Images that stick in my mind

Out of the chaos of the past weeks, three images fix themselves in my mind.

The first: a fragment from the Sunday night news. A young boy, sitting at the bedside of his injured, bandaged brother declares that ‘they’ should have to suffer like this. ‘They’ should have to pay. I don’t even remember now whether the boy was Israeli or Lebanese.

The second: the blackened, pocked face of Australian, John Tulloch, as he emerged last year from London’s Edgware Road Tube Station, swathed in an incongruous, violet emergency blanket. His bare chest is vulnerable and pink, his head bandage held in place by a blue silk tie. From his suit buttons dangles a green label: PRIORITY 3.

The third: a view from a balcony. A Jewish friend forwards me an email from an Israeli woman, Gila Svirsky, who has just bought an apartment under construction in Nahariya, five miles south of the Lebanese border. ‘The sweetest little town on the Mediterranean coast’, she calls it. But now, ‘had the balcony already been built, we would have been able to watch the Israeli navy array itself along the coast, laying siege to Lebanon.’

If only the boy could be educated by the woman. If only the man could mentor both boys.

John TullochGila Svirsky has seen the damage done by Hezbollah’s Katyusha rockets. She has also seen the Israeli shelling of Gaza and Lebanon. She condones neither. ‘As if shelling is sure to make the Hezbollah leaders remorseful and let our boys come home.’

She and the boy might ask one another who is meant by ‘they’. Given time, perhaps they might make a tentative start on ‘we’.

John Tulloch has spent his own time lying in hospital, bandaged and vertiginous, with glass shrapnel extruding from his body. Now he has turned the experience into a first person account. A professor of media and sociology, Tulloch has written One Day in July (published by Little, Brown), a book in which he refuses to be seen just as a victim. Just as resolutely, he won’t be co-opted into the ‘war on terror’.

The most moving part of Tulloch’s book is its postscript, ‘Another, better day’, addressed to Mohammad Sidique Khan, the young Englishman who sat briefly across the carriage from Tulloch before detonating his bomb. Tulloch talks about his several memories of Khan, including a photograph and description of him as a teaching assistant in Beeston: ‘gently spoken, endlessly patient and hugely popular with children’.

Elsewhere Tulloch invokes the words of Nobel Prize-winning English playwright, Harold Pinter, ‘unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation.’ And he remembers other, allied kinds of obligation met by those who helped him at Edgware Road, and who went on helping throughout his recovery, not out of nationalism but out of professional commitment and complex human decency. ‘That, too, is the determination of citizenship’, writes Tulloch. And to Mohammad Sidique Khan, ‘You could have been part of that citizenship, which I think you once thought hard about when you were a learning mentor in Beeston. Instead, you choose to kill us. That ... is not the way to another, better day.’

Gila SvirskyThe young man at his brother’s bedside and calling for vengeance needs such counsel while he is still alive to profit from it.

Tulloch and Svirsky are both scathing about opportunistic patriotism, about media manipulation and the politics of fear. Tulloch, as a media specialist, is particularly well placed to analyse spin, to look behind simplistic explanations of complex human actions, to examine motive. He notes the current resurgence of interest in Greek drama in Britain. These are plays, he observes, that don’t permit easy ‘them and us’ explanations of human action, plays which examine the tragic consequences of generational violence and the futility of the all-too-human reflex of ‘They should pay’.

The better way? It is to be found in the companionship of ordinary Londoners who helped restore John Tulloch’s health and confidence. It is embodied in my Jewish friend who passes on Gila Svirsky’s belief that her corner of the Mediterranean will again hold sailboats not warships. It’s modest, implacable and we can all manage it.

 

 

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