The following anecdote I have narrated before, but it merits repetition for sheer context.
This happened many moons before a Twitter happy businessperson decided to take up politics as a trivial engagement to the amusement of the world. A mob was apparently beating a man at some distance from his friends. Bruised, he returned to his friends, who were not of any help except for watching the one-sided pounding. Concerned however, they asked him about the engagement. “Yeah, they slapped me and kicked me, bad mouthed as well,” he said, “But, they could not take away my ijjat (read dignity)”.
Now if a half-impeached Twitter happy president in a unique hire-and-fire regime, beaten politically, battered by the media, and buoyed only by partisanship, believes his prestige has been elevated to the heights where reindeers sprint through snowflakes, he must be living in Santa Claus’ paradise.
Bullies are essentially cowards, criminals who flex their muscle by the power of the mob. Lynching is one of their hallmarks, grisly bloodthirsty moments of irrational frenzy. Hated by all and sundry, mostly in silent disapproval that is widely misunderstood as tacit support, particularly by the intimidating tormentors. People fume in muted anger towards the morally weak politicians, who ride on the bullock cart of the majority. The barrage bursts forth, the valve broken by a spark as remote as that emanating from counting the number of hens that crossed the border.
You can “put in” differing schools of thought, or perhaps safer not to. Nevertheless, one needs to have access to the Arctic polar region in order to castigate the opposing ice hockey team to extreme cold treatment. Powers-that-be fear that activists are picking up democratic heat to threaten (read thaw) the recurring reigns of rule abhorred for various reasons; boredom from the same commanding face is perhaps foremost. Power, as such, is transitory—the powerful forget.
The different kid on the block loves playing with big and powerful toys, and showing off in the air. He has not hurt anybody yet, but the world is petrified. At home, he is supposedly loved by all. Those who don’t, do not exist for long. Only a bomb exploding at his front door will tell us whether this bully is a coward within or a genuine patriot. In the meantime, he is enjoying his time as a man feared and respected for his volatile idiosyncrasies. Our world needs them all, in all shapes and sizes.
How many lives is a man’s life worth? Depends. If you are a human being, it is one is to one. If you have ruled over a country by familial inheritance and naturally turned into a despot, local and foreign shelling on civilians could kill thousands to keep you alive. Superpowers have also seemingly matured to avoid each other in real life encounters. If a big cat claims a territory in selfishly supporting a dictator, the other big cats turn their tail with a “meow”. Death of the innocent is a matter of statistics for the power hungry.
For no fault of theirs, convicted by birth and by inequitable distribution of wealth, thousands believe that the gap between poverty and prosperity is only a body of water. The turbulence of the sea appears to them as dancing angels singing a welcoming hymn. They dare venture on the hazardous journey because some have made it to the Land of Dreams across the Mediterranean. Hundred others have not, but this is not to be whispered even as the family boards the crowded rickety boat. Travelling children have been washed ashore, face down, smiling.
Religion, as a warring tool, has remained a contemporary commodity, updated through the ages. Villages can be plundered, women can be raped, men can be slaughtered, and hundreds of schoolgirls can be kidnapped en masse and violated, in the excuse of establishing a broader cult based on the corrupt interpretation of divine inspiration. No man’s land is their sanctuary, and the vicinity their happy hunting grounds.
Autocratic leaders shamelessly embrace the brutal game of killing as their lease of life. Many forget that the “life is temporary” rule applies to the powerful and the defenceless, the rich and the poor, the black and the white; and the yellow and brown refugees build up on the more humane side of international borders. Persecution of minorities take place when considered a threat or a nuisance by the over-religious or the atheists, the influential and the affluent. Peace is trampled at the altar of political, religious and communal ego.
There are oppressors who want to fight the war of others, uninvited. A few actually do. They take the war, the killings, and the torture to faraway lands to protect their own citizens. They have succeeded gloriously and regally for centuries. If victims raise their voice, economic sanctions are in order. If those preyed upon show their claws, they are accused of initiating the conflict. When will the conscientious among them rise to stop the intimidation?
People are on the streets all over the world. There are not enough streets for all the oppressed and exploited people. Soon they may take over rivers and canals, airports and shopping malls. They are no longer content to be mere pedestrians or boatpeople. They are holding placards of discontent from Hong Kong to Lebanon, from India to Venezuela, from France to Iraq. They are differently, and uniquely, demanding franchise, freedom and food peacefully, but provocation has sadly led to violence.
There are millions languishing in (supposed) silence in concentration and refugee camps, in their own homes. No difference between them. Many are innocent, jailed, persecuted or condemned for years on. Their screams do not reach the outside world, who they consider unsympathetic and insensitive. Sworn enemies have walked over them to shake hands for selfish ends.
Children are (not) growing up, and many remain separated from their parents, without education or a playground, and most importantly love. Still in characteristic innocence, they smile from behind walls and barbed wire. They will not forgive us. Call 999.
Dr Nizamuddin Ahmed is a practising Architect at BashaBari Ltd., a Commonwealth Scholar and a Fellow, a Baden-Powell Fellow Scout Leader, and a Major Donor Rotarian.