There are days and times when one comes close to despair, when there seems to be nothing but ugliness and horror all around, when the news is bloated with stories of humanity's inhumanity. Such has it been over this past week. Whether it's the massacres in Paris, or the killing of thousands in Nigeria, or the ongoing unfolding horror that is Syria and Iraq, or little men full of nothing but their own importance preaching of their own virtues, it's enough to make one sick to the stomach. I could turn off the TV and the computer, put virtual fingers in my ears, cover my eyes and listen to nothing but the silence of my mind; or I could stumble around, quoting Yeats.
Neither, of course, would be an answer.
Then again, re-posting satirical cartoons that mock the weak and not the strong is also not really a suitable riposte.
I have heard an unbelievable amount of crap being talked over the past week, neatly summed up by Rupert Murdoch's idiotic demand that all Muslims should apologise for the Paris killings, Richard Dawkins' latest histrionic rant, and the Fox News 'Expert' who claimed that Birmingham was a no-go zone for non-muslims. It never ceases to amaze me how the 'experts' crawl out of the woodwork to make their opinions known, before scuttling back into the darkness of their mind caves.
Why is it that we need, bluntly, white middle-aged male 'experts' on Islam whenever there's an 'Islamic' atrocity, when we would be (quite rightly) offended if some bloke with a beard and a robe started inveighing against so-called Christian transgressions? Such as, for example, Amjad Choudary, who is pretty much the Islamist equivalent of Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. It strikes me that many of these religious experts are well-versed in the acts of mankind, but distinctly lack much knowledge of the God they profess to understand.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on Islam: I can't pretend, for that matter, to be an expert on Christianity, or any other religion you may choose to nominate. However, at least I do not dissemble myself into that most Protean of things, an 'Expert'. The ones I've been watching seem largely to be people who've done just enough reading to confirm their prejudices.
I have, however, had the privilege of living in a truly wonderful country that happens to be majority Muslim (Turkey, as if you didn't know..). I have to say this: the image of Muslims and Islam that is time and again represented in the western media is totally, entirely and completely unlike the people I knew that happened to live in a country where Islam was the main religion. I now happen to live in a country where Christianity is the main religion.
Does this mean that my life is dominated by the rhythms, orders, injunctions, requirements and demands of the Church of England?
Except for, nominally, Christmas and Easter.
And that is pretty much the deal, from my own experience at least, for most Muslims - religion touches one's life, but does not dominate it. Most of the Turks I knew smoked and drank and rarely went to the mosque, except during Ramadan and at times such as weddings and funerals - in other words, their interaction with faith pretty much mirrored life back home.
And 'mirror' is an important word here.
It strikes me that the horror of ISIS, the butchery inflicted by Boko Haram, the killings by a pair of disadvantaged, alienated men who were nevertheless a product of France, all of them, are a gross, distorted mirror held up to the 'West'. They reflect back our own prejudices, fear and anger, and in turn a mirror is held up to them.
Going back twenty years, the mirrors of societies were more normative - life in the UK both resembled, and was a reflection of, life in Turkey, both the good and the bad. Yet in the last fourteen years, the mirrors we as societies have held up to each other have become increasingly distorted, unreal, surreal even. The haters on both sides resemble no-one more so than their opposite number, while the normal middle, the ordinary, decent people who just want to live their lives as well as they can are squeezed out of existence. The mirrors of the worlds have become like those you see in a circus, emphasising above all else all that is baleful and grotesque.
What can be done about such stupidity and ignorance? Be full of passionate intensity or lack all conviction and do nothing?
I won't pretend to have all the answers. All I know is that we, the average, the ordinary, the meek and unremarked of this Earth, all of us who just want to live, need to wrest the mirrors of the world from those who warp them, take them back and render them back into their true shape.