There is an old saying that “the family that prays together stays together”. The thought, if not the reality, behind these words implies a unity or agreement of feeling or action, usually of religious faith. This is the idea of solidarity. This idea can be applied, of course, to areas other than religious faith.
Several weeks ago, following the terrorist killings in Paris (at the offices of the publishers Charlie Hebdo and at a kosher supermarket) which left seventeen persons dead and the French capital on high alert, the word “solidarity” was on everyone’s lips.
Politicians and public figures from across the globe went to Paris in order to be seen, heard and link arms as they marched against terrorism – extreme Islamic or otherwise. Newspaper editorials and numerous articles lauded the virtue of solidarity and, as the banner-carrying crowds gathered in the public places, the street-corner conversations spoke of the necessity of standing solid against terrorism, anti-Semitism and all forms of racism.
For a short while, at least, solidarity was the catch-phrase of civilised citizens, uniting disparate peoples against fundamentalist ideas and barbaric actions.
Then, an incident on the Paris Metro train system.
Travelling supporters of England’s Chelsea Football Club, en-route to the game against Saint Germaine, the pride of Paris, forcibly prevented a black man from entering a Metro train on which travelled a considerable cohort of Chelsea fans. A section of the Chelsea crowd were heard to proudly chant racist slogans as several times the man tried, unsuccessfully, to get into a train carriage. Each time he was forcibly ejected from the train carriage and onto the platform.
Could it possibly be construed that the unfortunate black man was a Chelsea supporter? Fortunately, mobile telephone video captured the event and identified the perpetrators.
However, what made this incident more palpable were the actions of others on the station platform. There were at least a dozen persons standing adjacent to or passing by the train carriage where the incident took place, as well as interested onlookers from further down the train. It can be assumed that some amongst this number were Parisians. Not one of these bystanders, most of whom were male and white, made an obvious move of any kind to become involved in the incident and offer support to the mistreated black man.
The entire incident was hardly an example of anti-racist solidarity. Au contraire!
Of course, there were the usual and expected outpourings from football clubs and associations, past and present players – especially those who are themselves black and have experienced racist behaviour at British venues, and interviews amongst the public as to what should be done to prevent incidents like this from happening again. Much the same public exercises took place when the terrorist attacks and killings occurred in Paris in early January. The public relishes the chance of a word.
It is urgent to realise that, in matters relating to terrorism and racism, more is required than mere words – or praying alone or together. Solidarity is more than good thoughts and words, though these are not to be despised. Solidarity in the face of terrorism and racism is not fundamentally a legal matter – though laws can be enacted to mitigate the effects of both. Solidarity is about the way that people think, their attitudes, the unity they feel as a result of their education, interests, objectives, standards and sympathies.
The French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who died in Paris in 1917, said that people feel connected through similar work, educational and religious training, and lifestyle.
It should be seen, therefore, that solidarity, especially in advanced or post-industrial societies, and the social cohesion it brings about, comes from the dependence individuals have on each other. It is, or should be, an integral aspect of a healthy society. Even where a society is composed of persons with differing values and interests, the solidarity of that society will depend on the effort and reliability of individual components performing their specified tasks.
In short, the mutual aid, the supportive activity that occurs between people, does not result from an expectation of any reward, but rather from instinctive or developed feelings of solidarity. Anything which contributes to this breakdown of solidarity – be it political, economic, social, religious, or whatever, provides the conditions in which are spawned and nurtured the attitudes that lead to incidents like those recently occurring in Paris.
If and when such incidents occur, the outcome is not helped by those of us who stand and watch – or just pray! More than words are required. Another old saying comes to mind – “actions speak louder than words.”
Amnesty International UK (AIUK), an organisation that does anything other than stand and watch and where any words are definitely followed by actions, is currently calling for support in its campaign for the release from a Louisiana prison of Albert Woodfox. What follows is largely drawn from information provided by AIUK.
Albert Woodfox has been held in solitary confinement for nearly 43 years for a crime – that of murdering a prison guard – he maintains he did not commit. The evidence appears to agree with his claim and suggests that racially and politically motivated circumstances are the cause of his condemnation.
Sent to solitary confinement in 1972, Albert has just reached 68. As a result of his confinement, he is said to be in a mentally and physically frail condition. A UN Special Rapporteur on torture has called on the US authorities to release Albert Woodfox from solitary confinement with immediate effect.
Woodfox is the co-founder of the Angola prison chapter of the Black Panther Party. He formed this chapter with the hope of demanding basic rights for inmates from within a discriminatory and often corrupt system. He believes that his political activism and demand for racial equality have been a large factor in not only charging him with the crime, but keeping him in solitary confinement.
AIUK is of the view that the Louisiana authorities have no legitimate reason for keeping Albert Woodfox in solitary confinement: his prison records are exemplary, and clearly state that he poses no threat to himself or others. Yet, still the prison authorities have refused to conduct a meaningful review of Albert’s isolation since 1972.
On 2 March Albert Woodfox is to have a bail hearing – his third. AIUK is calling, indeed demanding, that state officials do not appeal his bail request and that Albert is given a long overdue chance at justice.
With the bystanders on the Paris Metro station platform in mind, here is a more than prayerfully-considered chance to be involved in a clear issue of injustice and racism. Further information, and the opportunity to register a protest, may be obtained from Amnesty International UK.