Diary 2016 (March 11th)- My wounds are deeper than yours
A couple of days back, I saw this piece in the New York Times:
…the minority that isn’t — that is to say white, privileged and identified with an “imperialist-colonialist” state, Israel….A recent Oberlin alumna, Isabel Storch Sherrell, wrote in a Facebook post of the students she’d heard dismissing the Holocaust as mere “white on white crime.”
I browsed and read a few more articles on this Oberlin College incident and also the ongoing controversy about the Oxford Students Union. Oberlin college was the first institution in the US to admit female and black students in addition to white males. The Oxford Students Union is supposed to be bastion of progressive (and left-wing, the two don’t always go together in my view) politics.
But somehow, anti-racism has mutated into this unrecognizable, horrifying beast. One suffering is deemed to be greater than another. Often one is thoroughly denied. I cannot imagine what sort of ignorance of history would support such beliefs.
Why is not possible to understand anti-semitism, the enormity of the Holocaust, the existential threat faced by Israel in its early years, and at the same time condemn the illegal settlements, the daily harassment and the psychological torture in the Palestinian territories. To be aware of the debate about Israel’s legitimacy, the moronic Biblical arguments, the Balfour declaration and the role of Haganah and Irgun, while also having an idea of the centuries of anti-semtism across Christian and Islamic worlds (The medieval Islamic territories seem to have been more tolerant). At the same time to be aware that the ‘land without a people’ had people living on it for centuries, to know how they lost their homes and homeland and continue to lose a little bit more every day.
Last year, soon after the Paris terrorist attacks, I came across this news:
Turkey fans were heard booing during the minute's silence for the victims of the Paris attacks before kick-off Chants…www.dailymail.co.uk
Some tried to explain it away by pointing to the hypocrisy of ignoring the Ankara bomb blasts or a creative explanation about some slogan against PKK. But I found it to be funny and sad at the same time.
I am also not immune to this. In Curfewed nights, Basharat Peer compares Kunan-Poshpora to Srebenica. My initial reaction was how he can he compare the two, the latter was on a much larger scale. Then I felt ashamed for weighing such horrendous crimes against each other in terms of numbers.
Recently in India there is a resurgence of a Hindu nationalist version of history (many countries have their own versions), in which a prosperous, enlightened land was destroyed by Muslim invasions and centuries of Muslim rule. The mass murders and forced conversions of Hindus are mourned and that is proclaimed as the core around which our idea of nationalism has to be constructed. It is a narrative based on deep sense of victimhood.
In Between the world and me, Ta Nehisi Coates says that when he was younger, he sought answers in a narrative of lost black power and glory, of a parade of black heroes, tricked and subjugated by the white man. Further voracious reading and clear-eyed professors at his alma mater, disabused him of those notions. He encountered chaos, where he expected coherence, in history, in black intellectual thought. He manages to reach the weighty realization that he might need something more than a ‘black trophy case’, that there might be others who lost their bodies in other places, other times, that black was maybe just someone’s name for human turned to object.
But that sort of nuance is absent from most people’s view. They might have knowledge of a longer list of items, but their information comes from 14o characters on Twitter or snide remarks on Facebook. The echo chamber of partisan websites and social media has substituted traditional media, which in turn had abdicated its role as a serious purveyor of news in the pursuit of ratings and advertising revenues, a long time ago.
There’s a standout scene in the episode ‘No man’s land’of the Amazon TV show Transparent. It is a juxtaposition of the discrimination against a transgender woman at a radical feminist festival and Nazi thugs. Trasgenders are not welcome at a festival for cisgenders, i.e. women born women. Women born men have benefited from the patriarchy for most of their lives. Jill Soloway is not presenting a straightforward analogy but is trying to reach a difficult truth, about how we often fall short in our pursuit of noble causes. Making up for one form of injustice leads to the creation of others. You join forces, drawn the lines and pit yourself against all the ‘others’. Yesterday’s oppressed become today’s dogmatists.
Now it’s all about fear and anger and a complete lack of empathy. Everyone is shouting, what about MY injustices. These injuries, often real, sometimes imaginary, are nursed and nurtured. The childishness is breathtaking. I don’t care about what you suffered. Only my suffering matters. Now people around the world are very ‘knowledgable’ and ‘aware’, picking up facts recent or long past, tallying grievances and concluding. But there is no understanding of the big picture of current affairs or history. The ideal would be conscious, aware, humane humanity.
The day when I saw the news about the Turkish football fans, I told a friend that I would take naive humane idealism over this any day. Then I read this a few days back:
As a reporter in the Bosnian war, in 1993 I went to Belgrade to visit Vuk Drašković, the Serb nationalist politician…www.theguardian.com
It is eloquent and pragmatic. It gives great examples of history being misappropriated and misused by unscrupulous politicians. I don’t agree with it. Most of the reasoning presented in this draws on fabricated/selective/ simplified forms of history fed to the masses. Maybe the masses don’t have the inclination to study and understand the big picture. Maybe, emotional responses will always overpower the rational side.
In The Buried Giant, Kazuo Ishiguro explores ‘forgetting’ in a mythical land of knights and dragons. The nation is at peace now, but only because of a fog of amnesia which blankets it. No one remembers the atrocities, the bloodshed which happened in the preceding war. The brutalities are only hinted at. But they are not so difficult to picture. Is that world a better place because of the amnesia?
There could be two arguments against it. One based on practicality, that the memories can’t remain buried forever. The longer they rot, the worse they smell. The price paid for burying those memories will be higher in the future, than the pain of dealing with them right now. Reconciliation and forgiveness cannot happen in a land of denial. It leaves the field open for the propagation of selective half-truths.
The other argument is a purely ethical one. That the reckoning with justice must happen. I don’t think evil pays for its actions. But we still have to try.
I am disturbed. I don’t know what the answer is. I feel remembering is essential, though we might be doomed in spite or because of it.