Yesterday I got an update from Daniel, the son of a dear friend of mine, from Lesvos, a Greek island that is receiving a high influx of refugees from Syria. As a volunteer, Daniel has joined an Ngo that provides support to the families that arrive in the direst conditions. I was overly moved by his update, and at the beginning I could not understand why. It is not the first time I read reports of good people engaging in supporting the less lucky. Then I realized: after the attacks in Paris and the shock they caused, touching something good, honest, seeing this young boy devoting (and enjoying) his time to refugees, was like a wave of good after which you stay firmer on your feet.
So much has been told in the turmoil following the trauma caused by what happened in Paris. Like many others, I guess, I was hurt and horrified by so many nasty statements on Muslims and Islam. I was intrigued by the clear and heated split between those who wanted to observe one minute of silence for the victims, and those who maintained that we should respect all dead, so if we don’t do it for Syria why should we do it for Paris. And I was irritated when the critics about changing profile pictures on socials erupted: does it take a superior mind to realise that in shock people need to express their trauma, and manifesting it on socials is part of the process? I found these debates a waste of time, and a bit disrespectful towards those who had to deal with more painful issues.
Then I started seeing some good in all of this. I read and heard intelligent remarks, meaningful and touching interventions. Some of these include an article by Chris Graham on newmatilda.com, a letter from Sarah Roubato on Mediapart (in French), and even the bitter monologue of Maurizio Crozza on terrorism (in Italian).
But most of all it was the wave of good that came from within my personal circle, which helped me cope with this and realize that we never must lose our lucidity. And understand that what happened in Paris, though terrifying and terrible, is nothing new in the history of mishandling our beautiful world, and will happen again, and might touch us each time a bit more closely. It was the broken voices of the friends at my book-club in Jakarta when we talked about Paris; it was Daniel’s update, which reminded me that tragedies keep on happening, every day. And it was the words of a father I deeply love, to his sons:
I know we are all appalled by what happened in Paris. I also know we are by now “anesthetized” to the thousands bombs, car bombs and suicide attacks that regularly hit Iraq, Afghanistan, and lately Lebanon. We are also speechless in front of whole states that disappear, like Somalia, maybe Libya and Yemen in a while. Not to talk about Syria, a black hole that swallows hopes and slaughters whole generations.
All this is terrible, and Paris is even more terrible for what it represents, and the cultural and values proximity, but unfortunately all this is part of the darkest side of humanity, the only race that has created the possibility to annihilate itself and other races, that sits on the chasm of climate change and keeps on dancing on coal and oil. But this is also the world that has vanquished diseases, reduced extreme poverty, increased life expectancy.
Today isn’t worse than yesterday, only different, and understanding how different it is becomes urgent. I remember the nightmare when I was your age, and we were sitting on a nuclear arsenal which could make the world explode 5 times. I remember that your grandparents went through Nazism, Holocaust and the war with more than 70 million victims, many of those civilians. Not to look at the other thousand abominations of yesterday and today.Remembering and understanding is useful to keep on going, and to build a world which is every day a bit less absurd and a bit more tolerant, to create small spaces of freedom of thought and fight against fanaticism and injustice.