It was almost impossible to avoid fleeting glimpse of the horrific story of the Lebanese pilot who was put to death by ISIS while I was leafing through The Times as I was waiting my turn at our hairdressers on Wednesday this week. It was difficult enough trying to comprehend the news on Radio 4 on Tuesday evening, only to be confronted with it all over again in the broadsheets the next day. It was with a sense of numbness that I found myself turning over from the double-page spread in the hope of finding something uplifting to counter the brutality of the airman’s means of execution. As I was on the point of turning to the next page, I noticed another story at the foot of the page: a 50-year old man, ‘accused’ of being gay had been thrown off a seven-story building. He survived the fall only to be finished off by a mob waiting below. There were photographs provided with the story.
Perhaps these kinds of horrors have always taken place? However, today’s rapid communications ensure that the brutality of people such as ISIS, Boka Haram and the rest are brought to, us courtesy of the Internet and the international press, without delay and ‘in our faces’ until we begin to feel almost indifferent or immune to such horrors. What could be next, one wonders?
My eyes dwelt on the images of the latest terror from the likes of ISIS before turning over, hiding the story beneath contrasting pages of the likes of sport and fashion. It is rather strange how newsprint can segue so seamlessly from shocks to frocks, as it were. Please don’t get me wrong: I am an avid reader of The Guardian every day at home and The Times at my hairdresser – we have to be told about what is going on in the Middle East and in East Ukraine. My overriding worry is along the lines of what kind of world are we creating for future generations?
When my turn came to have my hair done, I put the newspaper down and put aside what I had just read. We can do that, until the next horror story assaults our senses.
A friend asked me recently: “What era would you like to go back to?” I didn’t give him a definite reply at the time but, if pressed again, I would like to go forward, rather than back, to a simpler time, a time when people live in peace and harmony. Wouldn’t we all, I imagine that I hear you say.
I readily remember an occasion when, as a carefree postgraduate student in my mid-twenties, I was strolling along the Hagley Road in Edgebaston (on the outskirts of Birmingham) in the early nineteen seventies and a car full of young black girls drew alongside to ask me directions to I forget where. At the end of our brief encounter, the car drew away to cries of “love and peace, man” accompanied by hands waving wildly out of lowered windows. I mouthed an inaudible reply along the same lines. That was how we spoke in those days and we meant what we said, only to find that – a generation of so later – our hopes seem to have been dashed.
Or have they? My generation may have failed to create a world of peace but there are generations to come who might do a much better job. I look out of the widow of my study as I write this: the sun is shining and the little four-year old from next door has just got out of her daddy’s car, her shock of black curly hair and ready smile sweeps away the notion that the world may not be completely and irreversibly screwed after all.