Monday, December 8, 2008

Raphael Lemkin

'Raphael Lemkin asked, "Why is the killing of a million a lesser crime than the killing of a single individual?" '

Sunday, December 7, 2008

At what point do you stop your silence?

At what point does one stop and take a stand against something that just doesn't sit right with them? You might glare at a parent shushing their children, but would you stand up and say, "You can't speak to your child that way?" Probably not. Would you stop a fight between two people on the street? Doubtful, assuming you didn't know them. How about when you hear about a bombing somewhere? Do we stand up to attention? people say, not anymore, but I am hard-pressed to remember a time when reading of daily bomb blasts in various parts of the world were cause for serious alarm by many people outside the immediate geography of the blast. Shit, most decades of the 1900s have experienced some form of genocide and most people remain complacent, responding the now expected, "Oh the situation in Kosovo, tragic...Afganistan, terrible those innocent people...Tibetans are just so oppressed...its not our prooblem...oh there is just so much fighting in the poverty-stricken Darfur...such tragedy in Mumbai and all that fighting with the Hindus and Muslims...what's happening in Congo again?"

I like to think that we humans are more than the mere brutes Freud deemed our race. I like to think that we care for our fellow human beings, that on some level we see a fraction of ourselves in others (isn't that what stops us from inflicting our will on others at our whim?) But the massive spouts of violence that speckle every newspaper page, for as long as I can remember, make me question my instincts that we are basically good, and above the brutes as Freud views us. How have we, as a people in the world, sat by in unmotivated silence as we safely in our homes reading of the massive killings happening in Sudan daily? How can a government have done so little to ameliorate a genocide happening under our watch?

How can we sit by and do nothing to stop the shocking amount of rapists literally pillaging their way across Congo? Thousands upon thousands of women are raped, and what have we done to speak out against such base violence?

They, unfortunately, are but two incidents out of thousands, of extreme violence in every sense of the word, and we, as members of the human race, are complicit in these acts. We have done nothing, at any meaningful scale, to speak out against these atrocious acts. We have done nothing to educate people. We have found no way to convey the humanity being ripped from people in other parts of the world. We have not connected with others experiencing tragedy in modes most people could never comprehend. And we, as humans, are suffering because of it.

These examples are symptomatic of deep-seeded violence and hatred. Certainly these feeling have existed throughout human history, probably in some degree in most cultures. But in this global world in which we live, how can any excuse of not knowing and not having some mode of communication be acceptable?

We must learn that acts of violence are not just acts against an individual, or even a group. They are acts against us all. His Holiness the Dalai Lama describes the world as an atom. Several have philosophized about similar ideas. But when do we really take notice? When there is an act of violence against a member of our religion? Our neighbors? Our country? Or gender? Our sexual orientation? Just start drawing lines around yourself, and you will find us on a slippery path further away from our abilities to connect with others in the human race.

Grab onto something and see its ability to connect you to others. Realize you have the ability to be a part of groups beyond typical associations. A violent act against a woman is most certainly a violation against her, her person, and her dignity. It is also an act of violence against women in her vicinity, her regional geography, and against all women. once we magnify the ramifications of violent acts, we ultimately realize these are acts against all humans.

It isn't easy to change the world. But there are examples throughout history that shows it can be done. One man changed civil rights in racist America through civil disobedience. Another became a hero in fractioned India. One women wrote the manifesto of women's rights. And such is our history.

As one old sage put it, "first do no harm," and as another one recently wrote, " Imagine if this maxim could be observed just a fraction of the time by a tiny segment of humanity, how much suffering might be avoided."