A day of contrasts
I failed to keep up with my writing challenge towards the end of term, as seeing friends and celebrating took over. But I came home yesterday; a day whose events require some sort of response.
It is hard to know what to say. With terror attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France, it was a horrible day for many. Islamic State, which claimed responsibility for the attack in Kuwait and which is possibly linked to the other two, is succeeding in terrorism’s ultimate goal, the creation of fear. It is also succeeding in dominating the agenda; not a single newspaper today led with the EU leaders’ summit and the summit itself was knocked off course. Critical issues such as the Mediterranean migrant and Greek debt crises became second-rate issues, and David Cameron can forget his ridiculous renegotiation agenda.
But it is Tunisia, once the beacon of the Arab spring, that will suffer the most. It’s smooth transition to democracy after the 2011 revolution was short-lived; the elected government was forced to hand over power to a non-partisan coalition following the assassination of several prominent opposition figures. Now, despite the country’s long history of moderate Muslim belief and secular government, Islamist groups are taking hold – and bringing terror with them. Of all the countries whose citizens have gone to join IS, Tunisia’s contingent is by far the largest and it doesn’t have the infrastructure to stop them returning. In January several gunmen attacked the famous Bardo museum, and yesterday 37 tourists were killed on a beach. The government is inherently unstable, and because of the increase in violence Tunisian’s fear a reduction in tourist numbers, the backbone of the economy.
If Tunisia falls apart, it will just be one of several countries in the region. The chaos spreads from Libya across to Syria and Iraq and down to Yemen. IS is quickly becoming a regional and perhaps global threat – attacks from Australia to France have been linked to the group. And as yet, no one knows how their growing influence can be countered.
Watching the news yesterday, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is going to hell in a handcart. Indeed, I am partially convinced that it is; a sentiment I express regularly. And yet, on a day of supremely bad news, we also got what is possibly the best news of the year. After a decades-long struggle for LGBT rights in the US, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage is mandated by the constitution itself. And with that, gay marriage became legal in every state in America, red and blue alike. Perhaps as special as the granting of equal rights to LGBT people was the reasoning used by the judges, who found that the combination of the ‘equal protection’ and ‘due process’ clauses of the 14th Amendment to find a right to enjoy the privileges of marriage regardless of sexual orientation – basically ruling that gay couples are exactly the same as straight ones in the eyes of the law. Same-sex couples simply deserve “equal dignity”.
Such positivity amid so much misery was something to see and perhaps was a cause for optimism. But the contrast between the day’s events only served to highlight the two worlds that exist. In one, people are routinely killed by groups seeking to return life to something resembling the 11th century, where the ideas of human rights and democracy do not exist. In the other, there is a continual if slow push for progress and, at least in theory, the values of tolerance and equality are predominant. The question is how we can best help those left behind and make sure more people can celebrate a judicial ruling rather than mourn the victims of terror.