“The only thing that we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org. Halabja chemical massacre, 1988
“The only thing that we learn from history, is that we learn nothing from history.”
Photo credit: Wikipedia.org. Halabja chemical massacre, 1988
Here’s a confession from Sweden: despite working in Syria and Iraq during the civil wars, the collective trauma of the wars has hit me the most when being in Sweden.
I am happy I have friends and colleagues from different countries also in Sweden. I’ve shared my views on my female friendships on this site before, several times. I’m happy I have a job where I get to offer some support to the refugees in Sweden. But the secondary traumas are creeping up on me from time to time, as well as the high cost of trying to be neutral in the midst of relationship chaos that comes from internalised conflicts.
There is one thing, according to me, that people who suffered a war have in common: distrust. And distrust can take many forms. People can become shattered. Or angry. Or hostile. Or traumatised. Or depressed. The good things lies underneath, still there; people can be still be wonderful friends, colleagues, human beings; but the reaction to war rarely leaves a person without a trace.
On the outskirts of these conflicts, here in Sweden, I’m trying to manage the Assad supporters disbelieving in the activists from the opposition. The opposition activists suspecting the Assad supporters for being in liaison with the intelligence. People blaming Iranians for messing up Syria. People blaming Iraqis for Daesh. People blaming each other for not caring about the others. Trying to remain neutral in this is a battlefield on its own.
Taking part of people’s experiences made things to me as well. All the stories I have heard are sometimes blurring in my mind, if I ever am to retell them. Was it the Iraqi boy I knew who was forced, as a teenager, to watch a gang rape of an Iraqi girl? Was it the Syrian woman I knew who couldn’t sleep through the night so she chose the day instead, terrified of the dark? Was it the Palestinian man who had covered his child’s ears from hearing the bombings at night in Gaza, who still was in anguish, because despite being outside of the country, his child still heard the bombs? Or was it someone else?
I just now recalled a morning that I spent some time back with a Syrian friend in the Swedish Migration Board, when she was about to apply for asylum. I had gone with her as she didn’t want to be on her own. She hadn’t slept all night but she was still composed. In the Migration Board, the queue system had broken down and people were fighting in order to get to the desk to have their application handed in before closing time. The scene somehow reminded of the situation at the Syrian border. There were no pens to fill in the applications. There was no one to explain anything. People were pulling at me, a Swede, to explain the system to them (I only could somehow), to ask for water (there was none), to ask if they would be allowed somewhere to sleep during the night (I didn’t know). There were too many people in the room that became unbearably hot. I started to yell at the woman behind the desk when she said she was out of pens. I started to yell when she refused to come out and organise the queue. I became increasingly irritated with the asylum seekers begging me for help.
My friend told me to come out and sit down at one of the benches in the waiting room, and surprisingly enough, a man left his place so that here was room for me. A Syrian family that my friend had befriended in the waiting room came up, and their 8-year-old daughter placed herself in my knee, so that she could watch music videos on my iPhone. But before so, she folded my jacket and placed it behind my head. Why did the girl do that? Her mom gave the girl’s brother a KitKat and a soft drink to give to me, him resolutely pressing the items in my hands, urging me to open the chocolate bar. Then a few minutes later, I heard the children’s father speak to his bench neighbour next to us. The neighbour had asked him something about Sweden, and the man answered:
“I don’t know… there is a Swedish girl over there who speaks a little bit of Arabic, that I could ask. But I don’t want to do it right now. As you can see, she is very tired.”
Are you planning on murdering some people? Assassinate an entire group of men, women and children due to the city they reside in? Murder is illegal in any country of the world – everyone knows that. But there’s still a way to get away with it. Do you, at the same time, want to get away with the crime? Here’s some useful advice for you:
Make some good friends. Friends with power and military resources.
Make sure these friends are short of morals, that also they are conducting crimes against humanity in their own countries. With this, they will not blame you for the crimes that you commit.
