Gill Hicks: Facing death and choosing life
Dr Gill Hicks is the Australian-born founder of London-based not-for-profit M.A.D for Peace, and a motivational speaker, author, curator, and trustee for several cultural organisations. She began her career as a speaker in the wake of the 2005 London bombings: Hicks was the last living victim rescued. Both her legs were amputated below the knee, and her injuries were so severe that she was initially not expected to live. She was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital without an identity - she was labelled only as ‘One Unknown’.
Q. What do you think is the biggest threat to peace within Australia?
A. The greatest threat to peace within any country, in my opinion, is division, identity, fear and ignorance.
As we witnessed with the London bombings of 2005, those responsible were not from other lands, the threat was not external – but internal – the four bombers were raised and schooled within the UK – they were British citizens.
Peace, I believe, does need to be defined before we can discuss firstly what it is, and how we achieve it. The core of the work within my not-for-profit organisation, M.A.D. for Peace, focuses on the responsibility of the individual to create an environment in which he/she has choice in every word and action – ensuring that those words and actions are positive and/or constructive. We believe that peace is within – and that peace starts with you.
Q. How do you think the internet is contributing to or threatening peace?
A. The internet is a powerful and immediate form of communication, and extremely effective in the spreading of both news and propaganda – it is also a brilliant connector for groups, especially terrorist and extremists groups whose network systems rely on the internet as a key component to the ‘success’ of both their recruitment and maintenance of messaging. M.A.D. is soon to launch a major initiative that mimics the networking of terrorist cells – our equivalent is Nests – allowing international communication of constructive messaging and knowledge share.
So, yes, the internet is a threat – but can also be used as a tool – it is a brilliant progression in our growing world.
Q. How did the London bombings change you as a person (aside from the obvious!)
A. The outcome of surviving the bombings has changed me profoundly and permanently. Not least because I have lost both legs below the knee – but every day I have different challenges to face. In facing my own death I learnt a renewed sense of life; in particular, what was important and what wasn’t. I knew absolutely that I had to dedicate my life and my life’s work to making a difference and doing all I could to build sustainable peace.
Q. Is it ever possible to forgive terrorists, or to see their actions as an inevitable consequence of the global situation?
A. I think forgiveness should not be confused with empathy, understanding or even the wanting to understand. For me, I do not forgive the act; the person who detonated his bomb is dead, there is no opportunity to have any dialogue, for him to even ask for my forgiveness – there is no exchange and I believe this is crucial to obtain absolute forgiveness.
I do believe, from the close work I do with individual extremists and divided communities, particularly in the UK, that one great contributing factor is identifying with those who face oppression and acts of what can be deemed unjust and violent – people living often in extreme conflict.
I don’t believe in inevitable situations – as nothing is ‘written’ and tomorrow can be positively changed.
Q. What is one thing you would like an Australian Government to commit to in the name of peace?
A. I would love to see all governments commit to education – to include conflict resolution on the curriculum, and for empathy to be included in our every day education.
Q. How optimistic are you about the future?
A. I am optimistic about the future as I have witnessed and been the recipient of humanity, the brilliance of humanity. People who risked their lives to save mine – when I was unknown to them, my label chillingly ‘One Unknown, estimated female’. To them it didn’t matter if I was rich or poor, of faith or no faith at all – the colour of my skin – indeed if I was male or female.
I have dedicated my life to the work of peace building because I believe it is possible – I believe we can make the choices in our every day lives that can create constructive environments.
Gill Hicks’ Occasional Hawke Lecture, “One unknown: facing death, choosing life”, will be held at the Adelaide Town Hall on the evening of Wednesday April 6. Register at www.hawkecentre.unisa.edu.au or see here for more details
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