The other shoe

Posted by Piers Cawley on Jul 7, 2005

Okay, you can all tell me how wrong I am, but didn’t anyone else feel the tiniest sense of relief that finally the other shoe had dropped on Thursday. I feel like we’ve been waiting for this to happen ever since 911.

In 2003, the company I was working for down in London had a funding squeeze and had to make some people redundant. I jumped at voluntary redundancy because the commute from Newark was killing me. To my surprise, a lot of my colleagues mentioned that they thought the reason I’d taken voluntary redundancy was because of the dangers of working in London and so close to the American Embassy at that. I mentioned this to Gill and was surprised to discover that she too had been worried about that as well. It wasn’t something that had really occurred to me consciously before, after all, I’d been working in London during the IRA’s bombing campaign as well and that really had been worrying. But, on reflection, the worry had been there; a low level, background worry, but a worry all the same.

Something like this has been likely ever since 911 (and before, but 911 brought it to the fore). It’s terribly easy to point at the war in Iraq, our tacit support for the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, our harbouring of Salman Rushdie or whatever, but that’s not really what it’s about (although they’re not exactly helping). Who knows, maybe it’s a strike by a bunch of radical Yorkshiremen fed up with the cultural hegemony of the South East and London in particular, men who are only incidentally Muslim.

It probably is about cultural hegemony though. It is thought that Sayyid Qutb, one of the progenitors of the jihad, was moved to his loathing of the US when he went to study there and was disgusted by the licentiousness – drinking, men and women dancing together – of 1950s America. One does have to wonder how he would have reacted to 1960s America. The Jihad against the west is the reaction of a man who saw freedom and was disgusted by it, a man who had the charisma to convince others of his view.

So now what we see is the dreadful abuse of the religious instinct and we see the pain of families who were lied to by sons and lovers, and who are having to come to terms with the fact that people they were so close to turned out to be murderers. And the bombers were lied to in their turn, by men we haven’t caught yet. Suicides and murderers do not get the fast ride to paradise, they’re off to hell. Well, they’re not, they’re off to oblivion like the rest of us, but you take my point.

The ‘Big Beard in the Sky’ religion is a terrible thing. I don’t know what I like least, the threat of hell if you don’t do what the big beard (or his priests) say, or the mendacious promise of going to a better place after your dead. The promise of paradise is probably the most pernicious; after all, if you’re going to be in heaven for ever and ever, where’s the incentive for making the world you’re in a better place? Where’s the incentive for not doing something as bloody stupid as blowing yourself and any number of your fellow humans into oblivion in the sure and certain knowledge of paradise to come?

This life is all we can be sure we have. Surely the best thing we can do with it is to live it to the full.