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This morning I was called a ‘terrorist’ just outside Sainsbury’s in Lancaster. I am writing this on Saturday 25th May, days after the attack in Woolwich.
No harm was done. I was simply walking with my housemate when a man suddenly stopped to call me a terrorist. After a moment of disbelief we walked on, assuming this person might have had mental issues. Others might feel otherwise but I recount this incident as minor, petty and quite unfounded considering that if you vaguely knew about my British-Filipino ethnicity, it can be accepted that I would be less of a target for this association in comparison to our South Asian brothers and sisters; also note that this comparison reveals my Catholic faith. This man knew nothing about me but felt he had the right to label me a ‘terrorist.’ No matter how much I would refuse to believe it, I cannot deny that I was discriminated against based on a fleeting encounter. Now, I wonder if this growing despise for religion is an excuse for racism.
Resisting the modern-day urge to share this encounter on social media made me reconsider how we deal with the seriously worrying aspects of our society today. Sure enough, if I had posted this incident on Facebook or Twitter, there would have been a stream of reactions. Mind that I am not seeking sympathy by writing this; instead I simply point out how this incident is indicative of our loss of perspective despite being interconnected like never before and news of worldwide atrocities reaching us in an instant. Unlike some journalists today, I am not writing this to criticise society but because we forgot to criticise ourselves. Of course, I refer to that now eroding moral conscience. Most of all, I now carry this guilt because if on another day I did not meet this man and if I had avoided this encounter, then I would have continued avoiding this issue.
At least I now know where I stand with that man who called me a terrorist. Upon hearing the news of the Woolwich attack, I was first shocked and horrified at the loss of life, the act committed and the victim. The soldier killed and his family are above all, what should remain as the focus of our thoughts. Yet the egotistical human complex dictates that we inevitably relate this to our self-centred frames of awareness. By that I mean, we ask how this makes us feel rather than the suffering others might, immediately expressing our feelings on extremism, on both sides of this current conflict. We immediately share our reactions, our noble sense of self awareness for a short while. My initial shock was followed by this absurd sense of fear that someone like myself is not yet totally immune to racism. And what of it, my ‘absurd’ fear subsequently manifested insidiously today. It is peculiar that I expected this racism in the first place after almost a decade of kindness that the citizens of this great land have shown me.
Remember that word perspective. We realise the unlikelihood of causing change from the rural North West. So, there is nothing to be won then. I should really just encourage everyone to abandon the discussion and operate as normal even though we are faced by a fundamental setback to social progress. We should probably just return to work and enjoy ourselves, because after all we are here for our personal goals. But, take what you will from the renowned Polish sociologist Zygmant Bauman, once an anti-semitic refugee, who wrote that “Happiness has become a private affair; and a matter for here and now.” I sincerely hope that this reminds us all of our noble aspirations to serve the greater good and to not be ashamed of that.
Ultimately, what distinguishes that man from the majority is his submission to the fear instilled in him by the dangerous ‘terrorists’ and the ‘bigots’ of this conflict who fail to see their synonymous extremism. Indeed, by continuing to live life to the full we resist this tyranny. Be proud of the British solidarity that is characterised by calm and restraint from hysteria, but I ask that you heed my warning above that although we fight the forces by not living our lives in fear, we do not turn our peaceful protest into apathy. Perhaps I am preaching to the converted but I represent those for whom retributions have been and will be far worse.