The horrific events of Friday evening in Paris left us with a sense of deep shock. As I woke on Saturday morning and listened to the news on the radio it almost became too much. The sheer horror, the sense of terror, the numbers of people involved. In my mind I was trying to begin to imagine what it must be like to be in such a place – and I couldn’t imagine it. And I couldn’t imagine how people could pick up a gun, head purposefully for a place and simply and coldly and cruelly shoot people and kill them. I cannot imagine what happens to someones basic humanity – or at least what I think of as basic humanity – that can lead to this kind of act.
Of course such acts are designed to create terror, to bring society to its knees by targeting the innocent and the weak and the ordinary, not those who might be targeted in conventional – if any convention now remains – warfare. We know too well that the worse reaction we can have is to stop being the societies that we are, free societies based on such values as embodied in the French state of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’, societies such as our own in which people desire to live together in our God-given diversity and rejoice in it, in which there is freedom to be who you are.
The first thing I did was to write a prayer – the Cathedral was soon to open and the Day Chaplains would be saying prayers throughout the day – so I thought something would be useful. I offered this.
Jesus said ‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid’. (John 14.27)
who into the midst of terror
and into the heart of fear
sustain the people of Paris and France.
Give rest to those who died,
comfort to the bereaved,
healing to the injured,
courage to those who look on,
repentance to those who plan such attacks
and life to all your people,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Just the day before all this took place we had the news that ‘Jihadi John’ had, probably, been killed. If it was the man we had seen on the videos wielding the knife as he beheaded people caught up in the events of the Middle East, he was a wicked person. But the rubbing of hands with glee by so many after reports of his death, the ‘got him’ mentality, simply will not do.
From what I’ve read it appears that one of our drones was there with an American one which caused the death. But we were there hunting, tracking a British citizen, not to bring him to trial but to kill him. It is an outrage. Jihadi John’s actions were wicked but nothing is solved by our own Government killing our own citizens. We no longer have capital punishment, we use the courts to administer justice. Terror must not cause us to lose the very values that make us who we are.
One thing that unites people of faith is the ‘Golden Rule’. Charles Kingsley personified it in his Victorian morality story for children, ‘The Water Babies’ in the character of Mrs Do-As-You-Would-Be-Done-By. Although it might seem as though it might provide for actions that are not good the Golden Rule is a positive injunction.
In Islam it says
No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother that which he desires for himself.
Christians read in St Matthew’s Gospel
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Matthew 7.12)
This means being just in the face of injustice, being merciful when there is no mercy shown, being hopeful even when hope seems absent, being better than our first instinct may be, being the person to our enemy we wish our enemy would be towards us.
It is all easy for me to say, I wasn’t in Paris, I haven’t faced this kind of terror myself, but we have to, as church, as society, as faith communities look to how we live and react and make our judgements before madness overtakes us.
may I be to my brother, my sister,
what I would want my brother, my sister,
to be to me.