Paul Vallely: A better way to respond to hatred

07 December 2018

We can learn from a Syrian teenager’s concern about bullying, says Paul Vallely

iStock

AFTER reading about Jamal, the 15-year-old Syrian refugee bullied in a school in Huddersfield, I looked up the incident on Twitter, to see the video of the incident. There, I came across the name of the bully, and that of his mother and brother, and followed the links to their social media pages. It is difficult to work out what shocked me most.

The incident itself was disturbing enough. A large white youth puts his arm around the neck of a slight Syrian boy, hurls him to the ground, pummels him, then pours water up his nose in a mock waterboarding. Heartbreakingly, Jamal walks away after being assaulted, his arms limp with sadness. In a separate incident, Jamal’s sister is also bullied, and has her hijab torn away.

The lesson to draw from this, the Prime Minister said, lies in the outpouring of anger and support for Jamal after the incident went viral. This, Mrs May said, showed the “real spirit of the British people”. That is a comforting thought. Most people were horrified and ashamed that a family who fled war-torn Homs and sought refuge in the supposed safety of the UK should encounter such vile prejudice. Public donations to an internet fund-raising page for Jamal have topped £150,000.

We cannot be too sanguine. Jamal, who has been bullied repeatedly over the past two years, appealed for help three weeks before the incident by emailing the school authorities, West Yorkshire Police, Kirklees Education Services, OFSTED, and the Department for Education. No action was taken. His family have decided to use the £150,000 to move away from Huddersfield. Who can blame them?

But there was another significant public response to the incident. The Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts of the bully and his family have been deluged by an outraged torrent of abuse. These vigilantes can claim provocation: the bully’s mother was a convicted racist, and his brother was imprisoned after a Britain First rally. But the bilious and violent language of the attacks was disturbing. Its unquestioning self-righteousness, sadly, reflects another aspect of the “real spirit of the British people”.

Advertisement

Of course, the bully, too, is a victim — of his dysfunctional family, and political opportunists such as Tommy Robinson, formerly of the English Defence League, who swiftly posted false counter-accusations against Jamal. But the bully has also been bolstered in his bigotry by the hostile environment of more mainstream politicians, such as Nigel Farage, who, in the Leave campaign, stood before a long queue of Middle Eastern refugees beneath a banner: “Breaking Point.”

Turning this bullying yob and his obnoxious family into scapegoats avoids the real issue. As the philosopher Roger Scruton noted on the radio this week, far better to turn to a beautiful verse in the Qur’an which says that, when challenged by the ignorant, the servants of the Compassionate One should respond by speaking peacefully. Jamal embodied that when he said: “I am very concerned about the violent comments going out on social media about the bully. I don’t want anything terrible to happen to him at all. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.”

Who says that we have nothing to learn from those we welcome to our shores?

Church Times: about us

Latest Cartoon

The Church Times Podcast

Interviews and news analysis from the Church Times team. Listen to this week’s episode online

Welcome to the Church Times

​To explore the Church Times website fully, please sign in or subscribe.

Non-subscribers can read twelve articles for free each month. (You will need to register.)