I’ve lived over sixty years and I can’t recall ever feeling as depressed and hopeless as I have felt and still feel this week.
First, the attack on Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Forty-nine people having a fun night out in a gay nightclub, gone. As a bi woman, this hate crime with its terrible toll struck at my very heart. Like so many of my queer siblings, I learned at first hand the difference between the huge compassion and sadness and fellowship we as humans feel in the wake of a terror attack and what we feel when the attack is on our own community, no matter if it is thousands of miles away.
It isn’t that a queer life matters more to me – I struggled for days with that possibility. It’s that like so many other communities we know fear. Orlando may have been peripherally a terror attack, but it was primarily about hate against part of who I am. That’s why it’s personal. This post says it better.
Focusing back over the ocean to the UK, we are in the middle of a vicious, ugly fight over our membership of the European Union. We the people vote to stay or go in a referendum on 23 June. The rhetoric from the side who want us to leave the EU has centred around causing fear about immigration, fear of the “foreigner”. (In a very similar way that Trump is stoking those same flames in the US.)
Two things happened in the UK on Thursday:
The leader of one of our extreme right wing parties, UKIP, unveiled a campaign poster which has been likened to Nazi propaganda from the 1930s. I won’t dignify it with a link, but it shows a long line of desperate refugees – the implication is that they are coming to Britain to take over our jobs and our homes and our health services – under the heading “Breaking Point”. Hatred.
Then later on Thursday the politics of fear gained a victim in Jo Cox, Labour MP in Birstall, West Yorkshire, who was shot and stabbed in the street by a white British male who refused to confirm his name in court, identifying himself instead as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Jo’s killer is almost certainly mentally ill, and must not be demonised, but how have we created a climate in the UK where this attack was, as many have said, only a matter of time? Hatred.
Almost as a footnote to these events, I noted on Friday a report from scientists saying that dealing with climate change is more desperately urgent than anyone had thought. It is an emergency now. As I write this, there are dangerous heatwaves across parts of the US and continental Europe.
Picking ourselves up
Is depression and hopelessness the right response to this past week? No of course not, but sometimes it’s terribly difficult to get up and keep fighting (as Jo Cox’s husband said so eloquently) for an end to hatred. But I will. We all will.
It’s Father’s Day today and Facebook is full of loving tributes to my friends’ fathers. My own Dad has been dead for decades. He was a cameraman during World War II, recording the war for future generations. He spent time in Beirut. He told me often of the beauty he found in the voice of the Muezzin, calling Muslims to prayer. He spoke of his time in Italy, talking to ordinary brave people who had no truck with Mussolini and his fascists.
My Dad was a tolerant, loving, hard-working and loyal husband and father. He was a patriot in the best sense of loving his country, not excluding others. He saw and catalogued the cost of war. He would have welcomed immigrants and refugees. He never expressed himself with hatred.
The only thing I could think of to write on my Pilgrim’s Moon Facebook page immediately after Orlando was (in part) this:
I’m struck always by the sheer viciousness of the comments sections in news reports, on Facebook and Youtube. I think these small moments of ugliness collectively contribute to a world in which events such as this latest atrocity are commonplace.
Perhaps one thing we can do is resolve not to express our own prejudices and hatred (and make no mistake we all have them) in small things: our observations of others, our social media posts, our reactions to situations.
It’s so easy to feel smug when we make intelligent little quips about those stupid people who have different political or social views to ours (those of us who are liberals seem particularly prone to this)…
I still think this is right. We bear responsibility for our words. It must be possible to fight hatred without hatred. It must be possible to be fierce in our beliefs without being contemptuous.