Divert all the attention towards the terrorists residing in the target area. Everyone knows that there are jihadist groups, and they have had a very active online presence, torturing the world with their terror. But you play up the jihadist as if they include all the rebel groups in the area; all the civilians; all the rescue workers.
Pretend as if the civilians don’t exist. Each and every human being in the city is in liaison with the jihadists.
If people, who are trying to flee from the bombings, make it to what they think are safe areas, the areas that are under your control – immediately accuse them of being terrorists, imprison them and torture them.
Bomb the hospitals, the last piece of infrastructure that is left; the core of humanity. Everything is already gone: schools, electricity, running water.
Few people will survive this ordeal. Even fewer will survive with their sanity intact. You know this. By breaking a society, a city, piece by piece, you have taken away the humanity and the urge to resistance. The world is watching silently, despite the terrors being broadcasted every minute in social media, every day on prime time TV. You have reached so far with your powerful friends, with launching the idea of the terrorists, the whole world is scared by it.
You are almost there, close to the finish line. Soon all of these people are gone. The city that once was, is no more. You’re close to where you have succeeded without paying the price for the crimes you committed. Where you have gotten away with murder.
Photo credit: travelpulse.com
The victory seems closer now than ever. Assad has been able to push the rebels out of some of their strongholds. The regime and it’s allies are bombing the humanity out of Aleppo. The opposition is weak and fighting each other.
On social media, photos from pages such as Syria Tourism and Tartous2day are uploading photos as if it’s the summer of 2010: dressed up young people attending a party; ice cream desserts enjoyed in the center of Damascus; Syrian restaurants serving food to it’s guests, the trade mark fountain bubbling in the middle. Hope seems to make its way back into the common perception of Syria; in this sense, hope meaning the hope of peace.
If the regime will win the war, peace might happen in the near future. The regime will then need to rebuild parts of the country from scratch. Hospitals, schools, roads, buildings; in some areas, all of this needs to be rebuilt. But there will be peace, and many of the Syrians in exile will be able to go back to their beloved, beautiful country, without fear. They will be able to make use of their summer vacations to return to Syria and go swim in Latakia. Stroll in the old souk of Damascus. Dine out in one of the outdoor restaurants. I dare to say that I believe all Syrians have now been waiting for this for a long time.
But, there are those who won’t be able to enjoy an upcoming peace in Syria, the way peace seems likely now. Those who can’t go back despite any peace agreement if the regime stays in power. The people who once stood up against the regime, demanding human rights, a society where free speech was accepted. A society where you could live without fear.
These people once risked their lives for their own country, and they will receive nothing in return. They’ve been imprisoned, tortured, raped, before – if they were lucky – escaping the country.
Many of them that I know, are not happy with and would never have chosen the exile. A young woman who early on received permanent asylum in Sweden, and who has done quite well in maintaining her career and her profession, has done less well in appreciating the safety Sweden has provided her. Despite her freedom of speech, her ability to maintain her activism against the regime, her huge network all around Europe, she seems to dislike almost every aspect of her life in exile; her life in her new home country; the country itself. She’s aching so much for the Syria she once had. Despite all the terrible things she was put through, as an open activist against the regime.
One day, her Facebook status update simply stated: “I want to go home!”
The way the events in Syria are unfolding right now, that might never be possible.
Photo credit: www.facebook.com/tartous2day/
IS are being pushed further and further, and many are already celebrating the victory over one of the worst terrorist organisations – at least one of the worst who’s been able to show it off so cleverly online – this decade.
What will happen after IS might finally succumb in Iraq and its scattered members go on the run to avoid being tortured by the general army’s forces? What will happen after its European members will go back to their respective countries and plan terrorist attacks back home?
This is what needs to happen:
Iraqi government needs to include minorities in their politics. They need to take safety measures so that minorities can live under the same conditions as the majority population.
Public schools needs to receive sufficient funding and teachers so that all children get a substantial education.
The national army and police needs to be trained so that they don’t repeat the human rights abuses that has been conducted towards civilians.
Otherwise, the same constellation, or a new one, will pop up sooner or later. And the celebrations will be silenced for good.
