It's easy to blame religion as the root of many of the world's evils at times like this, with the Charlie Hebdo attacks fresh in the minds of a horrified public. Especially if you are Richard Dawkins.
I always find this an incredibly near-sighted argument. Get rid of religion, people say, and you get rid of a whole host of the world's ills. Have they not met certain football supporters? Or that woman who killed the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival? Is cheerleading the root of all evil? Are parking spaces?
Last summer, when a fresh wave of violence had erupted in the Israel/Palestine conflict, I went to a concert for peace to raise money for MSF. It was the kind of lefty scene that would have sent a Tory MP into a smug Twitter rant; a concert to bring peace between Muslims and Jews, held in C of E church and attended by the sort of people who believe iambic pentameter to be an underrated form of self-expression. For those of us attending, it was a nice way to do our small part. Plus, Yottam Ottolenghi was providing the food during the interval.
You may wonder what two hours of Rachmaninov piano concertos can do for the situation on the West Bank. After half an hour, this became abundantly clear: If they pumped out that music across the Gaza strip, people would probably be less concerned with inflicting violence on others- because they'd be inflicting it on themselves instead. Bums began to shift on the hard wooden pews. Smiles became perceptibly more fixed as we made ourselves focus on the one thing that we were really there for; the vast, exotic salads, industrial-sized tubs of gourmet hummus and trays of baclava that had been in plain sight at the side of the hall from the moment we sat down.
When the Titanic sunk, the crew didn't inform the passengers boarding the lifeboats that there wouldn't be enough space for everyone because they were aware of the chaos that would ensue. It's too bad the organiser of the concert didn't employ the same discretion. Right before the interval, as the concert attendees had become as restless as bulls waiting to be let loose on a flag-waving matador, he took it upon himself to announce that they had sold way more tickets than planned and that there wouldn't be enough food to go round.
I suppose he must have been relying on our generosity and compassion when he made that statement. "These people have given up their Saturday evenings to help bring about the end of a conflict on the other side of the world," I imagine he thought. "Surely they'll be happy to eat a little less. Particularly when Pizza Express is just round the corner."
That man was wrong.
What followed was a scene that wouldn't have looked out of place during the sack of Rome. People were trampled underfoot. Plastic cutlery was deployed as weapons. Tables were overturned and small children flung against walls. I can't say too much more for legal reasons. I wouldn't want to say to too much more for psychological ones. That day in a church in Belsize Park, we all saw the ugly side of humanity. Some would say we even became it ourselves.
So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Religion isn't the root of all evil; it's human nature. And Baba Ganoush.