Tackling extremism, promoting tolerance and understanding. Through rugby.
In 2006-7, Lebanon and Israel were once again at war. I don’t know what the reason was that time. What I do know is how it was covered in the western media: polarisation, extremism, bombings and terror. I suppose all of those things were happening but they didn’t involve the whole population.
Just as there were a few, and it’s always a few, people shelling, shooting and destroying, the majority are trying to get on with their lives. Trying to go to work or to school, to earn money and to get an education. These are the people who suffer the most.
We are endlessly told that such suffering breeds hatred, breeds extremism and further violence. But in summer 2007, in a park in Chelmsford, I was reminded that it’s not always true. In fact, for most people, it never is. I was attending a large youth event. There were 40,000+ people there from, literally, all corners of the globe. And there, in this field in front of me were half-a-dozen Welsh lads, kicking a rugby ball about.
Nothing unusual in that, true. What happened next, however, was extraordinary, as this group of Welsh teenagers – who in another time could have been found hanging out on any street corner in Cardiff or the Valleys – began to teach the sport of Rugby to about twenty other young people. Some from Lebanon, some from Israel. For at least an hour, these young men played together, and learned alongside each other, developing friendships and understanding. I was, truly, blown away.
I remember at the time imagining these young people, just ordinary kids, travelling back home. Returning to the war zone in which they live their daily lives. I found myself wondering then, what difference small moments like this can make. if those few young people could return home with a greater understanding of each other’s community. Maybe, just maybe, they could make a difference to their world, to our world.
Over the last eight years, I’ve remembered that moment with huge fondness. It’s simply the kind of moment that sticks in your mind forever. But it’s when events like Friday nights’ terrorist attacks in Paris take place that I really remember what it means to me: there are many, many more good people in this world than there are bad ones.
Atrocities like the Paris attacks, like 7/7 in London, like the Madrid bombings or 9/11 do not represent any form of logic. They stem not from religion, nor from any faith or true commitment or belief. These terrorists desire only to cause chaos: to inspire hatred and fear amongst us.
We won’t stop them with bombs and bullets, or with empty political posturing and rhetoric. Instead we will win by standing together as one people. We will beat ISIS, and all the others, because in a world of tolerance, of care, understanding, love and above all open-mindedness about each other, there is no place for their brand of hatred and suffering.
So whatever you read in the media, think for a moment about that group of rugby-playing teenagers. They were from Israel and Lebanon but they could just as easily have been from Syria and Iraq, or Turkey and Kurdistan or any one of a number of war zones and trouble-spots around the world. Remember the spirit of openness and friendship that they embodied. Because it is in that spirit that the majority of people the world over live, and want to live on.