Alan Henning, the taxi driver and married father-of-two from Salford who was recently murdered in the Middle East, has been described in the most glowing terms imaginable by everyone who knew him and by a great many who had never met him. All these people have expressed their views and their emotions at some length, so by way of trying to do some justice to a someone who was patently a wonderful human being, I’ll try to articulate my own thoughts on him.
I would have been proud to have called Alan Henning my friend and I would have considered myself blessed had he been my neighbour; I can say this as an absolute fact because I’ve been fortunate enough in my time to have met many others just like him and to have profited greatly from such a meeting. I’m sure that most of us have a wide enough range of friends and acquaintances we can call upon for help or support when we have to; most of our social circle, whether they be online or else people we know in the ‘real’ world, will readily enough help out in some way, either by posting a message of support on some social media, by phoning us and having a chat, by writing a letter or an email, by lending us a few quid or else by assisting in any one of innumerable small ways in an effort to to make our lives slightly more bearable.
Alan Henning and his kind, however, are of an altogether different breed. They form the absolute bedrock not just of British society, but I would guess of every society, civilisation and culture on Earth and I would go so far as to say that we could not survive or endure for long without them. I’ve read a lot about Alan over the last few weeks, and every last thing I’ve seen told me of a humorous, easy-going, tolerant guy who was generous with his time and with his skills, without requiring anything whatsoever in return aside from the pleasure and satisfaction of having helped out his fellow man in their time of need. Not only are such people vital to every society, but they’re also an integral part of every sub-division of our cultures, because I cannot think of a single place I’ve worked over the last 40 years or so that hasn’t benefited from the presence of such a kindly, generous, patient and understanding figure, while I can think of more than a few places that have lost their souls and fallen apart because no such person was on the payroll.
I’m sure that everyone reading this can think of an occasion when they’ve considered themselves blessed to have met one of our world’s Alan Hennings. They’re the person who stops to help you when you’ve broken down at night in the pouring rain, lost, alone and without the faintest idea of what to do for the best. They’re the person who calls at your home when things are tough and when you feel you’ve been abandoned by everyone else, so they either buy you a takeaway, a few beers, give you a tenner or quite possibly all three. When you’ve suffered some injustice and everyone else you know is either unable to help or else is bored by or else indifferent to your tale of woe, this is the person who answers your letter, phone call or email and takes you seriously, immediately offering to help as best they can without any thought of repayment. I suspect that, like the Good Samaritan, these people form some kind of archetype and luckily for us all, they’re virtually everywhere.
As such, I’m sure we all have some story of such a person, so I’ll just briefly present one of mine. A few years ago, I was walking my dog one evening when he discovered a cygnet that had become separated from its family, but without describing the locale, I’ll simply say that it was immediately obvious to me that the other swans were literally nowhere near and that this creature’s life could be measured in hours at best. I waded through a muddy, weed-filled channel and eventually caught the cygnet, then our arrival at my home a few minutes later caused an inevitable commotion, as my dog was barking and I was covered in mud, soaked through with freezing water and muttering loudly about the state of affairs in which we all found ourselves.
One of my neighbours came across the lane separating my home from his and I was able to swiftly convey the circumstances to him, as well as telling him that my son had phoned the RSPCA for someone to come to collect the creature, so all was just about as well as it could be under the circumstances. We all knew, however, that in an ideal world, this cygnet would be reunited with its mourning and distressed family, so without me saying a solitary word, my neighbour simply dropped everything he was doing and everything he’d planned to do in the comfort of his own home for the rest of the evening and set out to cover as many miles of the local waterways as he could in search of the swans before night fell.
No one needed to ask him or to drop any kind of hint, because nothing of this kind was needed – he just went right ahead and did what he could, at some inconvenience to himself, simply on the off-chance that he could make life better for a lost creature and the family it had become separated from. As it happens, he was unsuccessful, but this was not through lack of trying on his part, while I mention this story merely to illustrate the certain fact that Alan Hennings’s generous and selfless nature is to be found everywhere in the souls of men and women, for those lucky enough to encounter people like these around them.
Given the circumstances of the murder of Alan Henning, it’s inevitable that some people will come to regard their Muslim neighbours here in Britain with suspicion and perhaps fear, attributing to them some of the characteristics of Alan’s killers for reasons I needn’t spell out. People will believe what they choose to, so I’m not going to attempt to argue something that I think is self-evident from all the emotive interviews I’ve seen involving all Alan Henning’s Muslim friends and supporters.
I’ll simply point out that if you regard Alan Henning as one of the best people that Britain’s ever produced, as do I, then it follows that he in his turn must have held an identical view of his Muslim friends and neighbours that he chose to accompany on no less than four occasions to Syria with their aid convoys. Alan’s sheer generosity of spirit to everyone he met is something that’s shone through all I’ve read and heard about him, so while I would never presume to speak on his behalf, I strongly suspect he would like the rest of us to entertain a similarly warm, charitable and unconditional view of our fellow man, whatever form he or she might take as they walk among us.
“Can I see another’s woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another’s grief,
And not seek for kind relief?”