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Language: English / Gàidhlig


Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Meeting of the Parliament 11 June 2019

Agenda: Time for Reflection, Topical Question Time, Primary 1 Standardised Assessments, Fuel Poverty (Targets, Definition and Strategy) (Scotland) Bill, Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3, Human Tissue (Authorisation) (Scotland) Bill, Standing Orders (Rules Changes), Decision Time, The Way of St Andrews


Time for Reflection

Good afternoon. The first item of business is time for reflection. Our leader today is the Reverend Lesley Bilinda, who is vicar of St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields, and guest speaker at the national prayer breakfast for Scotland.

The Rev Lesley Bilinda (St Andrew’s Church, Fulham Fields)

Recently, I watched the Scottish Parliament television channel. I have to admit that that is not something that I regularly do—in fact, it was perhaps the first and only time that I have watched it—but a friend gave me a heads-up that there was to be an item on the 25th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, and I have a particular connection there.

In April 1994, when the genocide began, I had been living in Rwanda for nearly five years. I was a midwife, running a community health programme with Tearfund, and I was married to a Rwandan Anglican priest. Rwanda was my home.

From April to July 1994, as the world’s media brought graphic images of massacre and genocide into our sitting rooms, most people reached for the atlas—there was no Google Maps in those days, of course—to try to locate this tiny, little-known country.

“Savages” was the word that was most often used to describe the perpetrators, but for me, both those being killed and those doing the killing were my friends, my neighbours and my colleagues.

My husband, Charles, was a Tutsi, and although many of his family survived, thanks to the immense kindness and courage of Hutu neighbours, Charles was not so fortunate.

The genocide did not start with clubs and machetes. It was many years in the making, and it started with words. It began in subtle ways: discrimination; humiliation and mocking; treating others as less than human; the language of hate. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes of how genocide emerges out of the dehumanisation and demonisation of the other, and that was most certainly the case in Rwanda. Tutsis and Tutsi sympathisers were described as rats or cockroaches—vermin to be trampled on and annihilated.

But when we treat others as less than human we lose something of our own humanity. When we try to destroy others—whether physically, with a machete, or ideologically, with our words—we destroy something of ourselves. It is only when we treat one another with dignity and respect, regardless of our differences, that we can be truly and fully human.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu describes that as “ubuntu”—the southern African concept of interdependence and mutuality. A person with ubuntu, he says, is affirming of others, is not threatened when others are able and good, and is diminished when others are humiliated or treated as if they were less than who they are.

In the Christian church, when we as Christians meet to share the bread and wine that is the reminder of Jesus’s giving of himself for the world, we put aside our differences. We are on a level playing field and we focus on the bigger picture, which is God’s kingdom, and on all that unites us as brothers and sisters, together.

To say “Never again” to genocide means that we pledge ourselves not only to deter future genocide but to avoid the factors that lead to polarisation and division, by treating one another with dignity and respect—even those with whose ideas we totally disagree. In this way, we pledge to build a stronger community locally, nationally and globally.

Thank you. [Applause.]