Durham Cathedral pays homage to the people of France earlier this evening
One day last winter I arranged to meet my brother for a coffee in the Town. Although there wasn’t much snow, there was a very great deal of thick ice all over the roads and pavements. As I crossed the road on my way to the bus stop, I slipped on the kerb and fell flat out on the pavement.
As well as the usual feelings of humiliation and shock, I also felt considerable pain in my shin and elbow, both of which had borne the brunt my fall. After the initial gasp and yelp of the fall, I lay there moaning and groaning for a few seconds, trying to assess any damage and pull myself together!
A woman was walking toward me. As is not uncommon in these parts, she was wearing a burqa and was thus covered from head to foot in black; not even her eyes were visible. A formless, faceless black wraith…
What happened next astonished even me.
I was laying flat-out right across the pavement, moaning sorrowfully (as you do in such circumstances).
And the woman stepped over me.
She didn’t divert from her chosen course at all. She didn’t walk round me. She just stepped over me and continued on her way.
I couldn’t tell whether she looked at me, of course, because you can’t. But there was no are you alright? or are you hurt? or can I help you? I was simply ignored. I might as well not have been there.
In a way, her actions - or lack of them - did the trick. I was so taken aback by what seemed like her unbelievable thoughtlessness - or even malice - that I forgot about how much my leg and arm were hurting. I struggled slowly to my feet and walked very gingerly indeed to the bus stop.
I know perfectly well the religious constraints she was under. As I understand it, she is forbidden to even look at - let alone speak to - any man she does not already know. Preferably, the only men she should have any contact with at all should be members of her family.
I did not fall into either category and so her religion dictated that she ignore me completely, no matter how atrocious my injuries may have been. I wondered afterwards what she would have done if I had called out to her in my distress. Would she have stopped to help if, for example, she had seen me knocked down in a hit-and-run incident? Or if she had witnessed me being mugged?
I needn’t have wondered. The answer is No. She would have continued down the street with a clear conscience, knowing that she had done God’s will.
To my mind, it is a short step indeed from ignoring a person in distress to causing their distress and then ignoring it. And from there to causing distress so that you can ignore it - because it is God’s will.
And from there to Charlie Hebdo in January and the carnage in Paris on Friday night.
Looking back now, I realise how lucky I was that day. After all, it is an Islamic tenet that all non-believers (like me) should be killed. She could easily have kicked me to death. Or pulled a kitchen-knife from somewhere under the folds of the voluminous black tent she was wearing and stabbed me several dozen times.
My shock and distress that day are, of course, insignificant in the extreme compared to the Islamic slaughter inflicted on Paris yesterday and I don't intend to cause offence by comparing them. Nevertheless, I believe that the same callous disregard for other human beings - the same unspeakable malice - runs in a straight line from one even to the other.
I wonder what that grotesque woman is thinking tonight…
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If you think I am wrong to draw these conclusions, say so.
Think of the mediaeval savagery inflicted on Paris yesterday; think of the pernicious and hateful religion that prompted it; then tell me I am wrong.
Listen to the mealy-mouthed sophistical weasel-words of the many unapologetic imams who will be dragged into tv studios over the coming days and tell me that Islam is a peace-loving religion.
Tell me I am wrong. But also tell me why you think I am wrong.
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I wish I could be with my friends in France….
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