Sadly we’re becoming all-too-used to that sinking feeling of waking up in the morning to turn on the radio to news of yet another terrorist atrocity in towns and cities that are known to us. That feeling is all-the-more heart-wrenching when – like Manchester this week – heinous attacks are carried against defenceless and innocent children. Such crimes cry to Heaven.
These atrocities have a more penetrating effect precisely because they take place in locales known to us. Many Irish people and people of Irish descent live and work in places like Manchester and London. Many more Irish people visit cities like this for work and for pleasure.
It’s not that such crimes in places like Baghdad, Karachi or Kabul are any less heinous, they are not. In fact, it’s worth pointing out that Muslims suffer most as a result of Islamist terrorism. Nonetheless, there’s no getting away from the fact that these vile actions strike a more piercing chord when they happen close to home.
The terrorists’ modus operandi is clear: they want to kill as many people as possible and therefore provoke a clash of civilisation. The so-called Islamic State is a revolting and narcissistic death cult the like of which the world has never seen before.
Terrorism strikes fear in to our towns and communities, into our very way of life. Who will ever forget the brutal murder of Fr Jacques Hamel as he celebrated Mass in France less than a year ago?
It’s noticeable that politicians often profess that one must never be afraid of terrorism. This is understandable at one level. And, from the point of view of encouraging people to go about their daily lives, is admirable. Terrorism wins by altering our lives.
At a much deeper level, however, it’s wrong-headed and unrealistic not to be afraid. The terror of insane organisations like so-called Islamic State is perhaps the greatest manifestation of evil present in our world today.
Being courageous does not rest in being unafraid of evil; being courageous means that we face the reality of evil – with all the fear that this entails – but face it anyway, conscious of our fear but not imprisoned by it.
What is the believer to think in the face of such evil? Well, Pope Francis has encouraged Christians to pray to overcome such evil. And, as well as prayer, Christians must work with people of other faith and people of goodwill to overcome and defeat those who embrace violence – particularly those who blaspheme by trying to use God to justify their outrages.
There has never been a greater need for mutual understanding and cooperation. People of faith must take the lead in rejecting the consensus that a clash of civilisations is inevitable. God’s greatest hope for the world is peace, but believers have to be agents of bringing about that peace and making the world a better place.
St John Paul II said that if peace is possible, then it is necessary – because it is the greatest hope of the human heart. This is no time for pessimism nor for giving in to the logic of division.