Friday, 26 May 2017

Is ritualising our grief after terrorist attacks with a minute's silence and candle-lit vigils a good thing?

The tragic events in Manchester have led to a flurry of public displays of grief. The tragedy was marked at the Europa League final last night - while buildings across the world have been lit up in British colours in solidarity. Author Anthony Clavane wrote A Yorkshire Tragedy and Susie Orbach is a psychotherapist.  From 2:52

John Humphrys:

There have been many public expressions of grief and sympathy after Manchester in this country and indeed other countries. Is there an argument that says it is perhaps a bit too easy? Have we ritualised grief? Let's talk about that to Anthony Clavane and to Susie Orbach. Susie Orbach, let's be quite clear that we are not talking about what Mrs Campbell did last night when she spoke at that vigil. She is a bereaved mother and speaks with huge power and authority and clearly we respect that, but it is somewhat different, isn't it, from when groups of people get together and want to show their grief though they have no connection, no direct connection with those who have been bereaved? 

Susie Orbach [gabbling incoherently]:

Is it? Wasn't she speaking to people who she didn't know as well as people she did know? Wasn't it a part of being, I mean, human beings are a social species and we want to do things together, we want to memorialise or pay respect or recognise difficulties, we need to do it publicly, but we need to do it privately, it's not one or the other.

John Humphrys [mysteriously]:

No, I was thinking really in terms of the bravery she showed in doing what she did.

Susie Orbach [irrelevantly]:

Yes, that's what she needed to do herself, but it will be a long journey, one assumes, for any of the families, or any of the people who knew any of the families and for the city of Manchester to grieve and to take on what's happened. That's so manifestly obvious I am not sure it needs saying. 

John Humphrys [irrelevantly]:

I am wondering about the notion of collective grief.

Susie Orbach [nonsensically];

Well, it a collective grief or a collective coming together? I think nobody grieves in exactly the same way because nobody has the same relationship or identification or imagination about what it is, so we are smooshing something together that isn't accurate. This is a collective coming together to express - it could be outrage, it could be grief, it could be support, it could be about being a nation, it could be about being a city. We need to look at it much more broadly so that we don't reduce it to one thing for everybody. 

John Humphrys:

Anthony Clavane, you're a football writer, you've written a book dealing with how football has helped people cope with tragedies in Hillsborough and Bradford of course. What's your experience of this? I use the expression of collective grief, what's your expression for what goes on on these occasions?

Anthony Clavane:

Yes, well, John, in an era when the link between football teams and their towns seems to be forgotten over a hermetically sealed world and the team is disconnected from its fan base, I think this is an excellent opportunity to show, you know, the connection between the grieving town and the team that is supposed to represent it - the strength, the spirit, the solidarity of Manchester was expressed in Stockholm last night in front of 50,000 people in the stadium but also around the world and Manchester United is often seen as a global brand - whether that's a good or a bad thing that we can discuss, but obviously grief is global and I think it is important for the grieving families in Manchester that last night this happened and that football can act as a healing thing, I mean, it is often divisive, we know that, it is tribalistic, but on these occasions, it performs a very special role and rises above the horror, it says "We won't be broken by terror, we will overcome."

John Humphrys:

So it is a showing not rivalry, but the exact opposite: solidarity?

Anthony Clavane:

Absolutely, but my only concern is that we show solidarity in a consistent way because very often like in the Ankara terror attacks in 2015 and 2016 the footballing authority UEFA said there shouldn't be a minute of silence before the game at Euro 2016 and I just think that these public mourning rituals as Susie has written very important articles about this over the years - these are important, but we should be consistent about this and I think we should see sport as a way of helping to overcome grief but at the same time I am a little wary of it becoming ritualistic. I've been going to football matches for 20 years, you know, as a reporter. Sometimes what happens is we crunch tragedies together. You know, you put three or four different causes parcelled up together in the same minute's silence and then people who go to matches have their half time cup of tea or their pre-match entertainment and have their minute's silence and therefore the absolute horror of what has just happened is diminished because it happens too often and it is ritualised.

John Humphrys:

Susie Orbach, just a sentence about that, if you would. Ritualistic?

Susie Orbach [nonsensically again]:

Could be, but I think in this case what you're seeing is spontaneous responses and that's very profound. 

The question that I would have asked if I had been interviewing Anthony Clavane and Susie Orbach:

Should the minute's silence at football matches be standardised and ritualised?

How John Humphrys should have framed the question:

Is the ritualising of grief by having a minute's silence and the holding of candle lit vigils a good thing?

How I would have answered the question if the Today Programme had asked me

That was the long answer.

My short answer would have been:

The purpose of ritual is to commemorate an important event or propagate an idea that is necessary to our identity, survival and health as a tribe or nation. This is why so much of religion is about conducting rituals. To weep and wail when we become victims of the terrorism our government provoked because our politicians do exactly what the Americans tell us to do does not fall into this category. This means we should not be having this ritual and should instead ask our government what's in it for us every time we do whatever the Americans tell us to do and bomb whoever they tell us to bomb just because we are members of NATO.

Vote Labour.

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