I wrote this statement for the SEC website yesterday:
The heartfelt thoughts and prayers of people in Scotland and all over the world are with the people of Nice and France today. Once again it has been demonstrated that ruthless killers who care nothing for their own safety can in seconds kill, maim and destroy – and take away the well-being of those who find themselves witnesses to terrible events. Civilised societies invite us to come together, to enjoy and to celebrate. But we become hopelessly vulnerable as we do so.
It is also part of a civilised society that we should try to understand what gives rise to such barbarism – not to sympathise but to understand. Abhorrence numbs our minds. But unless we struggle to move beyond that abhorrence, we shall never grasp even the edges of what this means – and we shall never defeat it.
We hold in our prayers today those who have been bereaved and injured, members of the emergency services and medical staff. We also prayerfully hold in our hearts those who carry the responsibilities of political leadership. For they are responsible both for the safety of their citizens and for the protection of the values of our open societies
Always in these moments one struggles with an instinctive reaction which seeks to dehumanise those responsible. In effect, the horror is so great that it can only be contemplated and explained by saying that it is beyond explanation. Hence the tendency during the years of violence in Northern Ireland to refer to ‘mindless violence’ when it was nothing of the kind. ‘Mindless’ could not possibly mean that the people who committed it were not responsible. Moreover the roots of such violence were plain to see in a deeply troubled society.
In his Orwell Lecture in 2015, Archbishop Rowan Williams criticised sections of the media for ‘dehumanising’ Islamic State. Instead, journalists should ‘attempt to understand our enemies’.
‘Somehow the obstinate attempt to make sense of those who are determined to make no sense of me is one of the things that divides civilisation from barbarism, faith from emptiness. You have to try.’