Thought For The Day – Love Thy Neighbour – 7th Jul 2020

15 years ago today, terrorists detonated bombs on three London Underground trains, and a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. As well as the suicide bombers, 52 people were killed, and over 700 injured. It was Britain’s deadliest terrorist attack since Lockerbie in 1988.

Our shock and anger in the wake of these attacks galvanised the UK government’s efforts to stop them ever happening again. A year later they published their controversial Prevent strategy, which has been widely condemned in England as fuelling islamophobia. But I’ve undergone the Prevent training both sides of the border, and I learned a lot from the Scottish approach.

The material Police Scotland uses describes the route to extremism through case studies drawn not only from religious extremism, but also showing similar patterns in the far right, in sectarianism, amongst gangs, and in any grooming situation. And while the stories were shocking, paradoxically they gave me hope, because the approach of Scottish Prevent is to show that all kinds of extremism have a similar pattern. It starts with a vulnerable person who feels isolated and misunderstood, then they’re brought into an inner circle by people who make them feel special – at last they belong: they have a tribe and a purpose. And this story lies behind almost every atrocity that’s ever been committed. Loneliness can be deadly.

This gave me hope, because it’s something we can all help with. Every community has the excluded, the misunderstood, the lonely and the confused. One of the miracles of lockdown is that in many places we’ve got to know our neighbours better, and made deliberate efforts to seek them out and check they’re safe. We’re even smiling a lot more at each other in the street, to escape the embarrassment caused by giving everyone we meet such a wide berth. Let’s keep making these connections; and perhaps we could include more people in our networks as we gradually emerge from our Covid hibernation. No public policy initiative can create belonging in the places where we live: only we can do that, by truly loving our neighbours.

Other Thoughts

I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website. To find my other pieces click here go to my Thought For The Day index page.

Leave a Reply