After Woolwich

Like many people, I learned of yesterday’s horror in Woolwich from my Twitterstream. At first, I was puzzled. There were many tweets expressing indignation about the phrase ‘of Muslim appearance’.* Was this another of those endless arguments about politically-correct expressions, and who would use such an odd and meaningless phrase anyway? I decided I wasn’t interested. Then a few tweets began to trickle in using words like ‘butchery’ and ‘machete’ and I realised something dreadful had happened. I followed the links, watched the video and read the news reports. Only then did I learn that a man had been killed. It took still longer for me to learn of the extraordinary bravery of Ingrid Loyau-Kennett and other women who confronted the killers and shielded the body of the dead man before the security forces turned up. (You can read an account here, link opens in new window.) In the meantime, there were the usual calls for vengeance and some pretty nasty comments about Islam, the police and just about anybody who was in any way involved. In short, a Twitter spat which may have alleviated feelings but which did nothing to change the facts: a man had been brutally murdered in broad daylight on a ‘safe’ London street.

I record all this because I think the sequence of events unfolding in my Twitterstream is quite revealing: first the argument over language, which some might think almost an irrelevance in the wake of such horror; then the report of the incident itself and the sickening knowledge that a human being had been butchered to death; next, the reaction, often vengeful and violent; finally, recognition of the courage and humanity of some in the midst of brutality and hatred.

My own immediate reaction was to pray for the dead man and his attackers, which did not go down well in some quarters. Pray for the dead man and his family, yes, but for his attackers, no: let them rot in hell! But isn’t that wrong? We are as connected to the murderers as we are to the murdered, and in more ways than you might suppose. We are all capable of the violence we saw in Woolwich yesterday, and if we think we aren’t, we are kidding ourselves. We are all capable of hating with insane intensity. Fortunately, most of us never act out the violence we carry within ourselves, but we know it is there. Equally, we know that when anyone’s life is ended, we too are diminished. We too are vulnerable, we too are at risk. Prayer makes whatever sense can be made of this conundrum. It is a way of trying to bring love into a situation that is full of hatred and pain. No one wants sermons at such a time. What we need is the reassurance love gives.

Love and forgiveness can free us from the cycle of death and destruction, but not everyone is ready to forgive at the same time. We sometimes need someone else to show us the way. Yesterday, I think the women who went to help in Woolwich gave us all a fine example of how courage and compassion can transform an ugly situation and bring love where there is none. Ingrid Loyau-Kennett was travelling on a ‘bus, stepped down to give First Aid to what she thought was the victim of a road accident, then drew the attackers’ attention to herself so that others might be safe. It was an heroic act, certainly, in marked contrast to the cowardice of the attackers, but I think it was something more. I do not know whether she has any religion or not, but to me her actions speak of purity of heart. Hers was a redemptive act, and we should thank God for it.

*I understand why the phrase is as objectionable as it is meaningless, but it seemed odd to me to be concentrating on that in the immediate aftermath of the killing. Twitter often approaches things sideways on.

Update 24 May 2013

According to an article in today’s Catholic Herald, Ingrid Loyau-Kennett is a Christian and was inspired by her Catholic Faith to do what she did. See here (link opens in new window).


23 thoughts on “After Woolwich”

  1. I saw a Tweet as the incident unfolded and it was from a prominent Muslim who said that at that moment – as it was becoming clear that the attackers had done this in the name of Islam – every Muslim in the UK would be feeling that heart sinking moment..

    I knew that feeling from the breivik massacre, as it became clear he considered himself a Christian.

    These monsters in no way represent Islam in this country just as breivik doesn’t represent us.

      • The killers acted in the name of Allah and jihad. Having committed their vile act of slaughter they announced to the world why they had hacked a British soldier to death on a London street. Theirs may be a perversion of some notional ‘true Islam’ – whatever that is supposed to be – but they and thousands of others across the world are representing their particular creed by seeking the death of infidels, as they perceive us to be. That other Muslims may (and many don’t) condemn what they have done, does not detract from the sad fact that there is an Islam that seeks to kill and to conquer – as did the founder of their religion.

        • I think it’s important to distinguish between Islam as a religion and the beliefs and actions of some of its adherents. Perhaps an analogy will be less controversial. I am a Catholic; I do not represent Catholicism, although many will judge Catholicism by my actions. Am I responsible for the outrages of the IRA, either implicitly or explicitly, because I am a Catholic? Or indeed any other terrible wrong committed by Catholics at any time or in any place? In the case of the murderers of Drummer Rigby, we are confronted by Muslims who have not only committed a foul crime but also done much harm to their co-religionists.

  2. Unfortunately religion and violence have gone hand in hand for thousands of years, this is despite the fact that the leaders of these religions espoused brotherly love. How then do you un-link violence from a passionate religious belief?

    • I’d say that violence was a mark of too little religion rather than too much. Many use ‘religious zeal’ as an excuse for venting their own rage/hatred of others. I’m not sure where ‘passion’ comes into things, except in the bad sense. I would hope that my own belief in God is fairly strong (else why would I be a nun) but it has never made me want to hurt anyone, no matter how much I disagreed with them.

