This afternoon there will be a vigil for peace in Central London. People of diverse faiths, ideas and political beliefs intend to stand together for peace, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Christians, Conservatives, Labour, LibDems and many more. They are requesting that people do not bring flags or placards but just themselves and stand there to support the wish that we do not allow ourselves to be divided by events in the Middle East or, indeed, other parts of the world.
Most human beings want a quiet life and for their children to grow up in safety. But sadly there are those who use religious or other ideology to turn one of us against the other. In the last few decades we have been experiencing a barrage of disinformation via social media, particularly, that is designed to disrupt and divide society in the West. These people want to degrade Western values and civilisation and somehow make us apologise for the progress we have made over so many centuries but look around the world and consider what other civilisation would you prefer to live in, what other values would you prefer to live by? That’s not to say we can’t learn and adapt, as we do, but I think we need to be aware that many of those who are creating these messages are by no means our friends.
Let’s be alert to this propaganda, wherever it comes from. Let’s be discerning and make up our own minds, do the research and analysis to work out what we personally really think and feel rather than being influenced by some social media platform or the people shouting the loudest.
There was evidence this week that TikTok are inundating young minds with pro-Palestinian messages and, as we have seen in recent weeks, the young are vulnerable to such a call. They inevitably will feel sorry for those who feel oppressed and, as I have written before, victims actually hold a great deal of power to influence minds on their behalf, whatever the facts. And journalists have also shown that these young people, when interviewed, are not necessarily well versed in the facts of this very complex situation. It’s hardly surprising – many of us find it thoroughly difficult to appreciate the events that have led us to the situation that is faced today in Gaza.
But shouting for hatred, rage, or the destruction of a country or race does not get us closer to peace. “Jaw-jaw not war-war” was the phrase used by Sir Winston Churchill to promote the need for discussion. So far over the many years since World War II there have been many attempts at peace in the Middle East but they have not reached any long-standing result, although there was a level of ceasefire before the Hamas attack on Israel of October 7th. Both parties feel victimised and oppressed but finding the way through to peace will take moving beyond that and the trouble is that the Hamas charter states that they want the destruction of Israel and so unless the Palestinians eradicate the influence of Hamas it is regrettably unlikely they will reach a settlement any time soon.
And in the meantime the Palestinian people suffer, as civilians inevitably do in warfare – we saw terrible destruction not so long ago in Homs, Syria, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Ukraine, and, further back in time, throughout the world during World War II. I can’t claim to understand it all any more than a lot of other people, but it would seem to me that the Palestinian people would themselves benefit from the end of the Hamas regime and the election of leaders who have their best interests at heart, though those marching through our streets recently didn’t seem to give that impression.
Either way, my main point is that there are several narratives that have been going around over the last few years that are absolutely designed to divide us by class, gender, sexuality, race, skin colour, religious or political beliefs but we do not have to allow ourselves to be manipulated in this way. We can stand together for peace in the world, we can agree to disagree on political or religious beliefs but respect the other person’s right to have an opinion. Where one person is accused of being uncompassionate you can realize that perhaps they are being compassionate, but to another group to yourself.
No one of us holds the secret to life or the ultimate truth of any situation. We can all learn from each other and there are plenty of Jews and Muslims in the Middle East and elsewhere who are working together for peace. Let us support this narrative now.