Thursday, 18 January 2018
ON July 31, 1802 William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy left London early on the Dover coach.
Dorothy wrote in her journal: “It was a beautiful morning. The City, St Paul’s, with the river and a multitude of little boats made a most beautiful sight as we crossed Westminster Bridge.”
William was moved to compose one of his most famous poems, Composed upon Westminster Bridge:
“Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning...”
If you don’t know it, the whole poem is worth a look.
Where the Wordsworths were moved to delight and poetry, an anonymous (as I write) man saw only a convenient backdrop to carnage and murder — five dead so far and 40 injured.
It has been called a terrorist incident, the thing many of us have been dreading for some time. We will no doubt hear much more in the coming days.
And in the meantime what? “Keep calm and carry on” to quote one of three posters produced in 1939 by the Ministry of Information.
To quote Wikipedia: “They were intended to be distributed to strengthen morale in the event of a wartime disaster, such as mass bombing of major cities using high explosives and poison gas, which was widely expected within hours of an outbreak of war.”
In the face of Wednesday’s wickedness at Westminster, the advice from 78 years ago holds good. Keep calm and carry on.
Carry on living because what these terrorists want is to drive us into holes and stop us living the lives we live. To give way to fear means they win.
Carry on loving and that means especially the neighbour and fellow citizen of whom you might be wary, cautious, a little suspicious.
Unless there is good tangible reason, we need to emphasise our shared citizenship and shared values as never before. If they drive us apart they have won.
Carry on thinking. As a society, we seem to have no clear explanation as to why some bright children and young people (not necessarily insane or stupid) can be so “radicalised” as to believe that the murderous regime of IS and its theology of hate is a good thing for which they are prepared to give their lives.
Churches, mosques, civil society, governments, we have all failed to present an inspiring alternative vision.
This isn’t to blame the victim — but in an ideological war, which is what we face, if you don’t understand the opposition, you cannot win.
Carry on praying. The only cure for bad religion is good religion.
Platitudes about freedom and democracy will not cut it.
Christians, Muslims and Jews need to focus on the positive common ground their faiths share: the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual, the combined claims of justice and compassion, the moral responsibility of the rich for the poor, the commands to love the neighbour and stranger in our midst, the insistence on peaceful ways of settling disagreements and respectful listening to the other side of a case — in religion there should be no compulsion.
27 March 2017
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