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|Volume 10 |Issue 12 | March 25, 2011 ||
Protecting Our Humanity
Racism is a surreptitious creature that creeps into the human mind, removes all traces of logic, compassion and humility to replace it with illogical loathing and contempt. It consumes people and causes them to lash out at their victims in the most despicable way. But when racism becomes the motivator for organised crime, especially if it has support from the state, the results are even more appalling. Hitler and his SS army demonstrated to the world what horrific levels state-sponsored racism could reach; it could justify the sadistic torture and killing of millions of fellow human beings just because of their race, sexual orientation or disability. The world seemed to have learnt a bitter lesson resulting in UN resolutions to condemn such crimes against humanity. We promised ourselves to 'never again let this happen.'
But happen it did, again and again – reaching our own land where people were brutally murdered because they didn't quite fit into the plan- they were not following the right religion, were no longer subservient enough, not speaking the right language, not having the right skin colour or the right genes.
Funnily enough racists and bigots have almost identical minds no matter which part of the globe they are from, in the way they overestimate their own ability to sustain their bully-boy tactics and underestimate the courage and resilience of their targets. Oppressors always make the mistake of relying too much on their ability to intimidate, being unaware of the fire they have ignited in people who, at some point will just refuse to take it anymore. The end of apartheid in South Africa is a shining example.
It is perhaps baffling for post-71 generations to understand why children, teenagers, men, women and the elderly were ready to give up their precious lives to stand up against tyranny, bigotry and racism in the pursuit of a free, peaceful motherland. But when the time came, no one questioned the need to fight against oppression, no one doubted the rightness of the cause. That was forty years ago and despite all the international condemnation for the genocide of 1971, such mass killings in the wake of ethnic cleansing have taken place all over the world in Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan and so on. The freest nation of the world – America has to live with the embarrassing legacy of state-supported racism against African Americans, a legacy that hasn't quite been pulled out of its roots. More recently, torture and murder motivated by racism have taken the most perverted form in Guantanamo Bay. It is as if the world refuses to learn its lesson or realise the enormity of allowing these crimes against humanity to happen, worse to allow the perpetrators to go scot-free.
Now in this land, after forty years, the terror of March 25, 1971 will be revisited not only by loved ones of the martyred but the entire nation that owes its very existence to the sacrifices of so many brave souls. We will again ask ourselves that haunting question that millions have asked: How could human beings do such things to other human beings?
The ugly truth is that racism and bigotry are twin brothers that are ready and waiting to creep into our hearts. We may have battled the monster in 1971 but like the mythical Hydra we have not been able to cut off its many heads. New forms of racism and bigotry have emerged and thrived without any hindrance. Women are tortured and oppressed in the name of upholding religious righteousness. The fear of bomb attacks from religious extremists are part and parcel of post 9/11 life. Minority communities are still treated with contempt, suspicion and sometimes, brutality.
We don't want to speak of such uncomfortable things for they contradict all the values our valiant heroes fought for. It insults their memory and castes a gloomy shadow over our conscience.
But it is the collective Conscience that may end up being our only saviour. We must be awake when those evil twins try to seep into our hearts, prompting us to hate others because they are different – they are not the right kind of Muslim, they are poor, they are too dark-skinned, they are female, they belong to the wrong party. If there is a lesson to be learnt from the innumerable examples of racism in the past and present, it is that the antidote to this deadly poison is a combination of tolerance, empathy and generosity. It is all the ammunition we need to protect what is most precious in life -the humanity in us.
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