In the heart of Europe

The BBC has proved without a shadow of doubt this week that European lives are worth more than others’. But then the thousands of refugees left to drown off the coast of Europe over the past five years already knew that. If the BBC afforded as much coverage as we witnessed on tonight’s evening News to every incidence of violence and depravity, might we then begin to humanize the other and engender positive change in our world? If only. We have witnessed thousands of civilians killed over the past year, amongst them journalists, writers and artists, but we would consider it unusual for an entire News broadcast to be dedicated to commemorations of the dead.

Europeans in modern times, perhaps, have much to be proud of: rule of law, peace and security, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, social compassion, fairness and justice, relative economic stability… But not all is well; an unpleasant arrogance pervades our psyche. We view ourselves as superior folk, with a superior political system, absolved of our history. We stand at the pinnacle of civilisation, we believe, gazing down at the barbarians from beyond our borders who wish us only harm.

The BBC’s coverage this week has not been journalism as we have come to understand it. It has been the weaving of a narrative: an explanation of events, not objective reporting of mere facts. It has been a secular sermon for our times: jingoistic and contrived. From Firdos Square in Baghdad, to Tahir Square in Cairo and Taksim Square in Istanbul, the BBC has refined its story for times of change. Today the crowds of Place de la Republique and Place de la Nation must be revolutionaries facing off not just the three criminals who gunned down innocents, but an evil ideology intent on the destruction of our way of life.

I pray this part-fictitious retelling of the week’s events does not become the legend that informs the decade ahead, like the events that informed the decade past. I pray that it will not be our Patriot Act, hastily confirmed amidst the high passions of the hour. I pray our Vince Cables and Will Selfs will stand witness against the maddening clamour of the worst part of ourselves. The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill is already well on its way through parliament. I pray that those minded to block it on the grounds of civil liberties will not be browbeaten into hysteric agreement by the impassioned histrionics of the narrators.

Like all peoples, we in Europe must reach into the wealth of our traditions to view ourselves with more critical eyes. Faith is not about grand cathedrals, synagogues and mosques, but about the state of our hearts. It is not about identity and belonging – for God will judge each of us individually – but about how we live our lives. Our leaders have been too ready to view war as the solution to our external problems, although all the evidence opposes this conclusion: in the wake of our wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, we have left a trail of destruction. Our leaders have been all too ready to balance the books, without providing any balance in society. And as individuals, we have been all too ready to be led by the story tellers in our midst.

Faith teaches us to turn on ourselves to make society better. It teaches us to look and reach within. To purify our hearts of selfish desires: of envy, pride and dishonesty. To become compassionate souls, who attend to the poor and weak, who look after orphans and the infirm. To become just individuals, who fight against corruption and oppression. To become those who are mindful of God, and of the rights of others, be they rich or poor, young or old, friend or foe. To become those who contribute positively to society.

In this time of strife, the people need healing parables, not patriotic calls to arms. In this time of difficulty we need to be reminded of those stories of old on which we claim to have built our nations. Of the sheep herder who ministered to the despised leper. Of the Samaritan who rushed to the aid of the injured man. Of the Prophet who forgave those who attacked him, who freed slaves and gave of everything he had to the poor. We do not need the BBC to bring us a new revolution. The change we need comes from within ourselves.

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