Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Where are we going with all of us? What about peace?

While typing ferociously to get the phd draft for my promoters done by the end of this week, many violent things have happened in a short period of time (Brussels airport blown up, Orlando night-club shooting, brexit and its resulting discrimination, and now once again Istanbul airport). Each time I told myself: just type, give the world a rest, just keep on typing. And I did. But with this last bombing in Istanbul, I will use my keyboard for 20 minutes of blog reflection on the question that keeps popping up in my mind: where are we going with all of us?

A question that my family is familiar with, stemming from before and after WWII. I come from a mixed religious family, catholic and protestant. My parents have had two nationalities: Dutch and Belgian speaking flemish . And different members of my family have had different experiences during worldwar II, some due to political reasons, others due to the unforeseen circumstances of life. All of this means that debates regarding politics, nationality, religion, difference in language... came up from time to time. But at the end, for those of my family coming out on the other side of the war, one thing was clear: nobody wins, violence needs to be avoided at any cost, and whichever nationality or religion you feel you relate to, we are all just human, trying to belong here on our bit of land we call earth and see our children come to fruition. This is also why I believe in research, it adds to our body of knowledge, it might benefit all of us, and it provides an international basis for discussion, critical yet positive discussion.

It is needless to say that violence is happening once again (and yes, in some places it has been going on for far too long), but violence is spreading once again in areas that were able to provide some peace for some of its citizens for a relatively longer time. And now it seems as if history is again repeating itself. I am not saying we are heading for war, but I can hear the squeaking sounds of history rearranging itself to prepare a serious bit of historical madness (just as Yanis Varoufakis mentioned to Owen Jones). As soon as old labels come out of the closet, and are placed on people, you know that the devils playground is growing again. As humans we really have the possibility to be informed, to use science to our benefit, to seek out peace and actively sustain it. But, why is not this happening?

The aftermath of the brexit referendum showed increased, or shall I say outspoken, discrimination towards everyone not speaking English, and not having a white complexion, even though all of us can be just as british as the one's defining it in their own name to separate us. This type of discrimination does not come overnight. The people from Rwanda know this, the former Yugoslavians know this, the Jews know this... it is a fueled process. First you fuel those who are highly interested, and then some of the others are pulled in. I guess it is similar to the uptake of technology, within the diffusion of innovation (might be the diffusion of discrimination). With early adopters, right up until the late majority and laggards (in terms of taking up).

During the Yugoslav wars I met with women in black, at the time a worldwide grassroots movement. As my friends from women in black warned me, nuance will become ever more scarce. It is all about pushing people to have mandatory opinions, radical opinions. Without radical opinions protest marches cannot be lead. Citizens will be pushed to have opinions, whether these are valid or not. Based upon facts or not. False facts will be disseminated, to feed these mandatory opinions. A bit like the leave or remain campaign of the brexit referendum. The non-dissemination of real facts are to be blamed on all of us, or non of us. For critical thinking is as much our own responsibility, as it is the system's responsibility (in my view, there are wonderful philosophers with wonderful arguments for all sides, even the middle). But for me, being a feminist, I believe the personal is the political, and as such it is the full set of stakeholders or participants who are responsible, each within their own reach.

Somehow, and amidst all the increasing propaganda that focuses on either nationality, or religion, or whatever works to infuse mayhem, somehow we need to keep talking and nuancing to have some kind of energy that pushes back this new wave of violence and negativity. For violence that can culminate in regional aggression based on whichever opportunistic reason, takes everyone down. We all loose if this rush towards violence is not stopped. All of us will loose family and friends, either mentally due to difference in opinion, or physically due to violence, feeding on violence.

A bit of personal history. My grandfather was in a camp in Germany (he was put there as a prisoner) for two years, the camp was on the later Eastern Berlin side. When the Russians came to the camp, they thought it was populated by Germans, so they started putting the workers with their back to the dormitories they were in, and shooting them one by one. My grandfather saw them coming, co-workers falling down... and then one colleague prisoner of his started stammering in Russian, he was able to attract attention, and as time passed by very, very slowly, that war prisoner was able to make the Russian soldiers understand that they were actually in a work camp, shooting war prisoners. The shooting stopped, the remaining prisoners were free to go. My grandfather started walking. He walked all the way back to Antwerp, starting in Berlin. As he walked he first saw other refugees, trying to get home by whatever means they could, being dressed in whatever they could find. Everywhere he went he saw bodies decomposing as everyone was living in chaotic times. As he passed the German border, he than saw Germans soldier refugees, trying to get back home, they faced insecurity, as some people simply took shots at returning Germans, literally shooting them in some kind of revenge.
When my grandfather got home, he contacted my grandmother who could not believe her ears. She thought he was dead, not having heard of him for those two years. Just like her best friend was dead, dead because of a bomb blowing up a cinema. She was supposed to go and see this movie in the cinema with her best friend, but as luck has it, her father forbid her to go that evening. My grandmother very rarely spoke about the war, and when she did she mentioned foreign soldiers that freed Belgium, but never in terms of fabulous gratitude, but on the fact that they raped. My other grandparents had a big farm, and my grandmother had a sense for business, so she smuggled food to different places. She nearly escaped this act of treason, as she was pulled of a tram on her way to the city (where she used to smuggle some of the goods to), but she reacted to a gut feeling, and left the parcels behind as she was taking off. She got lucky as the germans did not find anything on her. And once the war was finished she sold goods to everybody (everyone, also those who were on the 'wrong' side of the political spectrum). One sister of my grandmother lost her partner in the war (soldier) and on the very day Belgium was liberated, her only son walked onto a mine and died. Violence is not simply killing those that take an active part in it, it affects all of us.