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by Mandy Rhodes
13 October 2023
Humza Yousaf is uniquely placed to bridge divides in this unfolding tragedy

First Minister Humza Yousaf | Credit: Alamy

Humza Yousaf is uniquely placed to bridge divides in this unfolding tragedy

Is it hyperbole to suggest that civilisation is at some kind of critical juncture when the media reports babies have been decapitated en masse and their bodies thrown to the side, like detritus?

Is it overstating it to call this a crisis of humanity when grandmothers have been butchered and their slaying filmed and uploaded onto their own Facebook pages so that their families can witness the horror at the click of a button?

Is it an exaggeration to believe we are witnessing an erasure of all that it means to be human when young women are plucked from their partying to be raped by terrorists, even as they lie broken among the bodies of their dead friends, and then are spat upon?

The savagery inflicted on Israel by Hamas last weekend feels like the end of something and certainly an existential moment for the 45 per cent of the world’s Jews who may have believed, after centuries of persecution, that they had found the sanctuary they craved.

It is Hamas that killed, tortured, and kidnapped, but it is the apparatus of the Israeli state that also failed, and that will remain a long-lasting sore for its citizens even once the horror of revenge has been exacted.

The death toll in Israel currently stands at over 1,200 and its president, Isaac Herzog, put that into some gruesome context when he said that not since the Holocaust had so many Jews been killed in one day.

Not since the Holocaust…

Something that we said should never happen again, has happened.

And yet here in Scotland, we respond with a shabby little debate over whether raising a flag outside the parliament in support of Israel would be deemed offensive. And in deciding not to, we reveal ourselves to be crass. Such a small but craven thing, a decision about a flag, that says so much about the divisive nature of Scottish political discourse which demands you pick a side. And you stay there.

There are times when we reveal ourselves to be so very small. And this is one of those times. A time when so-called progressives have boxed themselves so far into a corner about what is right and what is wrong that even in the face of such barbarism, of man’s inhumanity to man, of the slaying of babies, of the culling of innocents, they can still find a context to justify and see no need to condemn.

Shame on the likes of Green MSP Maggie Chapman who can opine, audaciously, on social media on the very day the atrocity was revealed, with a hashtag #vivapalestine and before her brain had caught up with her mouth, her fingers were already firing off inappropriate posts with indecent haste about where blame lay for such monstrosities. A self-satisfied, arrogant lecture that none of us required. And not at this time.

The carnage inflicted by Hamas can never be washed away with the justification of the oppression that Palestinians have endured. And while Chapman may be comforted by her own self-righteousness, it is perfectly possible to care about two things passionately at once and still be able to denounce the actions of terrorists. If anything, this is a salutary lesson that the world is not black and white, that nuance is as important as context, and that brutal reality can so often grate with the straitjacketed constraints of ideology.

There is no proportionate response to the slaughter of toddlers other than revulsion. And no one, least of all elected politicians who are there to serve all, to speak for all, should even attempt to find one.

But for some politicians who have gone almost from classroom or lecture theatre to parliament with closed minds and cloth ears, their inadequacies have been revealed, starkly, in their inability to rise to the simple challenge of this heart-wrenching moment.

I have been on this world long enough, been politically active for long enough, been seen as progressive long enough, for it to be assumed that I fit into one convenient label in this whole horrific and longstanding conflict, but there is no label that covers the nuance of my position over the jarring reality of what happened last weekend and for what is surely to come with the annihilation of innocent Palestinians. If I am pro- or anti- anything, it is anti- the killing. And while my business is words, sometimes there just are none that can adequately capture the moment and it is best to keep schtum.

But for Humza Yousaf, this is also personal. Who could fail to be moved by the deep anguish that he must feel with his in-laws trapped in Gaza right now and with no way out? But Yousaf’s position not only offers an opportunity to personalise the horrors of the conflict, it is also embodies the need to be aware of the nuances – he is the first minister of Scotland; he is there to govern for all; he is a Muslim; he is a Glaswegian, a city that is home to Scotland’s largest Jewish population and the home of one of the Scots already known to have been murdered by Hamas in Israel; his in-laws are Scots, they are Palestinians and they are stranded in Gaza with the threat of the Israelis razing it to the ground. 

As first minister he cannot pick sides, and yet emotionally there is no doubt he will be torn. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for him. You can’t speak about this issue in a vacuum. You can’t deny the history or the morality of one position over another. But what you can do is decry the terrorism. And you can recognise that this isn’t about picking sides and in that, Yousaf is uniquely placed to be a bridge across the divides.

This tragedy has, no doubt, given him a window of reprieve from the daily onslaught of criticism he faces about his government’s failings and his leadership style. This is a hellish moment for him, but it could also prove to be an opportunity to emerge, statesmanlike, and answer that question – what does Humza Yousaf actually stand for?

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