On a daily basis, we’re invited to be voyeurs into the misery of the lives of others, seeing the tragedy and horror of the helpless, the homeless and the hopeless. Then, we move on to the next headline. In the UK, the listing order of the tragedy depends on its nature and where in the world it occurs. It’s important when it’s in our own backyards. It’s interesting elsewhere, shocking even. However, we can move on. It’s not affecting us, or is it?
Sometimes those headlines go away after a day or two. You know, the earthquakes, landslides, floods, kidnapping, displaced people, wars even, all seem to be a distant memory. And sometimes although we’re shocked, it’s easy to become immune. Human tragedy seems to be commonplace. It’s yesterday’s news, however horrific. However, we can move on. It’s not affecting us, or is it?
There are so many subjects about which this can be so true, but this current one simply will not go away. The sight of caged children is horrific. I can’t pretend to know exactly what goes on with American politics, but even from the UK, we can see that caging over 200 children, when it could so easily have been prevented, is horrific. Mr Trump’s Executive Order may stop the separation of migrating families, but it will never deal with the trauma experienced by those children who have been caged, even if their parents ever find them again. I can’t move on. For what is happening in America now is as horrific as Calais last year and could happen here tomorrow. It affects all of us, wherever we are.
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a rise in nationalism in the West. In the UK, I believe this has led to Brexit, where ‘we’ come first. I don’t equate this with being patriotic. It’s a culture so far from loving our neighbours, it’s more akin to betraying them. If we come first, then others must come last. And that doesn’t usually mean relatively wealthy people like me, with a home, all I need to live, and more and a voice when things go wrong. My grandparents came here with very little as economic Italian migrants, yet no-one has ever questioned my mother’s right to be here, nor mine. We are white. But Brexit could affect people just like my family.
Scots and others in the UK originate from many places, as do modern Americans. So why do these, and other European countries, think it’s OK to keep people out? Why is it OK for them to be there, yet others should be kept out, purely because of their nationality of colour of their skin? Why do we think it’s OK for thousands to drown at sea, trying to escape to a safer place?
What makes all of this worse is that blame is apportioned elsewhere. The President of the United States blames the Democrats. The Scottish Government blames the Westminster Government. The Conservative Westminster Government blames the Labour Party and the European Union. Italy blames Malta. And on it goes.
None of them seems to have stopped to consider that people do not risk their lives to go elsewhere when everything is fine where they live. People are fleeing war, persecution, poverty, devastation. Governments don’t ask the real cause of migration. For they know the answers are not palatable. Their policies and those of previous governments are often the causes of those wars, divisions, poverty and environmental disasters. Yet they refuse entry to those in need. I can’t move on, because this affects all of us.
The lives of real people are being devastated. Real human beings are being betrayed. Those of us who care are accused of wanting to harbour terrorists, despite seeing inequality and injustice everywhere, every day on the news bulletins. I want to blame governments. I want to blame the people who voted for these policies. I want to blame those who hold views that suggest they come first and no-one else matters. However I can’t move on because I realise that along with millions of others, I am to blame, for I have failed to speak out enough. I am to blame for failing to do enough to reduce the environmental harm that causes the floods and landslides. Having realised that, I will move on, because I will speak out.
In the UK, we still treat the poor or non-white people as second class citizens. We make promises we don’t keep. Christ faced the ultimate betrayal, but if we simply move on, and don’t speak out, taking action when and where we can, we betray others and fail to fulfil our call to love. So I will speak out.
Rev Maggie Roderick is a Church of Scotland minister, whose most recent parish was in a Central Scotland village. She now lives with her husband in Stirling, providing pastoral and preaching cover where it is needed.
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