Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Monday 24 October 2011

Half-time score: 2-1 to the savages.

IT'S been a bad week for civilisation, what with an inhumane tyrant being abused and executed, thousands hunting down the footage on YouTube, and the unpleasant death played out again and again on TV and in newspapers.

There is even one shaky mobile phone video which appears to show Colonel Gaddafi being physically violated by his captors in the 15 minutes or so of chaos which surrounded his seizure and execution; yet barely a single politician has raised their voice to decry the fact he will never be put on trial for his crimes or to point out that treating a barbaric man with barbarism does not exactly win anyone the moral high ground.

But then, so many have said, it's Libya, it's Africa, it's the right of an oppressed people to be angry.

Then I woke up this morning to the news a gay man had been beaten, tied to a lamppost and burned alive and presumed it must have happened somewhere else.

Uganda, perhaps, or Saudi Arabia where homosexuality is against the law and can even lead to the death penalty; maybe Zimbabwe or Turkmenistan where it's illegal for men but perfectly okay for women; Antigua where it carries a 15-year prison sentence, or perhaps somewhere closer to home like Ireland where loving someone of the same sex has been legal only since 1993.

I was surprised such a crime in a different country had made headlines here, but then reasoned it was so horrific that perhaps it had forced its way to the top of the news agenda.

But it happened in my own country, in a market town of 13,000 people who say please and thank you, who watch the same TV programmes and read the same newspapers as I do, have access to the internet and a properly made cup of tea and all the other things which most of us presume makes us 'civilised'.

Whether he was killed because he was gay or not we do not know, but regardless of motive the method is horrendous in the extreme. Whoever did it must score fairly high on the psychopath scale for their inhumanity alone, much less the possibility that it was provoked by a dislike of how an inoffensive man liked to spend his leisure time.

All we know for now is that Stuart Walker, 28, had been at a party and was last seen alive at 2.30am. His burned body was found at 5am on an industrial estate not far away. What happened in the meantime is the subject of a murder inquiry, and deep heartbreak for his family and friends. But if footage of his last moments were put online, how many of us would click the link, just for kicks? There are already people saying the same treatment should be meted out to his killers, if they are found.

Because obviously that would help.

It's enough to make you loathe the whole human race and scowl at every person you see. Humans, on days like today, seem like a nasty cancer the whole world would be better off without.

But then today is also the anniversary of the death of Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old lady who once sat on a bus, got arrested for her trouble, and changed the world as a result. Rosa was active in the civil rights movement but quiet, serene, well-behaved and generally followed the rules which segregated her from white people in her home town of Montgomery, Alabama.

One of those rules was that the first 10 seats of a bus were for whites, and if an 11th got on board the black passengers had to move, stand or leave the bus. It was just a petty rule compared to those segregating education or marriage but it produced everyday minor humiliation for Rosa and when she was asked to give up her seat for a white passenger one day in 1955 she decided she'd had enough.

Rosa said: "People always say that I didn't give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn't true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in."

Rosa got arrested, fingerprinted and charged with violating a city law. It wasn't the first time such a thing had happened, and there had been many worse abuses of the black population, but for some reason this one lit a spark. The black community of Montgomery staged a year-long bus boycott, crippling the transport companies and forcing a change to the law. During those protests a charismatic young reverend electrified everyone with his speeches, and Dr Martin Luther King emerged to lead the civil rights movement to victory.

They were angry but it was the grace and humanity of people like him and Rosa that won their battles, the quiet insistence that however badly someone else may act they would not allow it to taint their own civil behaviour.

Rosa died six years ago today, at the age of 92, in a country which still has plenty of problems but at least a black lady can sit wherever the hell she likes on the bus.

Perhaps we haven't come very far since 1955 if people can still treat one another with the utter inhumanity we've seen this past week; we are still barbarians under the skin. But Rosa at least shows that it doesn't have to be that way, and us cavemen can be angels if we try.

1913 - 2005

* Anyone with information about Stuart Walker's death can contact Crimestoppers Scotland on 0800 555 111 or fill in an anonymous online form here.