So the news broke that everybody had been dreading: Alan Henning had been killed in the most hideous way by his Islamic State extremist captors.
Here in Manchester we heard the condemnations from an international perspective, and the response from a national perspective, but also we witnessed the local reaction, as Alan came from Manchester, or to be more precise, Salford. Among the many comments that came pouring out, amidst the anger and upset, were the platitudes for a man who died doing what he was most passionate about-helping those in need. In a vigil at the local church, Reverend Cyprian Yobera told the congregation “In one way you could look at it that Alan was taking some light to a dark place….”
Family, friends, colleagues and strangers waxed lyrical in heartfelt tributes to a man who had gone to Syria on an aid mission, a man who was moved to act by the suffering and welfare of others.
But also could be heard, by a smaller minority, the observation that Alan had been warned not to go as he would be in very real danger of being kidnapped or harmed, which is ultimately what happened. Valid perhaps though this view is, I have heard a couple of remarks that Alan Henning died because of arrogance-arrogance that he chose to ignore the warnings given and went ahead on his mission regardless. I think that is going too far-to call a man arrogant because perhaps his courage of compassion far exceeded his fear of personal harm.
Martin Luther King received constant death threats, but these did not deter him from leading the civil rights movement. His eventual murder did not make him arrogant. Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to return to his native Germany, less than two years after seeking sanctuary in America, knowing the risks that awaited him there. His execution in 1945 does not make his act one of arrogance. Both of these men knew the risk that they were undertaking, but the strength of their convictions in doing what they perceived to be right caused them to continue.
You, the reader, can no doubt think of countless others who have sacrificed themselves in such a way throughout history. For every one of these noted individuals, there must be thousands of others, maybe known only locally, who so acted in such a similar, selfless manner.
If all altruistic action was abandoned out of fear, where then would we be? What state would humanity find itself in? Although undoubtedly his family and loved ones are hurting, I admire Alan’s actions borne out of a compassion that is far more courageous than my own.
Among the many tributes in my local newspaper, sent in both by people who knew him and by people who had never met him, this one caught my eye:
The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain as your legacy.
My thoughts and prayers are with all other hostages still in captivity throughout the world, and with their families, and also with the brave people who make the choice to continue in trying to make a difference, despite everything.