Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Responses to the Westminster Terrorist

A picture of the Archbishop of Canterbury on Facebook with the superimposed question, 'What kind of person treats a terrorist?' caught my eye. I don't think it was the Archbishop's question. However, the fact that anyone might be asking it gave me pause for thought. To a medic it's a non-question. Health care professionals are committed by their codes of professional conduct to treat everyone. They give life-saving, pain-easing treatment to whoever needs it, usually in an order of priority that's dictated by the medical need of the people suffering. There's no moral judgement attached and no consideration of their own perspective on who the person might be or what he or she might have done. In war, medics and nurses treat the enemy if circumstances require it, in peacetime they treat victims of abuse and those who abuse alike. The moral basis of life-saving healthcare is that those giving it do not make judgements about the moral state of those who receive it.

There is a sort of jingoistic response to terrorism that places it into a 'beyond-the-reach-of-the-normal-rules-that-govern-society' category. This is surely misguided and dangerous. It plays right into the hands of terrorists. Their aim is precisely to disrupt the values which hold society together. It's the kind of response that walks the path of allowing torture as a part of interrogation and the suspension of civil liberties in the service of security. These are sharp ethical dilemmas but ultimately I come down very firmly on the side that honours the requirement to do everything possible to save life, eschew torture and uphold freedom despite the inherent risks.

The other picture which has been doing the rounds is one of the Dalai Lama with the quotation (his words), 'Buddhist terrorist, Muslim terrorist. That wording is wrong. Any person who wants to indulge in violence is no longer a genuine Buddhist or genuine Muslim.' This reminded me of Lily Allen's song, 'Him' in which she muses on how God feels about the atrocities that are committed in God's name. The song's deep message is one of despair that throughout the ages people have been killed in God's name.

We don't know the reasons for the attack on Parliament last week but whatever was in the mind of the terrorist, we should not abandon the quest to live peaceably according to our most honest understanding of our own faith (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, humanist...) and neither should we depart from the best ideals of a free, democratic, humanitarian society.   

Photo The Women's March on London

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