Thought for the Day

In all that is going on in Syria and Iraq these words from John Bell seem very appropriate. They remind us that we cannot claim the high moral ground, without first examining our motives and attitudes.

Just in case the link does not work, here is the text of John Bell’s Thought for the Day on 3rd October 2014 on the Radio 4 Today programme:

Thought for the Day – 03/10/2014 – John Bell

I could only have an hour with Salaam Hannah last week. He’s a Christian clergyman from Syria whose church has been destroyed, and half the population of his town has moved elsewhere to escape the violence.

Only an hour, so I asked him the question I often ask of people coming from places affected by war: ‘What do we in the West need to know about your nation?’ And he made the same reply as I heard in the past when I asked the same question of Avner Gvoryahu from Israel and Shehade Shehade from Palestine and Anna Zaki from Egypt. He said ‘Things are much more complicated than you imagine.’

And then he went on, not so much to give his analysis of the tragedy of Syria as to comment on Western attitudes. And it was not easy to listen to…

He said that from his perspective the West seems to think that democracy is the answer, but democracy has to grow up from the ground, not be enforced from outside.

He asked whether nations which were major arms producers should expect to be welcomed as peacemakers and honest brokers in countries where their weapons are being used to kill.

He suggested that, for the West, overseas engagement seemed so often to be based on economic expediency to the benefit of the benefactor, but seldom was cultural or ethical expediency part of the process.

And he asked whether we ever thought of the consequences of our actions – as when you support the overthrow of a dictator, only to discover that he was sitting on a hornet’s nest, and that deposing such a kingpin does not guarantee peace.

Salaam spoke with no rancour, but with sadness as he questioned some of the suppositions which many of us hold true.

Later, I remembered the moment in Jesus’ ministry when he met a Syrian, a woman who asked him if he would heal her daughter. He demurred and referred to her race as ‘dogs.’ She questioned his language and then something in their conversation – her plain speaking from a context he knew little about – changed him. He felt for her pain and rather than dismiss her, he agreed to help her.

Having met people from both sides involved in the troubles in Northern Ireland and apartheid in South Africa, I am convinced that it is only when we drop our unquestioned presumptions and feel for the pain of the one we despise that we begin to move towards peace. It will not be fully secured by military hardware or economic master-plans but by the less exotic arts of listening, thinking outside the box and empathy, however hard it is to imagine doing this right now.


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