“The Manchester suicide bomber was rescued by the Navy from war-torn Libya three years before his pop concert atrocity, the Mail reveals today.” It’s a great opening line for an exclusive, duly illustrated by a Royal Navy battleship juxtaposed with a photo of Salman Abedi smirking – or he might be smiling; it’s hard to tell. This is the Muslim monster who slaughtered our children, and we facilitated his terror. Cue outrage – not so much at the egregious act of betrayal this represents, but at our political leaders who are ‘letting in’ thousands upon thousands of ‘Muslim immigrants’… you know how it goes. You can’t beat a good Islamophobia-stoke to provoke enmity.
And many chat threads today will gush with demands to stop letting them in, because they are not of us and they are taking over and changing our culture… you know how it goes.
A young man was going down from Tripoli to Ajdabiya, when he was caught up in a civil war between the regime of Colonel Gaddafi and the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group. The instability threatened his safety, and he feared being beaten, tortured or even killed. A Sunni imam happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a delegate from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a British official, as he travelled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He called for the Royal Navy to rescue him and bandage his wounds, pouring on iodine and dispensing antibiotics. Then he put the man on the battleship, which sailed for safe haven in Malta where he was cared for. The next day the British official took out two thousand pounds and gave them to the Royal Navy. “Look after him,” he said, “and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.”
Salman Abedi was our neighbour: the command of Jesus is to have compassion on those who are in distress. “A senior source told the Mail: ‘He was a British citizen so it was our job to safeguard him. Salman was one of many people in that mix and we absolutely had to evacuate him. He was not a threat at the time and it was in a very different context.'”
But it wouldn’t have mattered if he had been a threat: when the Good Samaritan came across a man in need, he didn’t think for his own safety; he was filled with pity and gave immediate aid. And then he went the extra mile. He put the man on his own donkey and brought him to the nearest inn. The Samaritan did not know this man – for all he knew, he might have been about to be attacked and robbed himself – but he paid the innkeeper to take care of him, and offered to pay even more if necessary.
We had mercy on Salman Abedi – the Manchester suicide bomber was our neighbour; our brother. He was actually also a British citizen, so the parable doesn’t quite fit the context: the wounded man had no rights to social security; the Samaritan had no obligation to help. But the wounded man is faceless, nationless and religionless: his identity is not important. Those who passed by on the other side judged that he belonged to a different religious order, and their hard hearts were too proud to stoop. But the Samaritan teaches us to reject the hatred and bigotry of rival religious sects. He also teaches us show mercy without fear of being attacked.
We know what is right thing to do – the Christian thing to do – and so the Royal Navy does it at the behest of Her Majesty’s Government. Race, religion and social class are irrelevant: Salman Abedi was a fellow human being in need, and we helped him as we are commanded to do. That he repaid our kindness with hate is profoundly distressing and a cause of great sorrow, but the Samaritan did not do his works of charity on a reciprocal basis. Some will thank us; others will not. A few will carry on hating, but that should not stop us loving our neighbour or doing unto others as we would be done by. Everyone qualifies for mercy and compassion – even those who would destroy us: ‘But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven…‘
We should not erect protective barriers in order to live a sheltered life of insularity and self-defence: we are to reach out generously beyond our own ethnic safe spaces and religious circles. We are to alleviate suffering, mitigate poverty and comfort the distressed. All of this involves risk. ‘But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.’ Nobody said loving an enemy was easy. Nobody said blessing them that curse us wouldn’t have a cost. Nobody said doing good to them that hate us wouldn’t mean carrying a cross. And praying for those who persecute us? Forgive Salman Abedi? He knew not what he did?