Statement on the Middle East

13 October, 2023

In light of recent events in the Middle East, we at Humanists UK are profoundly saddened by the loss and suffering experienced by innocent civilians in Israel and in Gaza. Every life lost is a tragedy that weighs heavily on our hearts.

We unequivocally condemn Hamas and all acts of religious terrorism, just as we condemn all state and terrorist oppression and violence against civilians. Such violent ideologies and dehumanising approaches to geo-political debates and religious disagreements have no rational or moral justification. As we navigate these tumultuous times, we should all remember the values of peace, human dignity, and compassion. From our humanist philosophy, we can take to heart one simple maxim coined by the humanist and pacifist campaigner Bertrand Russell: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. 

We recognise that the current conflict has not only affected those directly in the region but profoundly affects Jewish people and communities worldwide. Many feel deeply hurt, afraid, and vulnerable. We stand in support of them and all others who are affected, stressing the importance of unity, support, and understanding in the face of adversity. We condemn the rise in hate crimes targeted at Jewish groups around the world. And we condemn the sorry and degrading spectacle of those endorsing, encouraging, and celebrating acts of terrorism in the streets.

While there’s little that we personally can do in the UK to affect these proceedings or bring about immediate ceasefire, there is still a lot we can do to counter the balance of hatred, misunderstanding, and violence through advocacy of a better world, both individually and collectively.

We acknowledge and respect the intricacies of geopolitical conflicts. And we know events in this region in particular elicit fierce condemnation and dehumanising rhetoric even from people of good will and good conscience. We encourage everyone to employ understanding, dialogue, and empathy in their discussions, helping bridge the divides that exist.

Our hope remains unwavering for a world where all individuals, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs, can coexist without fear of violence or oppression. 

The scroll of human history is one too often soaked in blood. Yet the past, and indeed the present, does not have to dictate the future of this planet, or indeed the future of the Middle East. Humanist hope is a rational hope, founded on an understanding of our potential to do and to be better. This means the humanist challenge, when we look at humanity as a whole, is the same challenge that faces our species everywhere: can we build a world without war, without want, and without cruelty? A world where, when conflicts arise, humanity has the tools and the skills to resolve them rationally, fairly, with minds set on promoting and maintaining happiness, wellbeing, and security. Such lofty ambitions are beyond any one charity, any one belief group, any one country, any one community. And so we want to spread this same kind of rational hope for the whole of the world, not just our humanist community. It should remind us all that we need to work continuously, and work hard, towards this vision of a better world, recognising our commonalities, common ground, and capacities for self-improvement. 

If humanists believe something about human nature, it is in the potential for its betterment. Our eyes are not closed: we are all too aware of human beings’ capacity for cruelty. And yet at the same time our better natures, when given the opportunity flourish, embrace reciprocal kindness, love, peace, charity, and understanding. Kindness and goodness are hard-wired into who we are through our evolution and the story of human survival, when we are given the chance.

In times of acute suffering, pretty words and lofty ambitions may count for very little. Words will not heal wounds, lift bullets from bodies, or restore fallen buildings. We support all those working for peace, justice, and a sustainable end to bloodshed. In the meantime, we send our love and condolences to everyone who is hurting now, along with our admiration, encouragement, and respect to all those who in trying times have found new strength within themselves, in the cauldron of such atrocious suffering.