I went to a demonstration today. Yes. I haven’t done that since I was a kid, but today I went. Why? Because I felt shame. Here’s the story:
The other day, a young man shot his way into a mosque. Yes, here! In this supremely peaceful country! Fortunately, nobody was killed, because two old and unarmed men who had been praying in the mosque were able to overpower the would-be killer more or less as soon as he got in.
The news spawned shock waves in the media; pictures of the two white-haired heroes, looking dazed by all the attention, and incessant interviews with senior police officers: Who? Why? How?
Now we know. He is a 21-year-old white supremacist from one of the wealthier outskirts of the capital. He is so far being charged with terrorism and murder. Oh yes, on that same day, he had apparently killed his half sister, who is of East Asian extraction.
The following day was the religious holiday Eid-al-Adha, and many Muslims worried that going to their Mosque might, from now on, be dangerous. So a number of people, from all religious denominations – including, I understand, Jews – and of all political colours, went down town, to the country’s largest mosque, to form a circle, a human shield, around it.
I saw it on the news. People forming the human shield just stood close to the walls of the mosque, surrounding it, silently holding small signs bearing messages of encouragement to those who wanted to go in and pray. I also saw the expressions on some of those who came to pray, and they were moved. So was I, watching them on TV. And I was ashamed, because it had not even occurred to me to go down town to symbolically protect the Mosque.
That was why I attended a demonstration today, an expression of warmth to all those who have travelled far physically and emotionally, who have crossed tremendous barriers to become my compatriots.
During the speeches, I fantasised. What if the white supremacists had also demonstrated, had marched down the town’s long, straight main avenue bearing their slogans, what would have happened? I knew, at least, what I would have wanted to happen.
Spectators would have been lining the avenue long before the slogan-bearing gang approached. The spectators would be waiting, chatting amiably, eating ice creams or playing with their phones. Oldies like me would have brought collapsible stools on which to sit and wait.
I see the slogan-bearing gang approach. Every once in a while, they chant something or other, raise a fist in the air and walk more or less in step. People around me fall silent, put away their phones and stare at the approaching army. Closer and closer it comes. Suddenly, I notice that there are so many of us that we cannot help touching one another. We stand literally shoulder by shoulder. Some of us exchange glances, others don’t, but we all look mostly in the same direction, and the marchers approach.
Now we can hear what they are chanting. I have of course risen from my collapsible stool, which I have folded and slung across my shoulder. I stand tall and straight, white-haired among the golden, black, light brown, dark brown and grey heads. We are all staring sternly at the heavy-booted men – mostly men, yes – and we notice that the expressions in their faces are almost all the same. We notice, in fact, that very much about them is all the same, and I, for one, feel that my mouth has contracted into a thin streak.
Finally, they are there, just ready to pass us.
Nobody attacks them. Nobody even says anything. Our lips all seem to be glued together. But as I feel the shoulder on my right side move, I look at the person beside me and see she has turned her back to the horde. The person in front of me is turning his back to the horde and is looking at me. I turn my back to the horde and now face the woman behind me, who turns her back to the horde, and the person on my left has already got the point and those behind and in front of her as well.
I cannot see it, since my back is turned, but what meets the army of white supremacist brats is a silent wall of human backsides.