Saturday, 10 January 2015

Charlie

When the outside world dips its toe into our lives, sometimes the ripples are impossible to ignore.

Even by a procrastinating blogger whose usual writing style tries to be humorous, sometimes veers perilously close to becoming a rant, but is seldom sad.

But today 'Walking the Dog' is sad. And the outside world cannot be ignored.

Punctuating our collective timeline are events that are recalled with the questions - "Where were you when ...?" and "Do you remember what you were doing when ...?" This week another of these shocking, world-stopping moments occurred, when to the list of Lennon, King and Kennedy was added the name Charlie. All shot. All killed.

It is impossible to understand why this happened. To do so would be to look into the mind of a monster and come out thinking like him.

I don't know about you, but I crave a world where respect and acceptance are the pillars of theism. Where we are taught not to believe in one God, but to accept that there may be many and to recognise that there are people who believe not only in many different Gods, but also some who believe in none at all.

I despise the monotheistic prejudice that turns man against other men. Listening to Will Self this week as he presented his Radio 4 programme, Self Orbits CERN, I was struck not by the almost impossible task the physicists faced in explaining their science to a writer who previously did not subscribe to their 'faith,' but by the description of Palestinian and Israeli technicians working side by side in the depths of CERN. And a scientist saying that the physics at CERN was attempting to answer the 'How' of us being here, not the 'Why,' hence physicists can believe in Gods. 'Extraordinary claims' after all 'require extraordinary evidence.' (Carl Sagan). And science can overcome the boundaries of religion. But if these boundaries fade in the subterranean depths of the LHC, they are all too often shining bright on the surface above, perhaps not between the scientists, but erecting a wall between the rest of us who are not united by shared passions. A blurry tolerance is all too readily replaced by hatred when poverty and politics get in the way.

But hatred needn't win.

What those attackers in France failed to recognise was the power of the pen. They have given more voice to the satire of Charlie Hebdo than the cartoonists ever dreamt possible. The image is supreme in our culture. It always has been. Voice, music and any sound in fact, do not have the same power to move, to extract instant emotion and immediately dissipate global recognition. Even the written word is inferior to the image. This is why war photography, pictures of starving children, paintings and drawings can rapidly become iconic. And one image can alter history. It was not only un-Islamic for them to attack the cartoonists, but also incredibly naive. Just look at the reaction to the Charlie killings - from Banksy to Uderzo artists across the world have created powerful new images in defiance of the barbaric acts in Paris.

I don't have any solution but to plod on. To teach tolerance to my children by being tolerant. It's an uncomfortable feeling not knowing what else to do. Not knowing where the next attack might be. Not knowing how to keep my children safe, and not afraid. But I heard another story this week - about a man, once a kidnap victim himself, who escaped and is now attempting to free-climb a sheer mountain rock face in California, known as the Dawn Wall. Insignificant and a little ridiculous in the face of everything else going on in the world, but Tommy Caldwell's self-belief and perseverance in the face of pretty extreme discomfort, illustrates the resilience of the human spirit. Fingers ripped to shreds and contemplating defeat, he said, "I'm not giving up. I will rest. I will try again. I will succeed." He is an inspiration, perhaps, to us all. Don't ever give up believing in humanity. Trust your neighbour. Climb together. I really don't care if he does succeed this time or not, it's his belief that he and his climbing partner, Kevin Jorgeson, will do it one day, that matters.

Has my rambling blog countered my sadness? A little, maybe. Tomorrow, I will watch the march in Paris. And remember: 'Nous sommes tous Charlie.'