A girl wearing a hijab is interviewed in Playboy! The world goes berserk! Liberals are super happy! The religious ones gets furious!
And most people, according to me, are missing the point.
This is what happened: A woman from a religious and/or ethnic minority is represented in a mainstream magazine famous for it’s exhibition of scantily dressed women. The woman, Nour Tagouri, is featured due to her profession, she’s a journalist, and she’s not dressed like one of the women who usually features in the Playboy photos; undressed. No, she’s well dressed but good looking and makes some facial expressions as if she has an attitude, or, as the interviewer puts it, “badass”.
Now we’re living in a women hating world, women from minorities are usually more severely attacked, and some cultures and countries are worse when it comes to it’s treatment of women – legally, culturally, socially. Women from these groups are often believed to be oppressed by people in the West, even though we don’t know their individual situation.
At the same time, the men’s magazines are still here, in the 21st century, where women who value themselves in terms of their looks and bodies are featured again and again.
That’s why I’m all for representation, the kind if representation that portray the individual as an individual, and not describes a person in a stereotypical way. But Nour Tagouri, while not being portrayed as an oppressed, voiceless Arab woman, now falls into the trap of being included in a sexist context. When liberals appreciate this move, they fail to recognise that Nour is now being included in another stereotypical context. When religious people criticise her for not being honourable enough, they put her in the context of having to be an obedient woman.
But a woman in a hijab featured in Playboy is not a sign of victory for the group she represents. It’s the sign of women who hate themselves, and that sometimes, us women don’t need men to bring us down. Our internalised misogyny works perfectly well itself.
The world is falling apart and people’s minds are going downhill with it.
Intolerance are increasing everywhere. People with intolerant views believe they are finally right.
What before was off the record is now on the record. Everything is possible. Everything is true. It’s like the Holocaust never happened. WWII never happened.
You try to stick to your values anyhow. You try to stick to what’s right. Maybe not stick up for, but stick to. That’s the least you can demand from yourself.
Does it pay off? Maybe for your soul.
Does it pay off for your every day life? No.
Does it pay off for your social life? No.
Does it pay off for your relationships? No.
At the other end of sticking to your values in a time when most people don’t, comes this: loneliness.
Do you have a hatred inside you that you wish to transfer to your children? Do you channel the hatred by religion? Is hate more important to you than children feeling safe and loved? This piece is for You.
This is how You should roll it.
Speak directly the kids that You want to transfer the hate to – Your kids, Your grandkids, other kids that You are taking care of or have an influence over, kids that are dependant on You and Your care in order to feel safe and secure, and therefore have no other or little other reference they can relate to, no other safety net, no other strong role models that they can rely on instead, when You start your hateful indoctrination.
Tell the kids that there is A Certain Religion that is bad, simply bad with no specific reason. Tell the kids that whoever belongs to That Religion is dirty, unclean, unfaithful, greedy, cheap. Any negative adjective You can use – use it for That Certain Religion.
Use a stereotype for anyone coming from That Certain Religion. Tell the children about the certain features of that religion. These people have certain hair colours, noses, facial features. That’s how you can tell they belong to That Religion.
The people from That Religion is all bad. Everything they do, they’re bad. You can never be friends with them. You can never go to school with them. You can never be neighbours with them. You can never work with them. This, the children needs to know. Before they start school, they need to know. They can never accept other people as individuals. Everything should be filtered in the dirty filter that You use for life.
Does anyone in the children’s extended family belong to That Religion? Did they, God forbid, marry an outcast who belongs to That Religion? Did someone make the unforgivable crime of converting? Tell the children that all these people that have committed that unforgivable sin will be punished for what they did. Family or not, religion cuts through everything. They don’t celebrate the same religious occasions as You and the children do, and therefore, they are bad. They will never be able to enter certain religious places because of their religion. Even when life is over, when they’re dead, they won’t find peace. They will burn in hell. Hell, to children, is scary. Use that fear as an incitement. Fear filters everything. Fear is a useful filter against love. Fear is a useful filter against happiness.
