Friday, May 18, 2007

If I Were Arab

When the students at Virginia Tech were killed recently, the entire American nation paused to reflect and to mourn. The nation, as a set of individuals, took a moment to consider the grief of their families and the terror each student must have felt when they stared at Seung-Hui Cho just as he shot them. Premature death of young people is a universal point of human sorrow. The outpouring of grief for these students; however, was particularly intense because they are Americans. It was a shared nationality and sense of connection that intensified our instinctive human reaction to grieve. It hurt more and we grieved harder because they were Americans.

If I were Arab today I would be unconscious with grief. If the Arab world had a collective spirit-voice to speak to the heavens, it would be screaming in agony. The number of individual voices of family members and friends everyday yelling in pain at the death of a loved one might be too much to bear. If I were Arab, the news clip images of an Arab woman running and screaming with the dead body of her child in her arms would make me consider my own mother running with my dead body in her arms. That kind of pain is unconscionable. If I were from Lebanon, for instance, not only would I see the image of the woman, but I might recognize the backdrop as a familiar neighborhood – somewhere I played or went to school. If I were Palestinian I might have a grandfather would could tell me with tears in his eyes about life before 1948 and his inability to reorient himself to the current state of occupation, dehumanization and carnage. If I were Iraqi, my emotional capacity would simply be spent.

My personal anguish would be compounded by the overwhelming sense of injustice and the staggering imbalance of power. The ability of the United States and Israel to not only dictate the terms of my subjugation, but characterize my desire to be free as rooted in hatred would burn my intellect and my sensibility as a human being. Their demands that my world submit to the terms of their existence runs counter to the very spirit of freedom and justice that they proclaim to be defending. The combination of resistance, violence and terrorism that is now rampant in the Arab world is evidence that those terms are not acceptable and they never have been. You cannot beat a people and demand that they not fight back in order to peacefully negotiate an end to the beating. That is not how justice works. The power imbalance between the Arab world and the west; however, is such that these are the terms. They are obviously unacceptable and therefore the personal pain and the humiliation of injustice are compounded by a growing sense of hopelessness.

If I really were Arab, I might know more about instinct and the long cycles of history. I might be better able to understand the instinct towards hope embedded in me as a result of being part of a people whose civilization dates back several millennia. With that understanding, a 60 or 80 year convulsion of pain may be tempered by the length and breadth of my identity. Maybe.


1 comment:

acousins said...

I enjoyed reading this post Kamau. Keep going - always look forward to your next piece.