Sunday, 15 November 2015

A Plea For Peace and Toleration (Thoughts on the Paris - and Syrian - attacks)

Like everyone else with a heart I was shocked and horrified by the slaughter of a growing number of innocent people in the recent shameful attacks on France. Unlike most of my twitter feed, though, I am also shocked and horrified by the equally tragic slaughter of so many innocent people in Syria to go alongside similar numbers murdered in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan.  People have died n both side of the 'argument' (which isn't even an argument, just a difference in religious outlook) who didn't need to and I mourn each and every one them, innocents caught up in the crossfire of a religious and political war few people understand and even fewer people agree with when fully explained. It's a war that's unwinnable and one that neither side deserves to claim victory in, full of dirty tricks and bullying on both sides.

I write this article not to stir the political flames further but to address something that's been nagging me every time I read a tweet or a face-book post or a website article labelled 'total revenge' or when I hear French President Hollande claiming he wants to be 'merciless' in response. It's easy over here, in a Murdoch ruled press with one-sided political soundbites, to believe that ours are the only just arguments and that the Paris attack was unprovoked. It wasn't. As the gunmen in the Bataclan Theatre made clear, in their eyes at least the Paris attacks were a retaliation for France's bombing of their lands. It's important to remember that the airstrikes on Syria happened first and got very little coverage in the Western world except alongside the murmurings of 'good for them'. Remember this was an airstrike not on soldiers or army bases but on innocent people caught up in the game of modern politics, as innocent as the Paris dead we so rightly mourn. Something tells me that over in Syria they too are getting news reports about how the attacks in France were part of a just war, part of a retaliation they were forced into making. At the moment everyone seems convinced that a similar attack on our enemy's land is the only just response and the only fitting result. It isn't. The Paris attacks aren't the first move on a new political game but the latest round in a long-term dodgy contest full of cheating on both sides which neither side can win. Someone has to be noble and sensible enough to break this cycle or it will just go on round and round in cycles. Peace should always be our first response, not an escalating war. There is always another way. Let's be clear here: it's not a case of heroes and villains; both sides are wrong and neither side can win.

To explain a little more about what I mean, here's a little story. Imagine two schools at the opposite ends of town. They've been rubbing shoulders for years now, each slightly jealous of the other, even though there are only two main differences between them. On the one hand  the Eastern school is baked in hot sunshine on which the local botany experiments won't grow and on the other the Western world's playing fields are often flooded. The other big differences is what they say in their 'school assemblies' each morning and what carols they sing. Neither seem like big enough differences for rivalry, but you know what little boys (and girls) are like: both like getting the upper hand. Matters come to head with a school sports day when the Western school examining board here that the Eastern school is going to be a bit 'naughty'. They might well have been, but nobody quite knows where the rumour came from or why it was believed so readily. Appealing to the board of Governors an inspection team is sent in, who find no evidence and, on the contrary, find that most of the report that urged them to go in and look was plagiarised homework, copies wholesale off the internet. The school governor, closer to retirement, doesn't really want to get involved and tells both sides to play nicely - only they can't.

Rather than risk what they think is a certain bating, the Western school headmaster and his board to teachers instruct their pupils to 'beat up' the Eastern school pupils after school. The result is shocked silence: the Eastern school pupils know little of what their teachers are up to and are almost entirely innocent. The Western school getting into its stride now, decide to have the Eastern school headmaster sacked and insert their own regime based more on their own school assembly. However their new headmaster is really a supply teacher who never got a job at the Western school and wants to please them so he can get a 'proper' job. In addition the Western headmaster seals a rather good deal from the school's tuck-shop, selling sweets back to his own pupils cheap while many of the Eastern school pupils are too poor from the bombing raids to have any lunch money. The school governing body, meanwhile, carries on sitting in the staffroom eating chocolate biccies and going 'la la la I'm not listening - and do play nicely chaps!'

One pupil takes it upon himself that this isn't fair and sets up his own after-school military marching band. Not many join - they can't eat never mind march up and down and international politics is kept from them by their new headmaster as much as possible. However one rogue pupil on a mission is all it takes and he bides his time until a Western pupil accidentally strays a little too close to their school playing field and nabs him. They get a second Western pupil later too who, concerned about what his own school are trying to do reaches out to be friends and him/herself gets captured. By now the Western school are incandescent with rage and say this latest twist isn't fair - which of course it isn't. Unfortunately the Eastern school pupils, scared and weak with hunger, are powerless to stop their headmaster or the rogue pupils out to attack the Western ones. The war quickly escalates into a battle of the school bullies, with the difference that the rogue Western school pupils fight dirty by throwing bricks from afar, in their own nice cosy classrooms, and the rogue Eastern school pupils retaliate by infiltrating the Western classrooms. The Western school takes down several classrooms; the Eastern school takes down a whole block used for business studies. Both sides' ideology is now being run firmly by the rogee elements: the Eastern world by violence and force; the  Western world with false and prejudiced accounts in the school newspaper goading them on. Fed up of living in a school full of bullies and violence, a number of Eastern school pupils brave the perilous ditch that separated their new schools and tried to enrol in the Western school instead. Greeted largely with apathy and disagreements over that year's pupil intake, most of them end up kept in the caretaker's shed or in a tent far away at the egd eof the garden.

