I did have a moment, a fleeting moment, as I read of the murder of Father Jacques Hamel by two Daesh cowards, where I thought, ‘that could have been me.’
I shook it from my mind because it is in those moments that terror begins to win. When we see ourselves in a tragedy and consider changing how we practice our freedoms in light of the evil actions of another they have begun to win. When we stop flying because of attacks at airports, or we avoid France or Germany or when we lock our doors once the services have started, they have begun to win.
I shook it from my mind because I knew it wasn’t the beginning of anything constructive; it was the beginning of fear. If we allow thoughts like that to find soil in our minds they will put down roots quickly. They will soon grow into trees and the fruit that it will bear in our lives is prejudice, suspicion and division.
Prejudice, suspicion and division do nothing to keep us from being afraid. Prejudice, suspicion and division amplify the voice of fear to ever loud volumes and soon it is the dominant voice and they’ve won again.
As fear increases in our lives we retreat ever further from doing good. Fear serves only to paralyse us, stopping us from making the world a better place for all of us. I won’t be afraid. I won’t let terrorists plant their grubby little seeds in my mind. I want a world where nobody feels unsafe living their lives and embracing fear will not deliver it.
You see, I know what my next thought would have been after, ‘that could have been me.’ It would have been, ‘I need to keep and eye out for who comes through the doors of our church.’ The sad truth is this, the part of me, that is in all of us when we are honest is that the word ‘who’ in that thought paints a stereotype in my mind, informed by the mainstream media, of a Middle Eastern Muslim Man. If I am honest I admit that there lingers a racist and Islamophobic echo within me which I fight to silence. This train of thought, if followed, would lead me to a dark place, where the church I lead has a Minister who racially profiles those who come through our doors. They would have won another little victory over me.
They will not win. Christians must continue to love God and others. We must continue to visit our Muslim neighbours and welcome them into our lives. We must not allow them to painted by Daesh. This breaks their hearts too. They also worry about being attacked.
We must continue to be a voice against prejudice and scapegoating. We must not only keep our doors wide open to all who seek comfort, care and solace but we must be welcomed into the homes of our neighbours of all faiths and none. They will not win. We will not let them divide us.
The first 18 years of my life in Northern Ireland showed me what happens when we allow them to win. Walls run between communities. Prejudice and division enter into every walk of life. Catholics are like this. Protestants are like that. Whole, rich communities painted with broad brush strokes in the imagery of suspicion. We can’t let that be the result of what we face. We are better than that. We can’t let the terrorists hold the pen never mind write the story.
I won’t be afraid. We won’t be divided. They will not win.