“I believe that he who hates is destroying himself.” — Jorge Luis Borges
How do we regain trust in humanity when everything is pulling us towards division and hatred?
With the current events in the Middle East, we are yet again being asked to choose between two binaries: of good versus evil. Those calling for an end to the killing have been called repulsive; dissent, freedom of expression and solidarity are increasingly being outlawed.
Those same governments are insisting on a simplistic assessment of the situation. Yet this will do nothing to alleviate suffering or bring about peace. Destruction is swift, but rebuilding is slow and painful. War does not bring peace. And the seeds of hate that are being planted in people will take generations to undo.
In ‘Explanations Are Not Excuses,’ Sarah Shulman writes we are witnessing a form of erasing of history, where decades of injustice never happened. She says this is how we maintain our own sense of goodness, by only remembering parts of history.
So have we not learned from history, from past mistakes, from our own guilt and complicity?
Historian Yuval Noah Harari says one of the terrible things about history is that people use past injuries to inflict present injuries. “Instead of trying to heal the wound, they use it as an excuse to inflict more wounds.” But, “if you go down that path,”he says, “then for centuries it’s just a competition of suffering.”
So where is our much needed moral compass?
It was from the ashes of the second world war and the holocaust that the international human rights system was born, with the intention to prevent humans from ever committing such horrors again. Even though it is being undermined, ignored and even attacked, we must stand firm in our beliefs that this is our most powerful tool for holding perpetrators accountable for the atrocities being committed (including the complicity of our own governments), and for bringing lasting peace and justice to the region.
We must also understand our own contributions to the systems that reproduce inequality and consequential cycles of violence, Shulman writes. And this is the most difficult challenge of our lives, she says, because we must start this by listening to whoever is suffering, even if it is by our own hand.
It is also our responsibility, as Harari and other historians suggest, to understand context and understand the importance of history. “If you are not immersed yourself in this sea of pain, don’t be intellectually lazy, don’t be emotionally lazy, don’t just see one part of reality. Try to appreciate the complexity of the situation and to think constructively about how we could one day reach a place of peace.”
Those of us watching from a distance must amplify the voices of the courageous people – often invisible – who are steadfastly working for peace. Anger, hatred and violence are easy; compassion, on the other hand, is hard, it needs to be nurtured, practised and protected.
We must also commit not to add to the hate, but begin working towards undoing it. This will be incredibly difficult but it’s what humanity needs from us, it’s the only path to healing. In the words of Simone Weil, “pain and suffering are a kind of currency passed from hand to hand until they reach someone who receives them but does not pass them on.”
Words, Veronica Yates and illustration, Miriam Sugranyes
“Explanations Are Not Excuses,” Sarah Schulman, New York Magazine, 16 October 2023. Read here.
"In the Middle East, we are witnessing a war of souls - an exclusive interview with Yuval Noah Harari," 20 October 2023, Sky Italy. Listen here.
“Ilan Pappe: There is still time to stop the Gaza genocide.” Interview with Frank Barat, 15 October 2023. Listen here.
“Violence Is Bred by Occupation:” Historian Rashid Khalidi on Israel-Gaza,’ Amanpour and Company, 18 October 2023. Read here.
‘War and Peace’ (Episode #24), The Way Out Is In Podcast, Br Pháp Hữu, Jo Confino, 17 March, 2022, Listen here.
“When the world becomes solid,” Báyò Akómoláfé, 18 October 2023, read on author’s website here.
Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky.
‘“The War in Ukraine Could Change Everything” - Yuval Noah Harari,’ TED, 2 March 2022. Listen here.
“Harari: 'Het is ook een strijd om menselijkheid en gezond verstand,'”, NOS, 18 October 2023. (Interview in English) here.
Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others, by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky and Connie Burk.
“As a reader, I have often felt the magic of literature, that sudden internal shiver while reading a novel, that glorious shock of mutuality, a sense of wonder that a stranger’s words could make me feel less alone in the world.” — Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
"Only the story can continue beyond the war and the warrior … It is the story, not the others, that saves our progeny from blundering like blind beggars into the spikes of the cactus fence. The story is our escort; without it, we are blind."– Chinua Achebe, Anthills of the Savannah
“Binary paths belong in bygone past, all things civilized are non-binary.”― Abhijit Naskar
“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” — Anais Nin
"Humility is admitting that I don’t know the whole story. Compassion is recognising that you don’t know it either."— Anon