Matters come to a head when a Western pupil writes a satirical piece about the Eastern school's assemblies. Taught in lessons to avenge attacks on their' founder', a n Eastern School pupil beats him up really badly in the school playground, daring to walk onto his own territory. The Western school though know that he's missed the point: their prize pupil is a bright boy with a wicked sense of humour and he no more meant to insult the Eastern school than he did the other dozens of schools he was rude about in the school paper, including it has to be said his own. In 'retaliation' the Western side took out some more classrooms without getting the approval of the school governing board (who by now was idly flicking through magazines about an impending retirement and couldn't care less). In 'retaliation' the Eastern school either send a pupil undercover as part of their fleeing masses or recruit their own Western school pupils, disillusioned at being segregated and made to sit in the smelly classroom next to the always-leaking toilets (we're still not quite sure which at the present moment). And so it goes on , with 'retaliation' after 'retaliation' and both sides convinced due to a combination of lies, misdirection and propaganda that they are guilty party when really its' both. I don't know about you but I'm ashamed of both schools for what they've done to innocent pupils on both sides and would gladly transfer, had the North and South schools - who sensibly keep out of everything - allowed me in and it wasn't so blinking cold and full of penguins and polar bears.
The way I see it, this is a war that neither set of school bullies can win. Both are convinced they can of course and both have used their school magazines well to whip their school up every assembly into believing they can win an unwinnable war - but they can't. The Eastern school is too used to hiding; the Western school too used to spending money (even though its own pupils are now applying for free school meals and the money spent on war - including a rocket that's falling to bits and has been in the playground since the last playground wars while pointing the wrong way to be of any help -  would be so much better spent).  There are only two solutions. One is belief in a bigger power - and I'm not talking the Gods of either school assembly here who by and large both treated peace and toleration before their words got mangled anyway , but in a higher political power who can sort things out. Given the school governing body's response so far, that seems unlikely. The only other solution, then, is us: the school pupils. We have to put an end to this ourselves, working together from both separate branches. Most people have spoken about the influx of Eastern school pupils 'coming over here and taking our crayons' as if it's a bad thing, but if we show kindness and tolerance and make them feel welcome then we will have the bigger school and it will be one that only preaches peace, with all bullies given perpetual detention. Though the teachers and headmaster and school newspapers hold the power, there are more of us than there are of them and we can yet stand up and say 'no!' Treat your pupils everywhere with love and respect and tolerance and the bullies can't win - instead they'll be chased out of both sides en masse. Treat every pupil who doesn't think like you with suspicion and we're doomed: Paris, Syria, everywhere. Ordering an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth will surely only lead to another few years, maybe even centuries, of this heinous cycle and lead to more pupils on both sides being killed. This is not a war between 'them and us'. It's a war between them and them, with us caught in the middle and it's time to end the bloodshed. Pull all our troops out of the middle East, release our illegally-captured prisoners and hope to goodness and that our Eastern allies are sensible enough to do the same. It's the only way out or we won't either of us have a school left to bomb.

While you're pondering that, here are some rather apt entries from the school disco (we are a music site after all!)

1) 'What Are Their Names?' a heartfelt David Crosby plea for tolerance and for overthrowing the evil powers who 'really run this land' ('and I wonder why they run it with such a thoughtless hand'). I'd like to ride over and give them a peace of my mind too: pace really isn't an awful lot to ask.

2) 'The Bravery Of Being Out Of Range', a gloriously sarcastic Roger Waters song about how warfare has changed over the decades. War is no longer heroic face to face combat anymore but a computer game played oblivious to the casualties ('I looked over Jordan and what did I see? A Us submarine and a pile of debris!')

3) 'Throwing Stones' -the world is a peaceful place from space, until you go closer and see the human race. The politicians keep throwing stones of different varieties from war to war (the last one really is fought with stones) while the population on both sides just want to dance and forget about it. Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

'Soldier's Dilemma' - A cheery Hollies pop song protesting conscription, the funny waddle marching time is in stark contrast to the lyrics from members of both sides of a war who don't want to 'join in' *('he trouble we're in I didn't begin so please don't ask me to fight your war!')

'Give Peace A Chance' - what else but this Lennon plea for tolerance, which is as true now as it was in 1969. We won't get it unless we went it so come on: Everybody's talking about Cameron shagging pigs, bent judges in wigs, people who don't give a fig, people who are only acting big - all we are saying is give peace a chance!'

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