Sarah Khan, London
I’m glad that I’m a child of the 80s. I missed out on the fabled ‘Gen x’ by a couple of years, I wasn’t a baby-boomer like my parents and for a long time it felt like I was just floating around without a label for myself and my peers. What was the unifying factor which defined us and our life experiences? The 1980s are often defined as an era of excess; big hair, big spending and the rise of ‘money, money, money’ yuppie culture. However, as I reflect over the horror of these weekend’s tragic events, as I struggle yet again to explain to my children the terrible killings which are all too visible to them, I realise that I am glad that I was a child of the 1980s because I was a child of hope.
In my formative years, as I was formulating political opinion and learning to think about the world around me, I saw positive change. As I moved into secondary school and became more aware of current events, the world seemed like it was becoming a better place. The Berlin Wall crumbled, the USSR disintegrated, apartheid was abolished and war was something which lasted only a 74 days (Falklands). There was no bogey man, no enemy at the gate and the cold war defrosted to bring us fresh contact with a part of the world which may have been unknown or feared by my parents’ generation. Even the IRA’s campaign of bombing and terror was brought to an end during my youth and former adversaries sat together to form new alliances of hope for peace in the future. The long struggle of my parents for peace and justice seemed to have concluded and good had won. Reconciliation and reunification were the buzz words of the day.
I remember vividly a few tragic events; the day the Lockerbie bomb exploded, the Warrington bombings and the Hungerford Massacre. I have a vivid memory of pulling into a petrol station one Saturday afternoon and hearing about the Hillsborough tragedy over the radio. But perhaps I can remember them because they were isolated, they were unusual and out of the norm. The tragic shootings in Dunblane was another example. I know where I was when I heard about these events because they were atypical and they also didn’t seem to directly touch my own life, save for a few minutes on the nightly news.
As the terrible events unfolded on Friday night, I began to realise that this will never be the case for my post 9-11 kids. They probably won’t remember where they were when the Charlie Hebdo attacks, the Paris Massacre, the Turkish blasts, the bombs in Beirut occurred because there are simply too many to recall. Bombings and shootings are part of their childhood, they are not isolated events, they have become the nightly news. We are bombarded by images of attacks as they happen, from the street, hours and hours of footage as the events occur flooding our senses with real fear, in real time. Furthermore, the nature of these attacks means that they are close to home, they could happen to you. We don’t know when the next attack will be and living in London, every attack makes us feel unsafe. Could we be the family eating in a restaurant when a gunman appears? Could our friend or teachers be caught up in terror at a local football game and who exactly is it that we are fighting against? Watching the news in the 1980s was mostly a lesson in hope; good prevails over injustice, justice will win. It was exciting to tune in and watch real history being made before your eyes, a history where a better future was being made. Now my children avoid the news and I’m cautious to let them watch it because it contains gore, death and destruction and sows the seeds of mistrust and suspicion.
Because nowadays the enemy is unknown. These random attacks have been committed not by guerrilla groups camped out in the jungle fighting for their cause, they are perpetrated by neighbours, school friends, colleagues; members of society who live amongst us. They are the enemy within. As a practising Muslim woman who wears a headscarf, I know that the long shadow of these events falls over me. I wear a visible symbol of adherence to Islam. Other may wonder: am I a radical, could I become a radical? No-one knows who will be next. This is why I feel humbled to be part of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. Our message for over 126 years has been that Jihad with a sword is over and violent acts are abhorrent to our faith. As a community we have mosques, schools, hospitals and clinics around the globe. Every one of them has an open door: every one is a beacon of peace. As a community we organise regular peace conferences, blood donations, charity walks and outreach to the poor, the needy and the wider community. I know with full certainty that we are a peace loving Muslim community and we harbour no hate preachers or extremists. The head of or community recently said in a BBC interview:
“You can say that there is a link between radicalisation and Muslims, but Islam is a teaching and the teachings of Islam categorically explains that there should not be any extremism.[i]”
And this is the message I will teach my children as they learn about the world around them and enter their own age of formulating political opinion. They are not passing through this phase in an age of hope, they are facing the dawning of fear. It is a fear which may well be targeted towards them, whether covertly or openly, they will need to understand that their faith does not support extremism and they will need to promote that message to doubters around them. They cannot deny that Muslims are committing barbaric acts, but they must realise that Islam is not at fault.
So I’d like to take them back to one of the messages I learnt from events in my youth, we are one community and one mankind. This message is as old as time and is clearly written in the Holy Qur’an:
‘And mankind were one community, then they differed among themselves…’[ii]
In the 1980s it seemed as though we were returning to mankind being one community. It felt like justice was being done and the wrongs of the past were being re-written. My children do not live in that era. Mankind appears to be fragmenting, waging war against itself, splitting apart what seemed to be coming together. There are some signs that we can become one community again. This is a message of hope which comes from hashtags such as #porteOuverte after the Paris attacks where locals gave shelter to strangers caught up in the terror. It’s also the hope that is seen in the hundreds of Parisians donating blood on Saturday morning. I hope that mankind will stand as one community again and they too can witness that good prevails over evil so that such tragic attacks are no longer part of their normal lives and I know it starts with me. It starts with me condemning such atrocious attacks openly and with living my life in a way that serves humanity first, before considerations of race, creed or colour.
So I’m glad I am a child of the 80s. Yes, there was bad pop music, bad fashion and bad make-up but it was an era of positive change and we could all use some of that change now. I don’t know how today’s children will define their generation but we need to work hard so that they won’t be divided by fear, war or death and that they too will witness the triumph of mutual love and humanity over terror. Let them not be defined by the failings of our times but rather by the survival of hope for a better future ahead.
[i] Interview with Caroline Wyatt, BBC News, 24 August 2015
[ii] Surah Al Baqarah, verse 214