The Big Read: Was 2015 as bad as you remember it?

December 31, 2015 10:30 pm


The year ended with a massacre in Paris. Photo / Getty Images

From the refugee crisis to the jihadi attacks, it has been a year of terrible lows – but there are some bright spots.
the start of the year, the West wore a black armband for Paris – and,
at the end, it donned a black armband for that heartbroken city once
again. It never really took it off. For 2015 turned out to be the year
of massacre, mourning and migrants.
Not a week went by without
some place in the world being scarred by suicide bombers, mass
executions or simply a lone gunman picking off tourists on a beach in
Tunisia. In Nigeria, the Islamist group Boko Haram slaughtered thousands
of people, 19 of them in one small town. That particular suicide bomb
was strapped to a girl believed to be 10 years old. Her name was not

Such deafening cruelty, such a grievous breach of civilised
norms, had generally felt at a safe distance from us. In 2015, it came
closer, gathering momentum like that line of flame speeding towards the
Jordanian pilot burned alive by Isil in a cage. Islamic State made you
almost nostalgic for al-Qaeda, who seemed rather old-fashioned,
thoughtful fellows compared to this monstrous new strain of psychopath.
There had been earlier wake-up calls, but it was no longer possible to
turn over and sleep through the alarm.
Each “latest atrocity” (it
never stayed the latest for long) confirmed that we were living under
the long shadow of a poisonous creed hellbent on our own elimination.
Whether we liked it or not, this was war, though not as we know it.
big question was whether European civilisation, softened up by decades
of multicultural relativism, had the stomach to fight for its values of
free speech, equality and tolerance. The first test came horribly early,
on the morning of January 7, when two masked brothers burst into the
offices ofCharlie Hebdo, a French satirical magazine. Twelve
people, including five lightly rumpled cartoonists, were shot dead.
Witnesses heard the gunmen shouting “We have avenged the Prophet
Muhammad!”, while calling out the names of the journalists who were
murdered for the little-known crimes of levity and not giving a damn
whom they offended.
eastern Paris, anti-terrorist forces stormed a kosher supermarket where
four hostages and an Islamist gunman died. The choice of target
confirmed that an ancient hatred, anti-Semitism, once again stalked the
continent; 15,000 Jews were predicted to leave France for Israel during
2015 alone. The killings united Europe in defence of free expression,
under the banner “Je Suis Charlie”. Some 1.6 million people took part in
the Marche de la Republique through Paris. Forty world leaders,
including Barack Obama, Angela Merkel and David Cameron, linked arms in
what looked like the most uncomfortable hokey-cokey since Tony and
Cherie Blair roped an unamused Queen into Auld Lang Syne at the
Millennium Dome.
Politicians delivered self-soothing mantras
about togetherness while teachers wept because some children at heavily
immigrant schools refused to observe the minute’s silence. As for what
the hell you do when an alienated minority of your citizens are on the
same side as your worst enemy, answer came there none.
To prove
that the UK was not immune, a young militant with a north London accent
and a black hood popped up again in a beheading video. He was becoming a
familiar figure in the new bestiary of ghouls. Being christened Jihadi
John by the tabloids made him sound like a rogue member of Robin Hood’s
Merry Men.
Home-grown jihadists were not the only threat to
European harmony. A debt-ridden Greece elected the far-Left Syriza party
on an anti-austerity programme, which made about as much sense as the
captain of the Titanic hiring a Mr Whippy van to sell Cornish Mivvis to
passengers. Fellow EU members pointed to Greek pay and conditions, which
more productive countries could only dream of. Top Fact of 2015 was
that Greek hairdressers could retire at 50 on a full pension because
hairdressing was classified as a “hazardous occupation”.
northern Europeans took the line that they could live without this
southern freeloader, that was not the view of their nervous leaders. The
consequences of keeping Greece within the eurozone were bad, but those
of Greece leaving might be even worse. Yanis Varoufakis, Syriza’s
wolfish and sexually charged Minister of Finance, acquired a cult
following as he mischievously played the grey men off against each
other. Varoufakis invented an exciting new game of Greek Roulette: this
involved Greece pointing a loaded gun at its own temple till its EU
partners begged it not to shoot and came up with another haircut.
Grexit impasse revealed a grave faultline in the EU. What was the point
of an union which found it so difficult to be united on anything? By
summer, that faultline would become a chasm, with the refugee crisis in
full flood. This mass migration, the biggest movement of peoples since
the Second World War, excited pity and compassion in equal measure, but
there was also a pinch of dread as we watched young men charge a border
post with elemental fury. Fears that jihadists would hide among the
refugees were shouted down as “racist”. The EU had yet another row, this
time about how many migrants each member state would take. No one
admitted it, but countries in which Muslim integration had been
problematic were reluctant to let down the drawbridge.
Angela Merkel’s “open-door” refugee policy saw her anointed Time magazine’s
Person of the Year, but other persons, in Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria,
Italy and especially poor Greece, who bore the brunt of Mrs Merkel’s
big-heartedness, had other, less flattering names for the German
Chancellor. We became accustomed, even inured, God help us, to the sight
of those overcrowded dinghies with their traumatised cargo, gratefully
splashing ashore. They were the lucky ones. At least 3,000 migrants
drowned in the Mediterranean during 2015.
It was one of the
drowned – a tiny Syrian boy named Aylan Kurdi – who finally brought home
the gravity of the crisis. A heart-wrenching photograph of the
three-year-old, washed up on a Turkish beach in the red T-shirt and
trainers his mother had dressed him in, was viewed by 20 million people
in just 12 hours. Later, inquiries revealed that Aylan’s family had been
living safely in Turkey for three years before making the fateful
journey. But what were mere facts against the tragic power of the
Picture of the Year? Under huge public pressure, David Cameron
capitulated and announced that the UK would take 20,000 Syrian refugees –
a new life secured for them by a little boy who died.

