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Love In A Time Of Terror

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The Western world was not a safe place recently. At least not on most major news channels.

The familiar became menacing: dancing at a nightclub with friends, deadly; a member of Parliament killed on the steps of a public library; even Disneyworld turned terrifying with a child-abducting alligator.

It was reminiscent of Margaret Atwood's famous 1968 Vietnam era poem, It is Dangerous to Read Newspapers
"....the names on the difficult maps go up in smoke/
I am the cause, I am a stockpile of chemical toys, my body is a deadly gadget,/I reach out in love, my hands are guns,/...
It is dangerous to read newspapers./Each time I hit a key
on my electric typewriter,....another village explodes."

This explosive fortnight was also cinematic, although there were several different movies unfolding- first a bad Hollywood jihadi terror schlock flick then Taxi Driver meets Dog Day Afternoon meets horror film devolving into reality television. Blowback as theatre of the grotesque: a troubled young man (with a father who was a CIA backed mujahidin) employed by a security firm known for its human rights abuses and the target of a failed FBI entrapment scheme murders 40 people at a gay nightclub. ...Meanwhile a young parliamentarian known for championing human rights especially those of Middle Eastern refugees dies at the hands of a mentally disturbed Neo-Nazi masquerading as a quiet, gardening exemplar of Little England, just before a racially charged referendum.

As awful as all of this was, it was only a taste of the reality in Iraq and Syria - where quotidian terror has been the new normal for quite some time. Where women politicians and hundreds of academics have been assassinated by death squads; where churches and hair salons and wedding parties and school children are bombed with impunity and their names are never mentioned on the nightly news.

Still there are encouraging signs, even in the "dangerous" newspapers, with a mass public post-iftar prayer in New York City for victims of of the Orlando shooting, and an event called Hands Across Trump Tower: Muslim and Queer Solidarity.

Can the progressive forces in the Abrahamic faiths and global politics come forward and join hands? Or will the profitable hate and war mongering businesses win out?

Let us remember in this month of Ramadan that jihad al nafs - the struggle with our own ego - the ability to remove the mask of self and experience true compassion for the other - is the "greater jihad" in Islam - according to the Prophet Mohammed. This is an aspirational goal - like "love thy neighbour as thyself" and one that is very difficult to practice. (good old Christians...leading by example.

One wonders if Orlando's tragedy will make Americans suddenly care about the plight of Iraqi LGBT people who suffered immensely after the invasion swung their society from secular to sectarian.

As Iraqi LGBT activist Ali Hili - who ran a gay nightclub in Baghdad in the 90's but now lives in exile in London after a post invasion fatwa said - interview "Our struggle as an LGBT people is the struggle of Iraqis in general. Some of the Western gay rights groups are in denial about the connection between the invasion and the empowerment of fundamentalists - and the terrible situation for gays today. But the invasion was a catastrophe that destroyed Iraq culturally, morally - in all aspects.... The agenda is to divide Iraqi society and empower fundamentalists on all sides."

Hilli's words are something to ponder as terrified civilians fleeing IS's last stand in Fallujah must now contend with mass displacement and murderous Shi'ah militias.

Will the murder of British MP Jo Cox in Yorkshire (home of Gertrude Bell, a key player in the creation of Iraq) make people mourn the death of Aquila Hashimi - the Iraqi MP also killed while doing her job in the wake of the US invasion?

In an unstable world there are few certainties - but here is one: you can't build peaceful democratic societies by bombing them, arming people to the teeth and promoting hate.

What's needed is protection for the vulnerable- across the board- for women in Iraq (and Yorkshire) for Syrian refugee children and kids in inner city slums, for LGBT people from Baghdad to Brixton, for the mentally unstable and the marginalized everywhere.

How do you do that? How do you build secular, safe states where citizens are not afraid and basic security is guaranteed?

By supporting women and children, public health and education, by creating jobs and housing - not by fetishizing gun violence or promoting and funding extremism or by casual "regime change" via aerial bombardment.

Can a new global civil rights movement evolve in the face of so much petty fascism and divisive rhetoric? Perhaps, but while we're waiting why not commit your own acts of DIY counter-terror- like Mexican artist Pedro Reyes who collected guns in his crime ridden city, and melted them into tree-planting shovels.

The best response to the madness is to stop contributing to it. Small acts of kindness, reconciliation and solidarity lead to larger political leaps.

Will our individual acts make a difference in the world? Maybe not. Jo Cox's did. But it's always an existential gamble. Like Camus' Sisyphus we have to be prepared to roll that huge rock up the hill everyday, knowing full well that it will roll back down again and the next day there will be more horror headlines. If we're lucky we can even do it with joy.

So let Orlando and Yorkshire be a call to arms - to end arms - and to join hands. Not to give up and give in to fear and nihilism and smallness. Let's make our hearts huge enough to contain what this week has wrought and like the Mexican artist transform it into something good.

Or as Leonard Cohen wrote for his seminal 1971 album Songs of Love and Hate, between the tv news and your tiny pain, once again, once again, love calls you by your name.