Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Miscellaneous thoughts on social cohesion

The April 2008 issue of New City carries a report from Kenya. This report gives an idea of how Catholic bishops and other religious leaders responded to the recent violence in their country. Seeing only the news reports outside the country, it was very easy for us to miss the way in which these tragic events represented a challenge to the ordinary people of Kenya.

"Belonging to a certain ethnic group is an inherent part of individual and cultural identity and, in itself, is not wrong. But on more than one occasion, historic and political events have warped feelings of belonging, creating myths and generating fear and mistrust between ethnic groups. These days Kenya has been posing a true challenge to its citizens... As the bishops of Kenya stated in their letter signed on 2 January: 'We have lived together for all these years as brothers and sisters. There is therefore no reason for us to raise our hand against our neighbour because he or she belongs to a different ethnic group or political affiliation. We appeal specifically to the political leaders ... to reach out to one another through dialogue in order to seek a solution to the present situation.'... In addition to the Catholic bishops, leaders of different Christian denominations and other religions have called all peoples to peace, organising moments of prayer throughout the country and encouraging solidarity above-all with those who suffer."

The report goes on to describe national prayers for peace being broadcast on radio and television, and Sunday Masses attended by far larger congregations than normal. It ends with a short account of a young father who, having discovered a group in his own neighbourhood who were planning to burn down a house in revenge, intervened with those involved and succeeded in preventing this atrocity.

What the report highlighted for me was the fact that, within a a situation of conflict based on national political events and a situation that was often reported in the media in these terms alone, there remained a moral challenge for individuals in their own neighbourhoods. Certainly, the national situation fuelled events at the neighbourhood level and so it was quite necessary to appeal for reconciliation at the national level, but at the same time responses were needed - and achieved - by people acting in their own neighbourhoods to resist violence. Sadly, in many neighbourhoods, it was the violence that held sway; but, as the New City report concludes, the positive episodes help us to believe that a better future can be achieved.

Since the events in Kenya, Tibet has seen violent protests against its Chinese rulers. An aspect of the protests in Tibet that I found most disturbing was the way in which some members of the ethnically Tibetan population appear to have targeted the local Chinese population, people who must in a real sense be their ordinary, every day neighbours. The news coverage that I saw suggested that, not only were Chinese businesses attacked, but invidual Chinese people were themselves subjected to brutality. In this context, I did not feel that an unqualified support for the Tibetan demonstrators was an appropriate response of Western governments. Again, there is an interplay between the national/international political situation and the local, neighbourhood one - but the same challenge to "love your neighbour" must surely still apply.

This may seem a long way from life in the UK, but it is perhaps not as far distant as might appear. Showing care for the neighbour who is different than yourself can take very simple forms, which nevertheless help to build trust. One of my ways of trying to do this is to give way to drivers of different ethnicity than myself on the roads (not trivial, when traffic queues up quite a long way on my road during rush hours!). I am sure there are other simple ways of trying to do this, too.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post raise important points..