Ugly

What a bizarre day Friday was… I came back from a normal day at work, looking forward to the weekend when a friend asked me if I had heard about the decapitation in France. I hadn’t. I swiped my way through the news and took it all in. Because it wasn’t only France. It was also Tunisia and Kuwait and Somalia, all though the latter hardly made the news. And I caught myself answering my friend that I wasn’t surprised (I even predicted it would happen)… It was ramadan after all and a Friday, so the fanatics were extra pumped after being spoken to by their clerics of choice.

Coexist-cartoon2

After having a quick bite at home, I went to the gym. While I was plodding away on the treadmill I looked at the lady next to me, making her miles without going anywhere. I have seen her many times and we always exchange smiles and friendly greetings in the dressing room. She is old enough to be my mother but she is lean and strong and would probably outrun me any day of the week.

keep-calm-and-turn-a-blind-eye-2She was looking at the TV screen in front of her while working through her routine. It was a news channel. Men with flags. Large guns. Flashing lights from police cars and ambulances. Blood. Moving images of anger and fear, but no sound. Just the pounding of our machines and the encouraging beats of some dance song. I saw her turn the screen in front of her off and continue on in a sort of “Keep calm and carry on” sort of way.

RAF knoopI must admit I consciously chose not to watch the news that evening, even though it was on my mind. On Saturday I woke up and realized it was Veteran’s day in the Netherlands. I had made a point of remembering it this year as I had received a very special gift from an amazing man and second world war veteran the year before. It was a button from his uniform and I had promised I would wear it this day to honor him.

I turned on the TV and saw the preparations for the national parade and the stories of veterans pass by. They were from different generations and had served in different conflicts but they all shared a sense of pride in what they stood for. But there was also guilt, because it was never enough. And recurring pain, physical or mental (or both) because a war leaves scars that never heal.

And I then realized my gym companion didn’t turn the TV off because she was uninterested but because at that particular moment she couldn’t deal with it and had to switch it off. Violence does something to us, as humans. It’s not just a physical wound, it kills something inside us, doesn’t it?

I suspect this is also why people around me seem to be more vocal about the destruction of the ancient buildings and sculptures in Palmyra than about the trail of torture and death IS left on its way there. It’s so difficult to process what is happening there and it’s nearly impossible to find the words to say anything meaningful about it.

Realizing that there are people that can get past that point of repulsion and not only condone these violent acts but become active participants boggles my mind and I hate that it is becoming “just another killing” on the news.

It’s hard because on the one side I want to crawl away into my happy space of denial and just ignore this nasty business. I am helpless in the face of this aggressive cancer. There is no room for reasoning. It’s just ugly.

But to quote the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Am I Charlie, or not?

Apparently I have to know the answer to this question… For a while there, I was convinced I was Charlie, all though I never hashtagged it or selfied myself with a sign declaring this openly… Some would argue that if it’s not on Facebook (or twitter or whatever) it didn’t happen, so in that sense I have always been undecided. And now I have people telling me I shouldn’t want to be him to begin with… so I’m confused…

I must admit I have been a bit out of the loop lately. I know about what happened, watched the news shortly after the shootings, I heard the shooters were “caught” and I heard millions went to the streets in Paris to make a statement against these horrific events. I haven’t watched any discussions or in depth programs about it though, partly because I had little time, partly because my computer went on strike for a while and partly because I just found it all too depressing, really…

Another confession I have to make is that I had not heard of (or remembered hearing of) Charlie Hebdo before in my life. I know what satire is and it is something I tend to enjoy. So, that Charlie Hebdo had stepped on some toes in its past came as no surprise to me, as it is something that’s hard to avoid with satire and political cartoons.

But then I read this post on a blog with the wonderful slogan “Standing up against injustice is a choice. So are silence and willful blindness”, which got me pondering. It made me realize I know nothing about this really and I should be careful who’s side I choose (or if I should choose one at all).

I remember hearing president George W. Bush utter the words “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” and shivering at the thought of what that implied. I saw where this was headed. I saw how near sighted this was and saw its ugliness. Some may argue the troubles had already begun before then and this was just a commander in chief saying what needed to be said in reaction to 9/11, but that’s for another blog perhaps… My point is that having to choose between being Charlie or not, is a hip social media version of that same dilemma and there is more to it.

charlie will you stop thatWhat it proves to me once again as well, is that ignorance is really a dangerous thing. I would have marched my soles off in those Parisian streets without really knowing anything about either side in this tragedy.

And don’t get me wrong here, I am in no way saying that going on a shooting frenzy was OK. I condemn this terrorist act with everything I have in me and do see a frightening threat growing in the islamist corner that must be dealt with.

As Lydia de Leeuw of A Second Glance wrote:

Do I think yesterday’s mass murder was a despicable act? Of course. Do I feel great anger and sadness for those who lost their lives and loved ones? Naturally. And it goes without saying that no cartoon can justify violence, EVER. But still, I am not Charlie Hebdo!

(…)

It seems like the majority feels the need to tell religious people (mainly Muslims) – through cartoons and otherwise – that they’re ignorant because they have a God and a prophet. In that lies a self-centered, supremacist attitude that seeks to shove atheism down the throat of people who are religious.

(…)

I feel like we have adopted a fundamentalist way of thinking around the right to freedom of expression; you are either for it or against it. It is all or nothing. A generally white, atheist majority has decided that the right to freedom of expression is an absolute and ‘sacred’ part of our society that has no social nuance whatsoever.

Cartoons ridiculing Islam (or any other religion) are not an embodiment of tolerance and liberal thinking. They’re an expression of intolerance and judgement towards a religion and its followers.

I fear we will see more of these godless acts occur in the name of Allah and wish I could think of a way to reach out, figure out a way to actually talk to eachother. A true dialogue. The kind where both sides actually listen to the other and find a common ground to build on… But I don’t see it. Not yet. Not in the near future either.

But we’ll get there and my mission until then is to keep myself informed and remember there are always more sides to the story. I will listen, I will comment, I will make contact and keep my horizon as wide as I can. And even if I feel I have seen and understand all sides, I will remain conscious of the fact that there might always be more to it that I can grasp at a particular moment.

And for now, I must conclude I am NOT Charlie.