Belfast Telegraph

Words of bereaved father give humanity real hope

By Kevin Myers

Great men — truly great men — become great because they make us think. Of all human activities, thinking is the one that most defines us as humans, yet it's one that we do surprisingly seldom.

Indeed, we often behave and talk as if we are incapable of thought and all we can do is to repeat previous speeches, rethink old thoughts and re-enact earlier deeds. That is why we need great men.

Tariq Jahan is clearly such a man. His words after the murder of his son last week in Birmingham were awesomely, chillingly, momentously, powerful.

On the page, they mean almost nothing: “Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this? Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise go home.”

But enunciated in his own very personal manner, drawing on deep personal wells of dignity, with a voice that was deep and calm and wise, they spoke to the soul.

In one way, it's simple. Events such as the appalling scenes across much of England last week either confirm you in your pre-existing ideological beliefs, or they cause you to reflect.

I said here last week — and I still believe — that Britain has raised a generation of fatherless boys who have no role models; and I believed — and I still believe — that the Afro-Caribbean community in Britain is particularly prone to this social trend.

Others have other theories: that the riots were caused by alienation, by cutbacks, by anger at MPs' expenses, by poverty, by police brutality, by racism.

These might have some role to play in what happened, but my own feelings are that what we saw was primarily anthropological, rather than political.

Suffice to say, the response to my column was entirely non-cerebral, emotive, insulting, personalised and dogmatic. But, by the end of last week, even Afro-Caribbean leaders in London were freely admitting there were serious problems with young males in their communities.

Only fools, ideologues and bigots treat the daily unfolding of human events as proof of what they already believed. No one is so wise as to have answers in advance to all events.

The one-theory-fits-all might be fine in classroom theory, but it doesn't work in real life. Humans are too fallible and too vulnerable to the unscientific: hence the power of Tariq Jahan and likewise that of Gordon Wilson who, after the Enniskillen bombing 24 years ago, held his dying daughter Marie in his arms.

As bereaved fathers who each cradled a dying child, they spoke to all our hearts with a chiding humanity and a paralysing forgiveness.

Not all are so prone to such humanity, nor moved by forgiveness: after Enniskillen, the IRA war went on for another nine years.

The dogmatic, the adamantine, the certain: they already know and can be moved only by those they already agree with.

How striking it is that so many of Ireland's liberal elite have proved to be incapable of the generosity of even Stephen Lennon, leader of the perfectly revolting English Defence League, who said of Tariq Jahan's words: “That was so f***ing dignified. We're going to hold a minute's silence for that boy ...”

Hope springs eternal wherever the human heart hears goodness and is moved to goodness in return.

I have written many times about the worldwide struggle against Islamic fundamentalism. But, upon reflection, I realise I have not written enough about the Tariq Jahans of the Muslim world, who daily lay down their lives to protect the decent values of their own societies.

The policemen in Pakistan who face beheading if captured; the Afghan special forces who died with the Seals in the Chinook and whom I barely mentioned; and the Iraqi government agents who, if captured by al-Qaida, were slowly scalded to death.

Such men are the real heroes, for they would not return to the safety of a Topeka, or an Abilene, but some village where they and their children could be taken, night and day, now and for the rest of their lives.

Let us remember that the frontline in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism is invariably held by those unsung, unfeted Muslims.

And the frontline in the struggle for decency, law and honour in England last week was held by an upstanding English gentleman by the name of Tariq Jahan.

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