You hope that You succeed. Succeeding in passing on the hate is, first and foremost, the ultimate goal for the children that You care for.
But wait! Somehow, with one child or more, You were not successful. The children grow up, slowly but steadily along a rocky path, and where fear had it’s way, hate somehow didn’t make it. They could not buy the concept of hate, but they could not resist the concept of fear. Confusion and anxiety took the place where You hoped hatred would be.
You did not succeed. The children are not haters the way You hoped. But they are not secure, happy, grown up persons. Any hateful comments, they flinch and dodge. Any hateful comment, they might attack. Any hateful comment, it hurts them as if a bullet went straight to their heart.
You have made everything poisoned. Any religious holiday, any family gathering, it’s all attached to the fear and confusion, to the hatred You hoped would be planted in their heart.
You have succeeded, but You have not succeeded. You have created a damaged, fearful person where You hoped hatred would have been a part of the child, now the grown up person’s, spine. The hate have stopped, but the pain hasn’t. The pain probably never will. You have succeeded, but You have not succeeded. Where You wanted a strong hate to take place, something else took it’s place.
In the worst case for You, the grown up child recent everything that You were standing for. The grown up child might recent You and Your ways, even long after You have left this life. But the grown up child is still not happy. Still not secure. They are just fucked up. But they won’t carry on Your hate. This means, You have really not succeeded at all.
Someone who’s not carrying on with Your hate
Salah Abdeslam is arrested, according to the Belgian authorities. One of the presumed terrorists behind the horrific Bartaclan-massacre is captured, he will be put to trial, will face justice for what he did. This is good. This is how justice should work. I hope that he speaks up in court, give people an explanation to why he did what he did, face the charges he will be on trial for, like a man.
Still – the underlying issue remain at large: there are many other young men like him in the grip of hateful terrorist groups. Marginalised young men, and sometimes women, of immigrant origin in the suburbs of European cities, feeling like they are, and being, looked down upon by many of the Europeans that they meet in their everyday life. Young men and women who will build up an alienation and hate towards the country they reside in, maybe even was born in. Young men and women who will cling to conspiracy theories, conservative/religious values (more conservative than in their countries of origin), alienation, and in worst case, terrorism – because they are not and don’t feel welcome in the country where they reside with a permanent residency or even citizenship.
Us Europeans still seem unable to welcome these people to a full extent in our countries. We still don’t let them have the same rights as us whites: we still don’t accept their qualifications; we still frown upon mixed couples; we still are not interested in making friends with them, citing “we’re different” if someone would ask us.
It’s our fault, the fault of all of us. One terrorist down doesn’t solve the underlying problem: that we still need to learn how to coexist. All of us.
UNHCR Northern Europe wanted to launch a hashtag on Syria to remind people on how Syria was before the war. Little did they probably suspect that Syrian activists – these admirable, young, brave people – would take over the hashtag to remind the world of what was going on behind the beautiful scenery of their homeland. UNHCR even happily encouraged twitters to publish their photos of Syria before the war, seemingly disregarding the Syrian activists using Twitter as their main forum for resistance towards the regime.
Everyone agrees that Syria was a beautiful country before the war, but if you happened to be against the regime, to be one of those who wanted to speak, read and write whatever they wanted to, Syria could show a very ugly face. This, many people seem to have forgotten by now. The Twitter activists quickly took the opportunity to remind of this, and to show an excerpt of their remarkably dark humour:
“#SyriaB4War: is where you have to watch the criminal dictator pictures in all streets” (attached, a photo with the ever-smiling Bashar Al Assad)
“#SyriaB4War: Farm for Bashar al-Assad and his family”
“#SyriaB4War: Thousands of writers and the opposition were in prison”
“#SyriaB4War: is where the civil society activism was only for Asthma Assad and her entourage”
“#SyriaB4War: is where families dream of eating meat without being able to fulfil that dream with their miserable salaries”
And the last touché: one twitterer attached a photo of the Tadomour prison in Syria: “who goes there never return”.
I bet UNHCR’s communication department will think twice next time.