  3. Sister, thank you for this post, which entirely covers my thoughts and feelings. I’m an Ex-Serviceman, who in fact has close connections to the Royal Artillery Barracks and to Woolwich itself. My spouse was born within 100 yards of where the attack took place and her family still live nearby. She is also, Ex-Service having served with the Territorial Army for 36 years.

    Some good friends still work and serve in the Barracks.
    The largest Regiment in Woolwich is 2nd Battalion of the Princess of Wale’s Royal Regiment. I served with the 3rd Battalion until my Retirement in 2009.

    Obviously the Army community will be grieving and my immediate Prayers are for the Victim and his family, his comrades and particularly for the Visiting Officer and others who will be supporting the family through the aftermath of this terrible event. A most difficult task at the best of times, but this event in the full glare of publicity and the horrific details published and the speculation will make their role even harder. Hopefully the media will allow the family some peace and not doorstep them (which happened when I did this several years ago) and allow them time and space to grieve and to allow funeral arrangements to be made quietly and with dignity.

    For me, your words on forgiveness and reconciliation are central to all of this. I don’t condone the attitude that those who attacked the soldier are representative of a particular faith or nationality. It seems to me to be a product of the alienation of people from each other by political manipulation and radicalisation by evil, which shows that evil is flourishing in the world today.

    Sadly, there will be many who will jump on the band wagon of hate to pursue narrow political aims, without any consideration of the millions of peaceful people living in our communities – this seems a purely human, hate driven action, not one of a reasonable society of tolerance and respect for all. God help our society if this happens.

  4. Thank you for expressing how I feel about it. What is to be gained by adding more hatred to the situation. As you say, only love can bring healing and resolution.

  5. The Story of the Good Samaritan lives on…

    Thank you Good Sister for reflecting, for sharing, for moving us to see love in the face of hate: Courageous Compassion. For pointing and directing our hearts and minds to grow in the right direction: Forgiveness.

    I could write much more, but my soul groans with prayer…

    Peace and Divine Mercy for us and the Whole World…love…pure love…may the Bells continue to toll.

  6. Thank you as always for your balanced, wise and loving comments and for the link to the story of the amazing courage and level headedness of Ingrid Loyou-Kennett.

  7. Saint Augustine wrote “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld”. We walk a fine line between seeking justice as opposed to revenge. Certainly the blood of innocent people murdered in the name of any religion cries out to God who we are assured hears and feels their pain.

    Beyond the trauma of the early days of these events we can all play our part by not contributing to evil through retaliatory hate and so not justify these radicals in their claims. Neither should we be so naive as to believe there doesn’t exist a version of radical Islam which seeks to destroy us, as straight from one member’s mouth in speaking with me concerning jihad “It’s open to interpretation.”

    • I think, Jean, from the context of his remark, that St Augustine meant something different from what you are suggesting. He was saying that we can’t behave badly to someone then turn round and be nice to them and expect everything to be all right. We have failed in justice (= right conduct) towards them. It has nothing to do with our seeking justice/revenge, it is about our witholding it from them!
      We have already seen attacks on mosques and Muslims by those who believe they have a right to judge and punish others. It is a dangerous situation.

        • I wasn’t suggesting you were! My remark about the attacks on mosques was in a separate paragraph and referred to those who believe they have a right to exact vengeance. I should have put extra leading between the two.

  8. Yes, this is a rock thrown into a pond and the waves will affect many as they sweep out. The families of the attackers need our prayers as much as the families of the soldier. In fact I don’t know where to begin or end the prayers.

  9. I’ve prayed, pondered, thought and agonised (maybe that’s too strong a word) about this since this happened and hesitated to put metaphorical pen to methoporical paper.

    When I first heard the news, I was shocked, appalled and very angry and recognised the violence this act had stirred within my spirit. I prayed and have continued to pray for the murderded man and his family and have made myself pray, somewhat grudgingly, for his murderers. I realise that my prayers for the murderers are still very much with my head and not from my heart.

    I guess that all prayer has to come from the heart and not the head and I wonder if my struggle to make my prayer come from the heart is due to my fear and anger?

    Perfect love casts out fear.

    • I think you have touched on a deep and important question here. My own response would be to say that when we look at our own prayer, we are ceasing to pray; and then, of course, we see all the imperfections because we have shifted our gaze from God to self. We want our prayer to be easy and natural, but much of the time it is a struggle. We look at our feelings about it; but prayer has much more to do with our wills. So, yes, I too struggled to pray for the attackers, but I know it was a necessary struggle, and the fact that my overwhelming initial emotion was one of repugnance is irrelevant. I wanted to pray for them as Christ would have us pray, as for souls for whom he died on the cross. I do not pray from my own reserves of charity or strength but from his, and the imperfect nature of my prayer doesn’t matter because he does with it what he wills. So, I’d say, be encouraged. Your struggle must be immensely pleasing to God and I have no doubt that he will respond generously.

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