Way back in 2002, the BBC’s Newsnight programme ran a report on a siege in Bethlehem. A well-known Christmas carol swirled around in my head as I watched. Later that night I re-wrote some of the words. Plus ça change. Sixteen years later the horror of Gaza is playing out on our screens.
One of the reasons I’ve neglected the blog for longer than I planned is that I can’t get my head around human cruelty. In Gaza. In Iraq and Syria. Or in any of the less high profile war zones around the world. I don’t know how to write about that kind of heartlessness. The death of children. Life-changing injuries. Permanent trauma. All accepted as mere collateral damage in pursuit of political ends. It makes no sense to me.
Often religion takes the blame. Protagonists offer prayers to their own particular image of god before embarking on orgies of slaughter. Politicians whip up fear of those who believe something different from ‘us’. Potential recruits are lured by promises of revenge on the ‘infidel’. Publicity seekers accuse presidents of secret adherences. Presidents refuse to condemn human rights abuses, because of the religious convictions of the perpetrators. Small wonder so many people believe religion to be the root of all evil.
To be honest, that kind of religiosity has a lot to answer for. In promoting bigotry and hatred. And in putting good, kind, compassionate people off the whole idea of religion. After all, who’d want to hook up with a vengeful monster on a mission to condemn the majority of its own creation to perdition? Giles Fraser writes if this is real religion, then you can count me as an atheist. I couldn’t agree more. If the gods of Fox News, Benjamin Netanyahu and ISIS are real, I’d rather rot in hell for eternity than spend one day in a heaven presided over by any of them.
The trouble is I’m stubbornly convinced Jesus is more present on the streets of Gaza, Amerli or Irbil, or on the slopes of Mount Sinjar, than in the lives of those who wage war in the name of any religion. Which is why I offer the following reworking of a song without apology. Despite the fact it’s still four months till Christmas.
O broken child in Gaza’s dust,
how still we see you lie.
Above your deep and dreamless sleep
the drones ignite the sky.
Now, through the dark streets roaring,
gunfire asserts its might.
Your childhood tears, nightmares and fears
are here to stay tonight.
O, guns and bombs together
proclaim this dead child’s worth,
explode and sing to God the King
of peace throughout the earth.
Once Christ was born of Mary.
Now gathered all above,
the angels weep to see you sleep,
your mother mourn for love.
How solemnly, self-righteously
the rains of death descend.
Maimed body parts and broken hearts
make hell without an end.
They cheered the missile’s landing,
applauded the plume of flame.
Where innocence is no defence,
a child becomes fair game.
As parents kneel in rubble,
we bend our heads to pray.
We close our eyes and murmur sighs,
then turn and walk away.
Meanwhile, the bloodied angels
wail with the falling shells,
till curfew’s night puts out their light,
and Jesus groans in hell.