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A values driven world: Terror, pride and shame

It was early in the morning of July the 7th 2005, when I took my usual train from Hatfield to travel to the Ministry of Justice where I used to work as the Human Rights Advisor. Around 8:30, my train arrived at Kings cross where I changed to take the underground. It was not until later that I realised that I took the train just before the one that Germain Linsdsay detonated between Kings Cross and Russell Square killing 26 people. At the time, I did not understand what this meant for me.

In the morning of the 22nd March 2016, I was at home feeling frustrated as a meeting that I had with the European Commission that day was cancelled. I had spent days of preparing for a project on radicalisation, restorative justice and human rights only to find out that it was not going to happen. When my mother called in panic to see if I was alive, I did not know what to say. Maalbeek metro station next to the Commission's offices had been bombed and to my surprise the hotel that I had booked was right above it. At the time, I did not understand what this meant for me.

Three days ago, I was in Brussels for an EC meeting (yes, close to Maalbeek station) on a new European project that we have been awarded on the radicalisation of young people. Towards the evening, the news of the Westminster bridge terrorist attack reached me. This time, I did not have any plans to be at the target place but here I was in the reverse place that I should have been last year only this time the attack took place at home. At the time, I did not understand what this meant for me.

I could not sleep last night. I think I now know what these personal coincidences meant for me and as always, I find comfort in writing how I feel.

Despite the rhetoric for an immoral society that lacks values and beliefs, I came to conclude that never before the world has been driven so strongly by values.

I also came to accept that we are not here to change or define the course of events. We are here to understand them.

Khalid Masood drove his car into careless people and drew his knife because of his strong values. The people who run to help the injured did so because of their strong values. The emergency services that put others first did so because they had been founded upon strong values. Our society that comes together to help heal and restore what is raptured every time this sort of events happen does so because of its strong values.

And aren’t these values the primary victim of terrorist attacks? Yes, people die, but aren't they the collateral victims, the vehicle for terror and the corruption of the values that make our society’s fabric? Maybe too much focus has been put on the lone wolf, the perpetrator, the “other”. Those involved in the business of punishment and rehabilitation know how difficult it is to prevent and punish radicalised individuals. This is not the place to go into the detail of this debate. However, I have suggested on a number of occasions that dialogue-based approaches, such as restorative justice may have a place in gradually starting to address this international phenomenon and indeed refocus our energy on the true victim.

I am aware that some readers may feel anger just with the thought of giving these terrorists space for dialogue and reconciliation. But I want to ask you. Would Khalid have driven his car, if he could put himself in the place of those he targeted? And isn’t this what empathy is all about? How do we develop empathy? I am neither a psychologist nor an expert in behavioural sciences. But I do know that my own empathy is developed when I am exposed to the realities of others not so much through theories but through direct or indirect contact, by listening to them, and by allowing myself to be part of their world.

I have also seen empathy being developed even after the most complex and insidious crimes have taken place, when the victim and the offender relinquish their criminal justice titles and meet (directly or indirectly). The scarce extant literature on the interaction of restorative justice with terrorist/ extremist acts argues that one factor that makes restorative practices appealing is their potential to create an understanding of the perspective of ‘the other’. Unlike with what takes place in a courtroom, restorative practices require communication processes between the conflict parties. According to Albrecht, “This process can be expected to be exacerbated when participants from different language groups and cultures, with their distinct sets of behaviour, rituals, and values meet in mediation” (2010: 4). Johnston and van Ness argue “The ultimate goal of restorative justice should be to transform the way in which we understand ourselves and relate to others in our daily lives” (quoted in Vlaemynck, 2008: 3). Vlaemynch (2008) would add that this way, restorative justice has the potential to enhance social integration, understood as the ability of different groups in society to live together in productive and cooperative harmony built on mutual trust. Similarly, Zehr (1990) spoke about the transformative potential of restorative justice and its changing lenses of how we view crime. He saw crime as a wound in human relationships, and as an action that “creates an obligation to restore and repair” (Zehr, 1990: 187).

Restorative justice assumes the existence of, what I called, a “social liaison” that bonds individuals into a relationship of respect for each other’s’ rights and freedoms (Gavrielides, 2005). This also includes their values differences. Restorative justice assumes that this liaison has always been with us independently of our own values and belief systems, because it is innate in our nature as human beings. We cannot see it, but we can feel it in moments of danger, or of extreme happiness. Individuals are not really strangers, and that is why victim and offender are not enemies (Gavrielides, 2013).

I would not be asking you to consider the restorative justice option, if I had not seen it working on the ground. I am a researcher after all and a sceptic. Recently the EC has funded a number of local restorative justice projects working with radicalised individuals or those at risk of being radicalised. I am also about to run one with eight other EU member states. As the evidence is accumulating for this kind of practices, I return to understand the coincidences that happened to me for my own value-based world.

I have always been proud for directing and indeed building my personal and professional life on a value based system. A student of “Values for a Godless Age”, I found my own values in the teachings of human rights. Due to their "universal nature", I believed that they are shared. But how wrong was I? Yes, we are living in the most value driven era of our times. But your values are not mine and why would mine direct yours?

Yesterday, 25th of March, I celebrated the EU's 60 birthday in shame and anger for being a British citizen. I also felt pride and sadness as a Greek Londoner. The 25th March is Greece’s Independence Day. This is when the modern state rose from the ashes and 400 years of slavery to recreate itself. Only the baby Phoenix was never restored to its former beauty and glory. Despite its poor looks, however, it never turned against the fundamental values that gave birth to the EU. I believe these are also the ingredients of our humanity, the very humanity that we came together after World War II to say that we will never hurt again with shameful acts and atrocities.

Has my value-based world been shaken? No. But I come to realise that my values are as negotiable as yours, and indeed yours are not there to direct me or push me over Westminster bridge. However, I am here to understand them and I call you and all the Khalids out there to meet me for a restorative justice chat. We need to start from somewhere!

Feedback is always welcome!

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