Acts of Cruelty by Angela Caldin

No-one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than it’s opposite.
Nelson Mandela

Tuesday Morning Journey

On Tuesdays I set off early to go and do a morning’s voluntary work at a charity which helps the homeless near Victoria station. I look forward to mingling with the commuters and picking up my copy of the Metro to while away the journey. The train is crowded at the time I leave, so I’ve become quite expert at reading the paper standing up, holding on to a nearby pole to keep steady. This last Tuesday was no different and I began leafing through the usual trivia, not expecting to find anything particularly world shattering. But as I got to about page 5, I did a double take. Right before my astonished eyes was a photo of a man with a broad grin on his face, his arms outstretched and holding a severed head in each hand. Thankfully, the faces of the heads were blanked out, but even so it was difficult to look at such a horrific image. I knew that other commuters were leafing through the paper and would arrive incredulous at the same photograph. They must, surely, be experiencing the same shockwave as me: that in another country, not that far away from ours, a man was proud to hold up the heads of two other human beings who had been killed in this barbaric, gruesome manner.

Childish Pleasures

On the other side of the page was a similar photo, but this time of a seven year old boy, also holding up a severed head, gripping it by the hair with both hands.  Apparently, it is the head of a Syrian soldier and the boy’s father has posted the picture with the caption ‘That’s my boy.’ The photo seems to bear out revelations that children are being indoctrinated to kill in the name of religion as the Islamic State prepares a new generation ready to fight with the aim of ridding the world of those who hold what it considers to be the wrong beliefs. The boy is wearing an ordinary blue tee shirt with a logo containing the word ‘kids’ along with a peaked cap. I thought of my own eldest grandchild in New Zealand, who is also seven, and about her daily concerns which centre round how well she hopes to do in her next gymnastic competition, which Roald Dahl book she might read next and what kind of cake she would like for her next birthday. The thought of her, or of any of her class-mates, posing for a photo with a severed head, was too horrific to contemplate. And yet this has happened: someone has felt able to wield a sword with enough force to cut off another person’s head and then give it to a child to hold by the hair as some kind of trophy.

Life Continues

On the tube, as we rattled through Hammersmith, waited at a red signal at Earl’s Court, pressed on towards Victoria, my fellow passengers and I turned over the page, read about some celebrity’s complicated love life, about another celebrity tumbling drunk out of a night club, about what would be on TV that night. Our minds turned to our jobs, our voluntary roles, our shopping trips, our appointments and we hurriedly got on with our lives. We felt safe in those lives, at least for the present, but in other countries children were being taught to kill and be proud of it, while others, men, women and children alike were enslaved, abused, tortured and slaughtered.

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