, we can at least scrutinize their claims.
- “Speak the truth event against yourself…” ↩
Religion should not sanctify the whims of politicians. If they are just and fair and true, their reward is with God. But do not serve those who lust only for power and survival, for they will trample on all that is good and virtuous to bend it to their will.
Do not be mindful of the past. This is the demand of the times. Forget all that happened before the week before last. It is all ancient history.
Does anyone remember the NATO intervention in Libya? Ancient times. Does anyone remember the war on Assad; the claims about chemical weapons, mass killings, barrel bombs? All wiped from the mind.
Never mind the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Never mind the decade of sanctions which preceded it. Those No Fly Zones. Never mind anything that happened before 1959 or 1923. Never mind history and what it teaches us.
History starts today, or on 7 January 2015, or 7 July 2005, or 11 September 2001. History begins and ends on days like these, marked out for their remarkable violence and horror.
The uncivilised tribes who succumbed to poisonous mustard gas dropped from British biplanes remain a footnote, lost in our collective memory. Shock and Awe but a postscript.
Blessed are the peacemakers. With their F-35 Lightning II. An incredible feat of engineering: stealth technology, vertical take off and landing, unmatched manoeuvrability. And a price tag of staggering proportions.
We are a peaceful people. We only want peace. We are not like the barbarians bent on our destruction. Our advanced weaponry is only for bombing the uncivilised back to the stone age. Our chemical lasers will only melt the wretched. Our drones are only for assassinating the wicked.
Ask no questions. Seek no answers. Recall only this week’s headlines. Do not speak of ancient history: of last month, last July, of a vote in the House of Commons the year before last, of dubious partnerships with fighters we are now fighting. Ask no questions, think no thoughts. Be quiet now. Forget.
Dear Younger Self,
I am writing to you from the future. In a couple of years I will be 40; you have just passed 20. The year is 2015 and while it only vaguely resembles to world of 1989’s Back to the Future II, it is shaping up to mirror the dystopian nightmares of other works of contemporary fiction: ours is an advanced technological society, supported by wars without end overseas.
The Internet, which you have recently discovered, has grown exponentially and has had a vast impact on our lives, both for good and bad. That brick of a mobile phone in your pocket has evolved into a handheld computer, vastly more powerful than that huge beige machine on your desk. Your 100MB Zip disks are long obsolete; today we can store 128GB of data on a slither of plastic smaller than your fingernails. As for your dreams: instead of working in International Development, you work in a new-fangled field called Web Development. I’m not sure how that happened, but I blame you! Read on…
We have recently seen terrible atrocities committed in Oslo and Utøya. Finding the right response to these events is a challenge for everyone. The hijacking of a great faith to justify such heinous crimes sickens us all. As Christians around the world have made clear, such actions are an affront to Christianity.
Do we need special terms such as “Anti-Semitism” and “Islamophobia”? Should we not have laws which protect all people, whoever and wherever they are?