A heart-wrenching photograph of a three-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach.
A heart-wrenching photograph of a three-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach.
With the world such a dark and treacherous place, we seized
on consolations where we could find them. The birth of Charlotte
Elizabeth Diana brought joy; it was a long time since we last had a new
princess and we remembered there was nothing we liked better. A perfect
rosebud in her white bonnet, Princess Charlotte was blissfully unaware
of crazy jihadists. Hers was the promise of new life, which is the hope
that never dies.

The birth of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana brought joy. Photo / Getty Images
The birth of Charlotte Elizabeth Diana brought joy. Photo / Getty Images
Closer to home, we came together to celebrate sporting
success. We co-hosted the Cricket World Cup and cheered on as the Black
Caps put in a nail-biting semifinal performance against South Africa. We
were ultimately beaten by Australia, but our humility in defeat drew
Our turn came next, however, as the All Blacks
convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final. And
golfer Lydia Ko climbed to the top of the LPGA, became player of the
year and took home $4.1 million.

The All Blacks convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Getty Images
The All Blacks convincingly defeated the Wallabies in the Rugby World Cup final. Photo / Getty Images
We got a say on the world stage with a seat on the United Nations Security Council for 2015/ 2016.
this year ended, as it began, with a massacre in Paris; 130 victims,
many young people out enjoying themselves in cafes and at a rock
concert, were cut down by jihadists who had slipped with disturbing ease
into Europe from Syria. This changed everything. The open borders of
the Schengen area began to clang shut. Parliament voted to bomb Isil in
Syria. In British cities, people walked more stiffly, watchfully,
because an attack was closer now. It was war as we must come to know it.
September 9, with a characteristic lack of fuss, Queen Elizabeth II
became the longest-reigning British monarch, breaking the record of 63
years and 216 days set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria.
We needed her more than ever, that still point in a tumultuous world.

Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch. Photo / AP
Queen Elizabeth II became the longest-reigning British monarch. Photo / AP

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