I wrote this, my weekly column for the Brighton and Hove Independent, 48 hours ago. I’m publishing it tonight following the killing of Labour MP Jo Cox.
“Two moving ceremonies this week, one planned, the other unforeseen, but both of which for me had resonance beyond their immediate cause.
At the Chattri memorial, high on the Downs, I joined the Indian Deputy High Commissioner, the Mayor, Sikh members of our Armed Forces and others in the annual act of remembrance for those soldiers from undivided India who died in Brighton from their wounds during the First World War. I was honoured to lay a wreath in their memory.
A little more than 24 hours later, I joined hundreds in a vigil for those killed in Orlando, by someone whose motives are still unclear, but which had unimaginably tragic consequences. I was honoured to be asked to speak in solidarity with the LGBT community there, here in our city, and around the world.
There may seem little to connect the bravery of those soldiers a century ago fighting a war they didn’t start, with the dreadful killing of fifty people in a nightclub, but perhaps there is. So forgive me for getting philosophical.
World War One was fought between Europe’s royal families in an arcane dispute over arbitrary borders and nationalism, a war that slaughtered millions and which sowed the seeds of fascism and another deadly global conflict twenty years later.
The Orlando massacre fuelled fears about Islamic terrorism, wrongly it seems, as well as reflecting a fractured and fearful society in the US where many now look to a demagogue populist with simple solutions. Except of course, the simple solution of removing guns from the hands of those who are so troubled they can kill dozens with relative ease.
Fears about “others”, whether immigrants, Muslims, members of the LGBT community or “foreigners” can all too readily be used to divide us, can all too easily escalate into conflict and killing. Fear can be used to distract, whilst hard-won rights and opportunities are restricted.
“They are a threat to your way of life”, we are told, when in fact that threat often lies with those spreading that message. It’s a paradox that many of those leading what are seen as anti-establishment movements are themselves products and beneficiaries of the establishments they claim to oppose.
The one thing that unites those Indian soldiers who died for us in World War One, those mainly Hispanic gay men who were murdered in Orlando, the hundreds of refugees who are dying each month in the Mediterranean, and us, is our humanity. None of us would want what happened to them to happen to our families.
We should be wary of those who seek to divide us over nationalism, over religion, over migration, over race or sexual orientation. We ought to be coming together, not pushing apart, over issues that face us all, like poverty, climate change and disease. Working together we are stronger, we achieve more.
We should not and must not give in to fear.”
Rest In Peace Jo.