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Home > Culture and Society

Speaking volumes

15 July 2005

Yesterday at noon, all across Europe, as well as in Bali and Afghanistan, human beings stopped what they were doing and stood still, and silent, for two minutes. In those two minutes, their thoughts turned primarily to the events of last Thursday; to the ordinary innocent people who were killed or injured; to the friends and families of those same people; to the people who helped and are still helping to try and put things right again; to the people who perpetrated those mind-boggling deeds; to the people who will do the same again at some time in the future, and to the people who will die or be injured as a result.

And as these thoughts swam through the silent masses, many prayed, and many wept. Doubtless there were those that seethed, thoughts of frustration and revenge simmering behind their eyes; as well as those that took the silence as an opportunity to indulge their chauvinism. Doubtless many others were too wrapped up in their own quotidian trifles to really concentrate that well. But that really doesn’t matter. What is significant and actually extraordinarily empowering is that so many human beings stopped what they were doing and focused on the same thing at the same time.

Much has been said about the silence affording time for respect for the victims, for reflection upon the tragedy as a whole, and for defiance in the face of those who made it happen. But what is really inspiring about a mass silence such as this is the act of solidarity itself. It is about people saying, in a voice that no amount of words could ever afford them, that they have been touched by some shared heartbreak and that they desperately don’t want it to happen again.

The fact that this has come on the heels of the collective push to try and solve the problem the poverty is seductive. There are similarities. People coming together. Consensuses of one shade or another being forged. Of course, yesterday’s silence was much less complicated than the Make Poverty History campaign, if only inasmuch as it involved no policy whatsoever. But there was tacit agreement, and tacit protest. We believe we can speak for every voice that held its tongue yesterday at noon when we say that all we really want – all of us - is for human beings to stop killing each other. Surely it really is as simple as that? Torture is out too of course. Right out. But the unnecessary killing of innocent people would be a good place to start. And we know for a fact that the unnecessary killing of innocent people is something that happens in this country far, far less than it happens in many other countries; and we know – surely we know by now? – that what goes around comes around.

This is not a time to apportion blame, so we won’t. It’s a time – as yesterday’s silence showed clearly – for coming together and sharing what we feel. And surely, if we can keep the bigger picture in mind at all times – the people not killing each other thing – we can then go some way to ensuring that ordinary young men are not so readily seduced by the prospect of killing themselves for the sole purpose of taking a bunch of strangers with them.

And without wanting to get carried away with the rose-tinted world of possibilities motif, it feels exciting. This is starting to feel like a particularly exhilarating time to be alive. More than ever before in the history of human beings, we seem to be coming together, or at least, and perhaps more importantly, we seem capable of coming together when we want to. It’s exciting because this, surely, is how we evolve. We transcend the petty barriers we’ve erected, achieve some kind of species awareness and…

Well, it’s a theory. And it’s one we dearly want to believe. Unfortunately, what happens now is in the hands of a small number of men in a small number of rather self-centred government departments.

Unless of course – and you never know – unless a large number of human beings get together again and finally break their silence.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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