As events have unfolded in the USA,
Afghanistan and the Middle East, I have been thinking about social
work and terrorism. Social workers will always be counted among the
stretcher-bearers of society and we know already of their
considerable contribution to the counselling of the bereaved and
traumatised in the USA and elsewhere. It is from the strength of
experience like this that our credibility grows and enables us to
help to bring about better policies and practice in the future.

However, social workers also find
themselves working among people – be they asylum seekers, ethnic
minorities, disabled or disadvantaged in some way – whose
experiences and belief patterns take them outside those of the
majority. Sometimes this is wrapped up in the jargon of social
disadvantage, but it is part of the skill of social work to be the
mover in this situation.

Indeed, I would suggest that
inside almost every social worker at some point there is a burning
sense of injustice brought about by how their client is being
treated or about how whole groups of people who form their clients
get a raw deal. This has to be part of the motivation of social
work. It also affects how social workers look at the world and at
injustices in other countries.

may bring with them religious values that are at odds with
worldliness. They may feel some sympathy for radical religious
ethics that proclaim the downfall of the rich and the salvation of
the poor. Others may come to this point of view by way of socialist
thinking that dominated so much of the past 150 years and may not
be so dead as supporters of consumerism may think.

Certainly it is within the
collective memory of social workers to recall the protest movements
of the 1960s and 1970s. Remember “Hey Hey LBJ, How many kids did
you kill today?” Who will own up to having posters of Che Guevara
on the back wall of the office? Who watched If or
Apocalypse Now?

In his
early books Sartre describes how the mentality of resistance grew
in occupied France, and there is a famous passage in which the hero
finds meaning in life as he stands on the top of a church tower and
turns his gun on an advancing troop of soldiers, a moment of
intense liberation. We may pause to think how we would react if
some part of the British Isles were occupied or invaded by an
outside power.

social workers are no strangers to wanting to right the wrongs of
the world, but theirs is not a heroic occupation in the usual sense
of the word. For them, empowerment does not come, as Mao said, out
of the barrel of a gun, but through patiently helping clients to
achieve their potential and obtain their civil rights. Caring also
teaches about consequences. There are alternative ways to violence.
Do we want the memorial to all those who died in New York to be
more brutal killing elsewhere?

John Metcalfe is parliamentary officer of
the British Association of Social Workers.


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