Countless people across the world ate a sombre breakfast today as they received news of the murderous attacks in Paris. In Mysuru, we were no different. Deaths by violence are tragic wherever they occur. I dislike the fact that my reaction to the machine gun attacks in Paris is different to my reaction to suicide bombings in Lebanon or drone strikes in Pakistan, but it is a result of proximity. I know that part of Paris and I like the music of the Eagles of Death Metal. I could easily see myself or, more frightening, my grown up children amongst the victims in a familiar social and geographical environment. Today I have a palpable fear for the safety and well being of those I love and care about. Instilling that unease in millions of people was one of the tactical aims of the attackers.
The attacks were not acts of indiscriminate hatred. Terrorism is a terrible thing, but it is tactic with carefully thought-through objectives. Like other terrorist groups before them, the jihadists have a strategic aim to indirectly control the behaviour of Western governments, to provoke excessive counter measures and to drive populations into polarised conflict. My Facebook feed is crowded with statements of solidarity with the French people and warnings against reactions of intolerance. There is also one Facebook ‘friend’ who wants human rights to be suspended and chemical weapons to be deployed against ISIS. As a Londoner who lived through the IRA campaign of the 1970s, who saw people close to me seriously injured and who worked at the receiving hospital for the casualties from the Woolwich pub bombing, such a response is profoundly depressing; it is a result for the logic of terror.
Mysuru is far from Europe and the Middle East, but India has its own problems with communal tensions. It seems to me that the conflict engulfing the Middle East, and increasingly affecting Europe, does not have origins in problems with religious or communal co-existence. Like the Cold War, the ideological rhetoric of key participants belies more profound underlying economic and military factors. The conflict is, however, exacerbating social tensions of all types everywhere. Luckily, hope does not die so easily.
This afternoon we went to V-LEAD and we had a meeting with Dr Balu. As a medical student he started the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement (SVYM) with colleagues. This has grown to become a large and highly respected NGO with a presence across India. The organisation understands health to be grounded in social conditions, and that it is impossible to improve health without addressing inequalities. This means that health organisations need to operate from the level of local communities all the way up to policy making. The Centre for Mental Health and Society has a similar view in the UK, and this is set out in our book on Mental Health and Poverty. See Dr Balu in a short video on educational programmes and global citizenship.
Dr Balu has some success in influencing policy in India. He is a quietly impressive man, who has probably enhanced his influence, if not his popularity, by declining to become a politician. He balances realism with hopefulness. On a day of grim news, it was an encouraging meeting. Our Tropical Health Education Trust funded project is proceeding well, but it is important to think about next steps now.
SVYM is an organisation with a spiritual philosophy. I have blogged previously about my involvement in controversy over spirituality in clinical practice in the UK. When I debated with Lord Carey, former Archbishop of Canterbury, at the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Spirituality and Psychiatry Special Interest Group in 2010, I could not find and appropriate quotation for my final slide, so I wrote one myself. Here it is:
“We are in a transitional epoch where an old world of separate nations, classes, ideas, religions and cultures, and relatively stable power structures, is rapidly moving towards a complex global network of free movement, free communication and intermingling. The result during the transition is chaos in all aspects of human affairs, characterised by instability, war and fear for the future.
Religion and science are both based upon rationalist systems of thought. They are trying to retain a role in a world where the central concept of rationalism is under threat. New intellectual alliances are being formed in the struggle, and new schisms are appearing.
Throughout recorded history progressive thinkers have adhered to an overarching value: that human beings share much more than divides them. I continue to believe that the future of humanity will be secure if we can agree on what we share and accommodate to our differences.
This is a huge task that has to be managed at the individual and personal level, and it touches on the true nature of tolerance.”