I’ve just come back from a break in France. It’s over fifty years since my first visit as a school boy, and I’ll never forget the shock of seeing the French police armed with guns as a matter of course. This year it was very different, not only were there armed police visible, but there was a large number of soldiers patrolling the streets as well. Given this week’s incident in London I suppose we’ll be seeing them in England as well.
Of course, we’ll never know how effective is the presence of armed people on our streets. We have to be vigilant at all times, the terrorist just has to be effective once, but does the presence or absence of guns have much effect? In the last two attacks, at Orly and Westminster the malefactors have been shot dead after the events were launched. The presence of armed police did not stop or inhibit the evil intentions. The perpetrators must have known the likely outcome, their deaths, before they started; and thought that a price worth paying.
It appears to me that there are two possible answers to the problem. The first is based on the saying: ‘If you want peace, prepare for war’. So we increase the number of armed people on the streets and tighten security. That is simple and easy, but ignores the root of the problem. Terrorists always feel on the margin, excluded from society and power and money. (The middle class never revolt!) Therefore, the other answer is that efforts must be made to bring people together, to empower those who feel powerless, and to make sure that poverty is combatted. This requires far more thought and effort than purchasing more guns and bullets, but is the way to a permanent solution.
In my parishes we’ve got people from about 60 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe. All have come here to work, so that they and their families can live in peace. Some have come via other European countries in which they, and their children, did not feel welcome. They want to work, and they want their children to succeed. The children have high ambitions, and our schools encourage them. They feel part of our community and want to contribute to this country. The point is that the more immigrants are integrated, and feel part of the body politic, the less inclined they will be to attack it. One does not wreck institutions of which one is part. Neighbours are not killed, for they are not the enemy.
Jesus came on earth to reconcile all creation with God. The work he carried out was to establish unity, not division (see Col. 1.20). As part of his Church we share the privilege if continuing his work in our lives. Division and separation are signs of the devil’s work. It is by our working for unity that evil will be overcome.