Last Sunday, the St Yeghiché Armenian Orthodox Church in London held a Memorial Service for the victims of the recent attacks in Paris, as well as those in Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm el-Sheikh, Ankara and Bamako. The incense-filled church was almost full and the event was graciously hosted by the new Armenian bishop in the UK & Ireland. Attending this mournful event were hierarchs from the Syriac and Coptic Orthodox as well as Roman Catholic Churches.
I addressed the faithful in French as a sign of respect for the French faithful with us in the congregation and then recited in English two of my favourite prayers. One that is quite familiar to many of us was by St Francis of Assisi and the other prayer was written by Brother Roger of the Taizé Community. Bishop Angaelos, a well-known figure with our Premier Radio listeners or readers, preached on how we can deal with evil and how we overcome it only by the grace of God.
Having been steeped in the politics of the MENA region for so long, it was a breath of fresh air to have a Christian event that challenged radicalism with faith, love and charity rather than with political slogans. However, it is undeniable that we in Europe are facing new challenges, and so I beg my readers today to consider a few additional reminders:
- Much as it will be quite hard and almost counterintuitive, we should resist the temptation of stigmatising everyone, tarring them with the same radical brush and considering anyone with a dark complexion - or wearing different faiths or apparels and not speaking our languages properly - as a target for our fear, ire or frustration.
- We should take the threats facing us seriously, and adopt a raft of prophylactic measures to fight terrorism fiercely and competently, but we should not forsake the values that we have struggled over two World Wars to imbed into our societies. Or else, we would have forfeited the qualitative edge and the terrorists would win by preying on our darker sides just as they do on the Dark Web. Much as we should strengthen our security measures, we need not tinker with the basic freedoms that define our way of life. Lex talionis - or Hamourabi’s law, to use its Middle Eastern analogy - spares nobody, be they the victims or perpetrators.
- With Europe facing an immigrant tide, we also should not look at all those men, women and children refugees coming from foreign climes as enemies or suspects but rather as victims of the same dangers facing us in our own societies today. What we are experiencing now, many of them have experienced for years, and most of them - albeit with some very bad eggs - have lost everything and fled their countries from torture, imprisonment, rape, violence, despair and fear.
Europe today is in a concussed state of grief, and I am wary of the blowback that such events could possibly generate across Europe
- We will be tempted to go after Daesh/ISIL and in so doing perhaps choose to collaborate with dictators. This is a facile temptation: after all, those dictators did not harm us even though they severely oppressed their own peoples. On the other hand, sinister organisations like Daesh/ISIL or al-Qaeda have exported the mayhem from their MENA neighbourhoods into our innermost lives. But we must remember here that some of those dictators are the very ones who helped create the opprobrious terrorism we fight today. Sadly, if we accommodate those dictatorships, they will gradually re-consolidate their positions and turn against us to cause more grief.
- If we wish to fight Daesh/ISIL, we must start thinking like them. This movement is not an army or a caliphate but a bunch of criminals who wish to cause death and mayhem wherever they can in order to radicalise our societies and then use that very radicalism as a rallying cry for their own warped ideology. Their weltanschauung let alone the write-ups in their Dabiq magazine reflect their viewpoint that everything occurring today is an apocalyptic sign that heralds the end of times. So we need to put ourselves in their heads, and not interpret their violence by entrenching ourselves in our own intellectually-cosseted think-tanks!
- We should also remember that ISIL/Daesh functions like a financial corporation that funds its fighters and its designs both in the MENA region and worldwide. So perhaps we should re-examine how they trade the oil that they control in Syria and Iraq (roughly 38 oil wells in total) via third parties and at discounted rates. They cash in the proceeds and finance their terrorism: where does the oil go, who purchases it and how are they paid for it?
- Finally, but critically, let us humbly remember that many ordinary peoples across the MENA have been living through such pogroms every day of their lives. Ask Syrians, Iraqis, Yemenis, Lebanese, Palestinians and Israelis, Libyans or Egyptians, and the stark fact remains that this is the new normal for so many of them. I too share the popular disgust at such appalling attacks, but we surely need to put them in context and understand the causal relationship betwixt those events in the MENA and what we are witnessing on our continent today.
It is not easy for me either to overstep raw emotions and think of the broader picture because it engenders in me - in all of us perhaps - a sense of trepidation as to what lies ahead let alone what it reveals about ourselves too. But Europe today is in a concussed state of grief, and I am wary of the blowback that such events could possibly generate across Europe. So my rallying cry takes me back to my law studies in Latin and echoes my undying hope: Fluctuat nec mergitur!