A few days ago, when I was composing my post below on Charlie Hebdo, I was toying with the idea of including this link to a feature written by the philosopher Roger Scruton, but even though I thought the piece was excellent, I decided against mentioning it because to do so would have required making my post much longer than it was, if I were to do the ideas and principles it contained any real justice.
All the same, I was reminded of Roger Scruton’s thoughts again when I learned today of the controversy surrounding Boris Johnson in light of the cancellation of his proposed visit to the West Bank. My initial reaction was to think that Boris’s description of those with whom he disagreed on the subject of the boycott of Israeli goods as a “bunch of corduroy-jacketed lefty academics” was extraordinarily mild by the region’s standards, as some of the people there regularly speak of their opponents in the most unpleasant and apocalyptic terms, while some of them murder each other on a depressingly regular basis and have done for decades.
I also thought it was a shame that Boris’s planned meetings with various young Palestinians didn’t go ahead, if only because those who disagreed with him would have had ample opportunity to vigorously argue their case with him in the full glare of the media spotlight, while if anyone had made a particularly telling or eloquent point, the whole thing would have been around the world in seconds via social media, leaving the onus upon Boris to reply to these points or else concede that he had been mistaken.
However, it quickly dawned on me that it was all very well for me to think along these enlightened lines here in Britain, far removed in space from a region where such intense passions apparently dominate all discourse, but that I could not reasonably expect others to conduct themselves differently when they’re living in an environment so far removed in so many ways from mine.
Furthermore, I’m well aware that many people in Britain hold the most passionate views on a wide range of subjects, such as immigration, benefits, abortion, the death penalty, blood sports, membership of the EU and foreign wars, to name just a few. As a general rule, fatalities don’t arise from such disputes in Britain, but they’re certainly not unheard-of by any means; as recently as October, two Air France bosses narrowly escaped being lynched after a volatile meeting at the company headquarters in Roissy, so it’s clear to me from this and from other violent confrontations that the West doesn’t hold some kind of monopoly on civilised engagements.
This BBC feature on the potential ability of psychological methods to help end long-running conflicts interested me greatly, not least because I don’t think I’d ever heard the notion of ‘sacred values’ articulated and explained in such a way. The description of these things immediately put me in mind of the argument within the Church of England concerning female bishops, something that had dragged on for centuries, so as we’re demonstrably incapable of resolving issues such as this in a timely fashion, with due consideration for the passionately-held beliefs of all concerned, then it’s very hard to imagine how the differences of opinion as far as the Middle East is concerned will be amicably settled any time soon, sadly.
“Why, this is Hell, nor am I out of it”.