Jean Barker

The World is going to Hell

2012-09-21 14:29

Jean Barker

There are times in the history of the world that seem crazier than others. I guess somewhere, at any time, somebody is dying a brutal death. But - from here in the USA, at least - it seems like in the last month the entire world has lost its shit.

Just scanning a few of my favourite international news sites is enough to drive me underground. "30 Killed in Syria Blast", "Mitt: Palestine Has ‘No Interest’ in Peace". Hoping for solace, I looked to South Africa. "Award-winning Author Killed on Farm", "Guards Control Access to Lonmin Mine"... and rape, child rape, and other rape.

It's tempting to join in on the insanity. We all know I like a nice virile political discussion. I'm a red-blooded South African and have faced down my share of scary drunk racist men at braais, but I underestimated the volatility of the mood, a couple of weeks ago.

I shared a link on Facebook late at night, and woke up to find my timeline transformed into a war zone. I had posted an opinion piece written by someone else, in which the Israeli state's unfortunate support for apartheid was mentioned in the context of food labelling of products sent to South Africa. Someone I had thought was a friend dived at me and accused me of anti-Semitic (sic) postings and anti-Israel rhetoric. Somehow I became linked to every stupid anti-Jewish comment ever made to her, and the nightmare her grandmother lived years ago.

Spinning out of control

Furious at these accusations, I fought back at first. Not only am I not anti-Jewish, I was incensed that this woman dared, on behalf of all Jewish people, lump anyone critical of Israel or willing to listen to Palestine's story with what hate (Hitler?) did to her grandmother. And then I realised that the conflict was only escalating with every post. Filled with rage, and furious at the silence from the friends I wished would defend me against a vicious attack on my own Facebook page, I... burst into tears.

This is my usual response to being extremely angry. I cry. I'm a wimpy liberal caucie chick and I don't deny it. Instead of going to her house and throwing pipe bombs at her bedroom window, I just posted a series of pictures of kittens and puppies, called a couple of friends in tears, unfriended the crazy person, and went for a long, long walk. Eventually, I calmed down.

As stupid as this story sounds in the light of the world in flames around us, the experience gave me a small insight into how quickly political conflicts can so easily spin out of control as they lose sight of how, or why they began.

I thought back to my years in KwaZulu-Natal, Durban. I lived there when the ANC-Inkatha violence was at its height. Nobody was ever quite sure who or what was behind it, although everybody had an opinion. It seemed so senseless. But a friend who worked as a violence monitor (like a little local United Nations peacekeeping force) explained it to me. "It's got nothing to do with ANC political policy or IFP policy," he said. "It may have started that way, but it's all reprisals, now. This person killed my brother, so I must kill theirs." Hate is cemented by grief, by loss of those we love.

I don't believe Americans hate Islam. Most Americans know absolutely nothing about Islam. But American Rage (yes, not just Muslims have rage) at the 9/11 attack felt, to many, like an attack by Islam, and many hate crimes occurred here in reaction to it, in anger and grief at the loss of lives. The attack itself was probably revenge in the eyes of those who carried it out for the lack of security the Muslim world feels in a world run by a country allied to Israel in case of war. Going to war to avenge 9/11 meant more people died - mostly Afghans. But Americans died too.

Love and war

I think the whole thing was lose-lose. But to question the war to a US Military Mom (or to any American whose family has lost someone in any war) feels to her as if you're saying the loss of her baby boy was all for nothing. It's intolerable. Even I'm able to understand that! Spilt blood seals loyalty tighter than any political passion ever could.

Likewise, "Muslim rage" over that ridiculously bad film is completely out of proportion to the "crime" of depicting Mohammed. If you're not Muslim, it's only very rude, and very stupid, and probably a hate crime, but not a crime for which the entire USA population is responsible!

If all is fair in love and war? No, actually, NOTHING is fair in love and war. And this is especially true when to comes to war. When our hearts are broken, it's very hard to be fair, kind, or reasonable. How many times has 9/11 been avenged in the name of "freedom" by now? How many people will die in the name of Allah because some racist with a video camera made a crap movie?

I'm beginning to see, after years of my idealism being revived and killed, why people throw up their hands and refuse to take sides, or keep quiet about what they truly believe. The situation is so complicated, the anger so futile, and the glimmers of hope for humanity so rare that it's easier to admit we're helpless, than it is to continue to care.

- Jean is a screenwriting/directing dual MFA student in California, USA. She tweets as @jeanbarker and blogs pictures of signs and more, here. She will be back.

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