Sunday, 15 November 2015

Cruelty

A few days ago I wrote a post about an anti-war speech on the last episode of Doctor Who. With the attacks in Paris last Friday night and the subsequent mixed reactions on social network sites, I was reminded of another part of that speech which I had left out:

Doctor:
You just want cruelty to beget cruelty. You're not superior to people who were cruel to you. you're just a whole bunch of new cruel people. A whole bunch of new cruel people being cruel to some other people, who'll end up being cruel to you. The only way anyone can live in peace is if they're prepared to forgive. Why don't you break the cycle?


Flip Sides
I won't lie, I don't much like teaching about war. It can be interesting, certainly, and the horrors of World War II are not something any future generation should be ignorant of. It can be draining to tell the story of the Holocaust, to explain the events that led to decades of death and destruction in Northern Ireland, and to focus so much on the actions and motives of people such as Hitler and Stalin more than on people who made good contributions to the world around them.

That's not to say that I don't want to teach these things or that I won't, I will always do so. It's just that teaching young people about humanity's failures can sap the fun out of the subject at times. Of course, there are many such failures to choose from - History is rich with events which showcase people's inhumanity to other people. Cruelty begets cruelty. If History can show us the progress we can make as individuals and societies, the flip side is that it shows us our setbacks and mistakes.

Fear
Anyone who thinks the blame for Friday's attacks falls on the Muslim community of France, let alone the world, would seem to have a very narrow view of current events. I've seen far too many comments either on Twitter or on news reports which oversimplify the problem and make generalisations about whole groups of people. When the IRA detonated a bomb in Manchester in 1996, would the British public have been right to say that all Irish people were the same, all wanting violence, all uncaring towards the ordinary people who died in those atrocities? If an extreme conservative Christian in the US calls for all gay people to be put to death, should Christians be decried as hateful, over-judgemental zealots? If one atheist commentator or group calls for religion to be abolished, does that mean everyone who doesn't believe in a religion is virulently opposed to people having a different set of beliefs to them?

No, of course not. ISIS is an extremist group which thrives on fear - not just the fear of people in the Middle East, which has caused so many of them to have to flee their homes, but the fears of people living in the west, fears which when stoked a certain way lend themselves to prejudice against Muslims, against refugees, against people from Syria... in short, just fear against other people. Groups such as this use fear to operate, and those who engage with that fear just give them what they want. The cruelty of ISIS begets a new kind of cruelty on those who have either had to flee their homes because of them, those who find themselves tarred with the one brush because of them, or both. What cruelty is next?

Kindness
There are many stories in the news and social media sites which also demonstrate the great kindness shown by people in response to the attacks. This kindness has been seen every time an atrocity has been committed, and it is this kindness we should all concern ourselves with. Leave cruelty with the people who have committed it, let's not become new cruel people ourselves.

Doctor:
What is it that you actually want?

(After a long pause.)
 

Bonnie:
War.

Doctor:
Ah. Ah, right. And when this war is over, when you have a homeland free from humans, what do you think it's going to be like? Do you know? Have you thought about it? Have you given it any consideration? Because you're very close to getting what you want. What's it going to be like? Paint me a picture. Are you going to live in houses? Do you want people to go to work? Will there be holidays? Oh! Will there be music? Do you think people will be allowed to play violins? Who's going to make the violins? Well? Oh, you don't actually know, do you? Because, like every other tantrumming child in history, you don't actually know what you want. So, let me ask you a question about this brave new world of yours. When you've killed all the bad guys, and when it's all perfect and just and fair, when you have finally got it exactly the way you want it, what are you going to do with the people like you? The troublemakers. How are you going to protect your glorious revolution from the next one?

Bonnie:
We'll win.

Doctor:
Oh, will you? Well, maybe, maybe you will win! But nobody wins for long. The wheel just keeps turning. So, come on. Break the cycle.

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