Everyday you must say,
“So how do I feel about my life?”
Anything is hard to find
when you will not open your eyes.
When will you accept yourself?
– The Smiths, Accept Yourself
The United Nations humanitarian chief has condemned attacks against civilians in Syria, a day after more than 100 people were killed in what activists said were regime air raids on the rebel-held suburb of Douma, near Damascus. At least 300 other people were also injured in the strikes on Sunday, with the death toll, most of them civilians, likely to rise as many of the wounded were in a serious condition.
Al Jazeera, 15 August 2015
Most of the time people live without reference to history. Without reference to history it is easy to be a racist, and it is normal to hate. For example, a person walking into a prison without understanding history might conclude that criminality is associated with skin colour. They might think the best way to deal with crime is to be “tough on it”, to arm the police, to create tougher sentences, to have zero tolerance, to sneer at the rights of prisoners, to cut funding to rehabilitation, and to demonise the “criminal class”.
Could we instead sit with the people in prison and ask them to tell us about their lives, and after listening to one hundred stories what similarities would be found I wonder? If we had the time, we could find out about their grandparents, and great grandparents, and we might – after a long journey – find the place where many of these paths began to diverge. It might be, for many, sometime between 1860 and 1900. If we know our New Zealand history we might know about our own civil war which some call the Land Wars but which were about much more that that.
Likewise, a person watching the news about France might conclude that fanaticism is to do with Islam. They might think that the best way to deal with it is through fury, military fury, airstrikes, surveillance, drones, increasingly limiting “secular” laws, to have zero tolerance, to sneer at the rights of Muslims, and to demonise the Middle East.
Could we instead sit with the people in prison and ask them to tell us about their lives, and after listening to one hundred stories what similarities would be found I wonder? If we had the time, we could find out about their grandparents, and great grandparents, and we might – after a long journey – find the place where many of these paths began to diverge. It might be, for many, sometime around 1914 or perhaps earlier in North Africa, sometime in the 19th century. If we know our world history we might know about colonialism; we might know about Algeria, or Sykes-Picot, or Suez.
When will we open our eyes? When will we accept ourselves?
My ancestors, for example, were used to control the riots in Egypt in 1918 when the British reneged on its promise to that country of independence, and arrested and deported its peaceful leaders. Who among us has not thrown a stone in this war? Now when the news floods with buildings illuminated red, white and blue, and grieves for the dead, do we forget the monthly toll of civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria?
Our Prime Minister is, by coincidence, in Vietnam now where he will lay a wreath at the Monument for National Heroes at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. Afterwards the PMs of both countries are expected to express solidarity with France. As if history did not exist. As if Vietnam was not torn apart for decades in a war against France and then America (and her allies, like a grudging New Zealand); just as if many of people in that country were not called terrorists, were not demonised, were not bombed, did not have their country sprayed with defoliants which has left malignant DNA in them even down to today and for what?
If you are opposed to it, the idea of global capitalism and secular democracy begins to look like a fanatical ideology in which any war can be justified. If you are opposed to it, the West begins to look like a horrific, complacent, behemoth that crushes all to preserve the right of its citizens to watch the Bachelor, eat McDonalds, and update its Facebook status.
Now the leaders of France talk of war. All the wars in the Middle East since 2001 have cost how many civilian lives? Have maimed how many people? Is it really hard for the drone pilots not to see that on the ground all those deaths and injuries are terrorism? That those sudden, devastating strikes and the threat of them are sowing terror?
When will we open our eyes? When will we accept ourselves? Our SAS is not the answer. Our soldiers are not the answer.
How does it feel waking up Muslim in the quiet streets of South Wellington today? How does it feel putting on you hijab and going out to the supermarket today? Or maybe you don’t. Not today. Maybe it’s time to be with friends, and talk, and keep an eye on the news, and pray. I’ve taught some of your daughters. I’ve visited your mosque in Kilbirnie and been welcomed. We have shared water. I have read Rumi, and about the Sufi in Afghanistan. I have faith in you. Like me you are here because of history. Take care. Let me know if I can help.