It has been, by any standards, a horrible period for news. The indiscriminate killing of people enjoying their holiday in Tunisia, the awful slaughter in Syria, which British people are leaving our shores to go and join, and just this morning more people killed in Nigeria. These are just the ones I can think of - no doubt other atrocities, those which don't happen to catch the newsmen's eyes, have happened away from the gaze of the western media and are therefore hidden from us.
With so much suffering going on, so much inhumanity, it's tempting to simply close your eyes to it, to disregard the news completely. I've never done that, but I increasingly understand those who do. To do so, though, is to miss other stuff that can cast some light on what good people are capable of. I thought it may be an opportune time to add my own celebration to the life of a man who thoroughly refused to let hatred win. His achievements took a long time to come to light as a result of his reticence and modesty, and even as he died recently at the deservedly ripe old age of 106, the events I've mentioned above rather subsumed his story.
Sir Nicholas Winton didn't come to any kind of national attention until around 1988, oddly enough on That's Life (there's a reference for the teenagers...). He'd kept quiet about his efforts to get children, hundreds of them, out of what was then Czechoslovakia and into Britain, taking them from under the noses of a Nazi occupier intent on murdering them. This is not a phrase you'll ever see or hear again on these pages, I suspect, but have a look at part of the episode of That's Life which brought him to national attention.
He dismissed his own efforts for the rest of his life, instead claiming others took the real risks. His modesty no doubt included a grain of truth in that the other people involved in his operations deserve to be recognised as he was, but to return to my original point, this was a man who refused to let hatred win, who did something amazing and inspirational rather than think he faced an overwhelming, impossible task. It's a shame there aren't more stories about this type of good deed around, but regrettably, they don't sell as many newspapers, they don't make people tune in to watch the news specially – generally it's guns, killing and misery that'll do that.
Tomorrow, Tuesday 7th, is the anniversary of just such an event of the type that sends the media into a frenzy – the bombings in London which killed 52 people ten years ago. This was, of course, a perfect illustration of what can happen when people become so blinded by hate that they lose their humanity. But even in the aftermath of that kind of atrocity, there are still stories of incredible courage, of bonds formed out of the adversity, of people helping each other without regard for religion, colour, etc.
I think, so far at least, that typifies your average Brit's response to this kind of thing – 7/7 or Tunisia, 9/11, Lee Rigby, Charlie Hebdo, whatever. Usually, in discussions about this, what I hear is pretty measured, understanding and accepting that you can't judge a whole creed on the actions of a very few. So far, the usual response is a determination to carry on as normally as possible, a refusal to let these actions achieve their aims, and an unwillingness to tar everybody with the same broad brush.
How many stories, though, will it take before open and inflammatory anti-Islamic sentiment becomes an accepted response to another atrocity? The recent support for UKIP and, before that, an increase in the BNP vote, suggest the bar is moving downward, toward the point where it'll be acceptable to express anti-Islamic, rather than anti-terrorist, sentiment in print. There are clearly individuals who will regard any Muslim as culpable, just as Islamic extremist terrorists regards any Westerner as fair game – there have already been attacks on completely innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – and it appears that some of those individuals are getting into politics, trying to legitimise this sort of response, or at least its spoken expression.
It'd be a slippery slope indeed if that started to become the norm. We would, for sure, be handing those few nutters exactly what they want. Sir Nicholas Winton's life stands as an example to all of us that hatred can be denied its ends, if we stand up to it. RIP, sir.