“When you’re worried and you can’t sleep
Count your blessings instead of sheep
And you’ll fall asleep
Counting your blessings”
So go the words of a Bing Crosby song, from White Christmas I think.
The song’s been going around in my head for the last few days – listening to the details about the devastating events that have taken place across Lebanon, Beirut, and then Paris have made sleep really difficult. I’ve tried counting sheep and blessings for the last three nights. It doesn’t work. Despite the abundance of blessings I have had bestowed upon me by my Lord, my Creator, the Most Merciful, the Most Beneficent, the greatest blessing of all, a good nights sleep, is currently being denied. To me and to many across the world. And I surely do not need to explain why. The atrocities committed in Paris on Friday 13th November once again threw France and the rest of Europe into a strange universe none of us wants to inhabit. The cold blooded murder of over 120 innocent people (a figure set to rise in the coming days) and maiming and injuring of over 300 others, has thrust nearly 2 billion people, myself included, back onto the front pages of every single news publication world wide. Every single news channel, radio channel, social media site leads with the same headlines. The words “Muslim” “Islam” and “Islamic” have once again become synonymous with the words “terrorism” and “terrorists”. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The “social commentators” have their fingers poised ready to type out yet more long articles explaining the cause and effect of the latest atrocity. The “historians” pontificate on how the problem can not be resolved until the west accepts its part in creating the latest Frankenstein monster, through its foreign policies of “interfering” in affairs of other nations. And the fascists and bigots amongst us have a field day blaming the religion, anyone with a brown skin, refugees, “people who look like you miss”, “them women that wear all black” and in their attempt to try and remain polite “them blokes that wear a rag on their head”. These are in quotation marks for a reason. Solutions range from the United Nations bombing these evil people back into the dark ages (but isn’t that where they want to be anyway?), to closing all borders and refusing entry to anyone who isn’t …erm…..white?
And then of course we also have the journalists, the politicians and the bloggers. Some reinforcing these negative stereotypes , that the west only cares about those with snow-white skin. Why have we not had a public outcry in the west over the killing of 43 and injuring of over 200 Shias in Beirut? Or the bombing at a funeral in Baghdad that killed 17 and injured 33. Or the regular bombardment by Boko Haram in Nigeria. Or the Taliban attacks in Pakistan. Is it really down to simple racism and our contempt for those with a different skin colour?
I believe not.
I believe it has more to do with our own personal identity. Nigeria, Pakistan, Lebanon, Baghdad, Yemen, can the average Brit even pinpoint these places on a map? Probably not. France on the other hand is on our door step. Every single person in the uk who has gone through the schooling system with know where France is and will most probably be able to point it out to you on a map. They’ll know the croissant and baguette are quintessentially French. And everyone can say “bonjour” “comment sa va?” “Je m’appelle Janet” right? Some of us spent every summer holiday for 6 years going to France when our children were little. It’s my back garden and holds very many happy memories for me from the early years of my young family.
We cry when we hear about the death of our friends relative. But the grief felt when it is your own flesh and blood will overwhelmingly exceed that of anyone else’s. We can and do care about things happening everywhere, to all humans, but when the flood waters look like they are going to flood our house, we immediately start piling on the sandbags. We don’t run into the village and check out which pipes are causing the problem. Nor do we let the flood continue while we contact the council to come and do something about it. We react in the only way we can in the face of immediate disaster.
Whilst we must and do show compassion, empathy, solidarity and unification against all terrorist atrocities, it should not be necessary to ask the question “why this overwhelming outpouring of grief for the French and not anyone else”? They are our neighbours. Our closest borders are less than 21 miles apart (it’s quicker for me to get from Dover to Calais than it is to get from Stafford to Birmingham!). We are scared. This attack is too close to home. Too close for comfort. It is fear and the desire for self preservation that makes us worry more about what happened in France happening here: in London, Leeds, Leicester or Liverpool, than what’s happening in regions and countries much further way, harder to reach and ones we have very little in common with (unless of course its our country of origin).
“O Messenger of Allah (PBUH), I have two neighbours, to which of them should I send a present?” He (PBUH) replied, “To the one whose door is nearer to you”. [Al-Bukhari]
Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, “The best of companions with Allah is the one who is best to his companions, and the best of neighbours to Allah is the one who is the best of them to his neighbour”.
The Prophet (PBUH) said, “By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer! By Allah, he is not a believer.” It was asked, “Who is that, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “One whose neighbour does not feel safe from his evil”.
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]