Fox (n): carnivore of genus vulpes; crafty person; scavenger; (vb) to confuse; -ed (adj): to be drunk.
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Wednesday 3 October 2012

Oh, mankind.

THERE are not a lot of things to like about humanity, when you take a magnifying glass to the species.

Rape and murder are common in much of the animal kingdom, but only humans think they're wrong and do it anyway.

The constant search for money and power are extensions of the drive to find food and safety, but I'm not aware of anyone who has a lot of either who is any the nicer for acquiring them.

Infanticide, abuse, violence - they happen to lots of creatures in lots of ways a lot of the time, but only among human beings are they ever turned into pornography.

That's not to say humans don't do nice stuff. Any species which can invent Mars ice creams, set up the NHS and tolerate Edwina Currie for more than five minutes can't be all bad.

It's just that, sometimes, you seem to be mostly bad.

Cast your mind back to December 2010, when a man called Mohamed Bouazizi was so upset about humans being horrible to each other that he set himself on fire.

Mohamed earned £86 a month selling fruit and veg from a cart, money he used to support his mother, uncle, siblings, and support one relative at university. He had been hounded by corrupt officials seeking bribes for years, and when they confiscated his cart and scales he went to see the local governor to complain.

The governor refused to see him, and a very upset Mohamed got some gasoline, poured it all over himself outside the governor's office, and set it alight.

It took him three weeks to die, during which time he was visited in hospital by his country's president and his story moved thousands of his countrymen to protest. Ten days after Mohamed expired, the president was ousted in the Tunisian Revolution and the Arab Spring was sprung, spreading across the Middle East and toppling decades of dictatorship for millions of people.

It's not sprung the same everywhere, and even in the places where it did like Egypt the bad men are being replaced by those of a fundamentalist bent, which never bodes well whichever faith they hide behind. In Tunisia there were elections, and while a formerly-banned group of Islamists were elected they're a relatively moderate bunch.

In September, just before those elections, a Tunisian woman was raped. She was sitting with her boyfriend in a car when they were approached by three men, two of whom attacked her while the third marched her boyfriend to a cashpoint to steal his money.

The woman complained to the police, who arrested the men she accused and charged them with rape and extortion.

Then human beings managed to make a horrible thing yet more horrible still, and the woman was herself charged with "intentional indecent behaviour" which carries a sentence of up to six months in prison.

The reason for this is that the men who raped her were policemen, and after they were charged they decided to say their victim had been in "an immoral position" in the car with her boyfriend, thus making her in the minds of many a whore who deserved all she got.

Never mind that unmarried people can sit in cars quite happily all over the world without it being a problem, and that even in the most repressive states which might arrest them for it no-one would expect to be raped and robbed as a result. Never mind that rape and robbery is illegal pretty much everywhere.

All over Tunisia and the Arab world people are arguing about who to believe, and whether the woman was responsible for her own assault.

In a moderate country with democratic elections and a recent history of being nice to its people, it doesn't take much bravery to sit in a car with your boyfriend, trust someone in authority or put your faith in strangers. Once you've discovered the world is not as nice as you thought, it is very easy to be scared, bow your head and keep your mouth shut.

It takes a brave person to complain of sexual assault; it takes a braver one still to complain to the police when their comrades were responsible for it. And it takes quite a feat of inhumanity by more than just the rapist responsible for people to think anyone in their right mind invites rape.

Animals do not think in that way; only humans do.

At the same time, thousands of miles away, a five-year-old girl has been missing for 36 hours.

April Jones was playing not far from her home, with friends, where she has always played in perfect safety, when she got into somebody's car and disappeared. Her parents are distraught, the clock is ticking, and although someone has been arrested there is still no sign of the little girl.

Already people are muttering about why she was allowed out; what the parents were doing; and what does anyone expect. A little bit of extra inhumanity, too early to be anything but distasteful.

Snatching children has to be one of the worst things human beings do to one another, because it hurts not just the victim but shatters families and destroys the trust of entire communities. The lifelong effects on all concerned are incalculable.

Hope is still strong that April has been looked after, but everyone is aware that as time passes the chances are she was not. Harming youngsters, whether your own or someone else's, is a fact of life in many species but it's only humans that do it for reasons of gratification - for revenge and control, like Mike Pederson, or for a sexual thrill like Brady, Whiting, Huntley, Sutcliffe and an untold many more.

To steal a child, to harm it, to know people are distressed, to draw out their pain for as long as possible - it's torture, and it's something only humans do.

But there is one thing among the horror which is a saving grace, and this is that in the darkest times people are at their best.

That's why in Tunisia they're protesting again, only this time it's for that woman and her right to not be raped, against the police who changed their story after they were accused of a crime and for the government they elected a year ago to act in the interests of a people who for the first time in decades are aware they can hope for better.

It's why in Mid-Wales hundreds of people turned up, of their own accord and without official guidance or request, to search an area 30 miles in diameter to look for April Jones all night in the driving rain.

It's why they went back to bed for a few hours, got up at 6am, and went back to look again.

Maybe it made no difference, perhaps it was a hindrance, but even if all it achieved was for April's parents to know everyone was doing their best then it was a touching, wordless, entirely altruistic bit of marvellousness.

There is something wonderful in the fact that when mankind is at its most inhumane, humanity wakes up and says "we're not all like that".

There's something awful too, because it only ever happens after something awful and in a nicer world it would happen every day.

But I've seen it every time I've seen horror, and I thought that I'd point it out. I've seen people be wonderful when digging mass graves, care for the crying when they don't have to, and help those who, through disease or starvation, are beyond any kind of help at all.

It's often pointless by any logical definition of what is worth your while, but that's almost the point of doing it. To say, 'this may not achieve much, but you are not alone'.

There are days when everything seems dark and hopeless, but if you look for it there is always a little chink of light - otherwise you wouldn't know it was dark at all.

Perhaps we call ourselves mankind more out of hope than anything else.

But you know what they say about hope.