On the 12th of March in the year of 2006, in the dry cityscape of Al-Mahmudiyah, Iraq, four US soldiers entered a house situated near a U.S traffic checkpoint and separated its’ inhabitants into two different rooms. The parents and youngest daughter of the family were greeted by the swift kiss of death as the soldiers fired a few well-rounded rifle shells at them. The eldest daughter was pinned to the floor, undressed and gang raped. Her screams and pleas muffled by the sound of gunfire in the other room which ended her parent’s life. As if the done deed wasn’t enough, they unloaded a few bullets into her skull after they were done, poured kerosene over the now dead girls’ body and lit her on fire in an attempt to cover up the act. But you probably didn’t know that. How could you? When stories such as this barely reach our ears in the first place. Her name was Abeer Qassim Hamza. She was just fourteen years old.
This was one of the many war crimes that occurred during the Iraq war. Abeer’s story happens to be just one of many. And just like her, there are those who are inhumanely treated, abused, suppressed and discriminated all around the world. Victims whose stories we never hear, whose losses we can never relate to and whose sacrifices we wouldn’t even have the strength of making. The world is filled with regions where voices aren’t heard, where struggles aren’t seen. Be it the stretches of the Afghanistan border to the plateau of Northern Nigeria among others. How many more will have to suffer this way? How many more will be denied the basic human right to live? Before it’s all too late and humanity falls to depths that it can never recover from?
“Heaven if you sent us down, so we could build a playground,
For the sinners to play as saints, you’d be so proud of what we’ve made”
It’s interesting to note that we live in an age where we’ve sent men to the moon, uncovered the science behind gravity, are on the verge of finding a cure for cancer, yet are still unable to comprehend how to look at and respect a human being for who they are. It’s the 21st century, but for some reason, the very concepts of equality and respecting an individual’s right to live freely are still that of rocket science for some people. The need to learn how to exercise empathy, care, love and affection over the hatred and toxicity that has consumed most of the world has proven itself to be necessary now more than ever. It makes one question how on earth humanity fell the way it did. But this world isn’t without its beauty and goodness either. The truth is we live in a rather conflicted world. A fractured world. One filled to the brim with darkness just as equally as it is filled with beauty. It would be very wrong of me to cite that the only thing that stems from modern society is hate, discrimination and unfair judgement. There still is faith and glimpses of humanity present within society. But while that may be true, the threat of hate and the various forms it takes is still ever so present.
There are struggles being fought around the world, some whose existence we don’t even know of. But just because we don’t see or hear of it, it doesn’t make it any less real or less concerning. The world as we know it, has been introduced to a plethora of issues over the years ranging from hate speech to violence and racism. One prominent umbrella issue out of the very many that exist is discrimination and the various types and forms it takes. Be it xenophobia, gender discrimination, anti-semitism, misogyny or bigotry, just to name a few. So, what exactly does it mean to be the black sheep? What does it mean to belong to a group or class of people that the world for the most part views and treats differently? To have to constantly live in fear for one’s life and family? To know that while some of us are blessed enough to wake up to the sounds of birds, certain others wake up to the rattle of gunfire and screams of death? Do you know the answer?
“Nobody’s born racist, man, it’s something you learn
Deep rooted in your brain from the day of your birth”
With the recent spark of debate over police brutality and the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests these past few weeks, it’s crystal clear how these issues still pose a prominent presence in the current day and age and turning a blind eye to all this, is a mistake we should not make. People are suffering, being abused, some cornered, some are voiceless and very many deemed helpless. We may not be the same, we may not look up to the same God or even be attracted to the same type of people as they are but here’s the thing; we don’t need to be in order to fight for their rights, to care for and empathize with those who are struggling. They are human beings, and that very understanding should be enough.
It’s baffling to me where the notion of being different in the status quo, whether it be in terms of one’s sexual orientation or the religion you follow for instance, leads one to be treated as less than human or to have to constantly look over ones’ shoulder and live in doubt and fear. The mere idea of judging someone based on the colour of their skin or the gender of their partner for that matter, are perfect examples that showcase just how insensitive people can be. It’s absurd, it’s wrong and it’s absolutely saddening. Yet however, that’s exactly what’s happening in most places around the world. It’s a real shame, and a sad one at that.
“It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that lead people to walk-outs and sit-ins,
It’s human rights for everybody
There is no difference”
This cycle of violence however, doesn’t just end with discrimination either. As mentioned earlier, discrimination is only one part of a series of problems which promote the act of exercising unfair treatment and the infliction of harm on another human being. Within this sprawling sea of issues, lies so much more heart-wrenching problems, such as intimate partner violence (IPV), rape and child abuse. All of which exist and are equally threatening. These issues among many others that are similar in nature have been in the limelight for a substantial amount of time. They did not pop up recently or the last ten to fifteen years, no, these are issues that have existed for generations on end. There is nothing that justifies the act of inflicting harm on another human being. All these aren’t problems we can address overnight or completely eradicate, sure, but a world in which people don’t feel a threat to their very existence is something that we can slowly but surely collectively work and strive towards building. As people who live in this world, tethered in each of us is a piece of responsibility to look after one another and this world we inhabit.
We’re pretty good at preaching about peace, love and positivity, but when it comes to actually putting ourselves in the front lines to fight for it, most of us tend to take a step back. Take the overarching message of ‘God loves all his children’, for instance. We say it, we chant it, we sing it. But within its passing down from generation to generation, for some unforetold reason, the very essence of said message has somehow been lost and forgotten, as we pit brother against brother, father against son, man against woman, as we all fight for our rights and our individual agendas, forgetting that while different in race, religion, creed, and gender, we all bleed the same colour. Forgetting that we are all human beings at our core, all of which are equally deserving of respect and the freedom to navigate our lives the way we see fit, free from fear and harm.
As someone who belongs to the group of people who aren’t affected by most of the above-mentioned problems, it’s easy to close our eyes, think that if it doesn’t affect us then it’s not our concern, and go about our day. But that would be far too easy and quite frankly, that’s a coward’s way out. If we cannot use our voice to empower and speak out for those that cannot use theirs, if we don’t use this platform that we have been blessed with to spread awareness or shed light on the issues that plague our society, if we don’t even try, then we have failed, not only as advocates of equality and peace but as a human beings as well. I didn’t want to write this article, not initially. Quite simply because what I wanted to touch on was a collection of very sensitive issues. But I figured if I don’t at least give it a shot, if we don’t at least try to educate those around us who don’t feel the same way, then there would be no point because if we keep quiet, we become part of the problem. If we talk about bringing about change, then it needs to start with us. It’s about time that I too, added my voice to the millions who are already out there fighting for everyone’s rights.
It’s easy to point fingers at the person in front of you, but a harder task to confront yourself. If we are to truly attempt to try and rid the world of hate and toxicity it’s going to take all of us. But change starts with one person. And like Michael, who whispered into our ears all those years ago, we need to bring about change “starting with the man in the mirror”.
– Rtr. Vibhath Jayasinghe
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