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Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Tools of Our Trade

The G20 summit, being held in a seaside resort just outside Antalya, has bought pride and pain in personal and public measure.

My brother's daughter (pictured third from left above) has been specially selected as a team member to help during the event. Not only am I very proud of the way my neice has been brought up - independent, free and sure in her own mind, currently pursuing a career in international relations at university - it is with some trepidation that I follow the proceedings from my box.

US President Barack Obama is among the world leaders arriving on Turkey's southern coast for the summit on 15-16 November, but it's not just political heads of state making their way to the city.

Anti-terror police have arrested 20 people suspected of links to the Islamic State group in Antalya a week before the city hosts the summit, because Turkey has stepped up operations against IS militants following a string of deadly bombings.

The latest crackdowns come after Sunday's election, in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AK Party regained the parliamentary majority it lost in June.

This may seem the usual scenario for Turkey, but we are currently in a climate where every country seems vulnerable to attack. On one hand I'm filled with pride as I witness a future generation growing up free and independent, on the other that joy is marred with the news of hundreds of deaths of that generation elsewhere.

It reads like a horror story, but one we have become well versed in: People were shot dead at restaurants and bars in Paris, while 80 people were reported killed after gunmen burst into the Bataclan concert hall and took hostages before security forces stormed the hall.

And after at least 129 people were killed in a night of gun and bomb attacks in Paris by IS militants, France has declared a national state of emergency and tightened borders. These are the deadliest attacks in Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings, and it seems little has changed in the spiral towards greater violence.

Although the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar (one of the highest Sunni authorities in the Muslim world) has strongly condemned the attacks in Paris, stressing that Islam is innocent of terrorism, I'm afraid I have to disagree.

Islam is only as clean as its followers, and it has bloody hands. It is dirty with the deaths of innocents; it is not innocent. Neither is Christianity. Not Judaism. Nor any religion when it has the human factor.

Islam is filled with peaceful anecdotes, and we are told "Thou shalt not kill" and to save one life is to save the world entire, yet we are also told we must slay the infidel, to shed blood for our sins, and to take an eye for an eye.

So it's no longer an issue of being sick and tired of people hijacking religion for their own violent ways; we have to accept religion is a channel for our thirst for blood, it is too readily open to being used as a weapon rather than a refuge of purpose. We say guns are only dangerous in the hands that hold them, but guns are primed to kill, even in hands that hold them with no intention of taking life.

And we have to accept the human reality of a mind that can create the gun. Of a life and world seeped in nature that feels inherently violent, and primed to kill.

But nature is all about finding balance: Human traits of kindness, sharing, constructively communicating, understanding and all the attributes we label under goodness are not really characteristics, they are the tools of the trade to maintaining balance in a world that is chaotic and destructive.

To use these tools requires skill, learning and effort - they don't come easy. Those who choose to destroy do so because it requires less effort to make more noise, but those who choose the tools of life, choose a route far harder, and currently less travelled.

With these tools, however, religion becomes a place of purpose, life becomes sacred, and there is the power to bring balance when the storms come as nature wills. Hands heal rather than pick up guns, and humans truly show their only uniqueness - the ability to be a baulster in a chaotic world.

It is with these tools that, when we are abused, we do not become abusers, and it is how our young can grow free and unbowed to pursue a life of choice, to work and contribute to their society, to not shy away from the effort it takes to be a good human being.

Whether you agree or not, it's at least one way of looking at this dark moment in time, which is filled with flickers of light, too. We must never forget that while there is much that seems wrong with the world, we have the ability to put it right.

For there are young people, like my neice, who are not afraid to contribute, to go out into society and work and not be cowed by the dangers that threaten. She has been brought up with the tools of our trade - of living to serve, share and learn.

And as much as I worry about her as she takes her first steps towards adulthood, I'm also very, very proud of her.

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