Long Walk to Freedom
I have reflected on the current Russian/Ukraine conflict many times. Sometimes, deeply and for long. Other times, superficially. I have also talked about it with a couple of close friends and many times with my sister. But I have never discussed it publicly. I have never been moved to write about it. A few days ago, when a friend wrote me saying that it always felt as though her heart would burst open whenever she saw on the news, stories about the crisis, I replied saying that I was sorry about how it made her feel, but I was even more sorry for myself because I wasn’t sure if I felt anything. The depravity of my attitude, dawned on me for the first time, after I had written her back. I was almost startled by myself. By my insensitivity. It could only mean one thing: that I had become unsympathetic to the sufferings and tribulations of fellow human beings. In the times I ever gave a thought to the Russian crisis, it was always a potpourri of the most uncomfortable kind of feelings. Disappointment, hopelessness, rage and exhaustion. I live in the awareness that beyond humanity’s abiding thirst for violence and blood, which shows itself in the smaller communal conflicts and wars, gun violence and World wars, all of which incriminate all of us for creating a world of hopelessness and pain, there is an overarching spiritual message. Anyone who has ever cared to observe the times objectively, would at least, have more than enough reasons to ask why. Why the world is hurtling towards misery, ruin and death. But because I never imagined I was in a position to precisely interpret events from a higher viewpoint, I had concluded that silence on the matter was what was best. But I soon found out that my silence gave way too quickly to indifference. It is this indifference that I reject. I refuse to be insensitive to the afflictions of others.
The Nigerian civil war of 1967-1970 left more than a million Igbo people dead. I doubt that I have met and interacted with up to a million people in my whole life, and so what this means is that if the war had happened in my time, all the people I have ever met, would likely have been wiped. All the faces I have ever seen, would cease to exist on earth. It is unfortunate to say the least, that for the death toll to make sense to me, I have first to come up with a relatable hypothesis. Else, the numbers might simply be numbers and nothing more. But I shall not brood over this. I have come to terms with my shame, or at least, I think I have. While the war and bloodbath raged in Nigeria, the world looked on. The global political structure that remotely engineered the material foundations of the war condemned the war publicly and rose promptly to their self-conferred responsibility of providing succor. Somewhere, some people truly felt the grief and anguish of our people and hoped and prayed for a peaceful resolution. But the world did not stop. People still ate, drank and the day did not refuse to break.
Syria. 2011 till present
Anti-regime protests in the Arab world, which saw the usurping of authoritarian governments, finally came to roost in Syria when a peaceful uprising metamorphosed into a decade long (and counting) civil war. Syrians who had drawn inspiration from the uprisings in neighbouring Arab nations, took to the street to protest the administration of President Bashar al-Assad due to a variety of persisting socioeconomic and political problems, but were violently repressed by the very government they sought to protest. Twelve years after, we have in our faces, untold devastation and ruins, and the death of hundreds of thousands of people. I read about the Nigerian Civil War, but I _saw_ the Syrian war and if I had been wrong earlier about the world not pausing for Nigerians and Biafrans to catch their breath, I can say for sure that the world did not pause for Syrians. Have not paused for Syrians. But this article is personal, and so what I am more concerned about is my attitude in this times. My own response. I cannot recall if I ever uttered a prayer for Syrians or if my heart ever bled for the sufferings children my age and younger had to experience. I too did not pause for Syria.
It has become hard to speak about the beauty of life. Of being permitted to exist, to live. As glorious as it might be for us, it has become strangely difficult to talk about this glory when we encounter people whose lives have been one bitter experience after the other and finally, are mercilessly torn away from the stage of life. And alas, there are many of those. But those who know what miracle lies still in the gift of life, and who do not only acknowledge this miracle when they are “up on the mountain”, should understand how heinous it is to take a life. Therefore, the atrocious nature of wars, must be crystal clear to them since the very word suggests death, and many many deaths. Those who are aware that ethereal influences affect the decisions and actions of the chief actors in earthly wars, and who often find themselves wondering how they can and if they should intervene in karma’s doings, may also need to remind themselves that it is the duty of none to be an instrument through which untold suffering is brought upon a people.
Today, it is Russia and Ukraine embroiled in murderous confrontations. Yet again, in my Time! Since I am aware of how incredibly powerful the media is, I did not make the mistake of assessing the crisis through the media’s portrayal of events. I have also become a little more aware of the futility of social media in the face of real issues and I consciously avoided discussions of the issue on social media. Let me explain some more, what I mean by futility. It is not that the effort of everyone who uses social media to lend their voice on the current crisis is useless. To a large extent, it actually is. But this isn’t the issue. It is rather, what forms these conversations take on social media. How they very often, easily degenerate to mere debate and argument, with the focus shifting to logic at best and the mere exchange of clever opinions at worst. With real issues withering away under debates, the real tragedy is ignored and buried beneath talk. How poorly our humanity shows in these discussions and how prominently our intellect shines. It is also how we easily become the monsters we seek to fight without realising it at all. How we never give thought to the possibility of our remote contributions to each crisis. How we never see in ourselves, a faint reflection of the key actors in wars whom we thoroughly despise. How we become the saints when we write. How we are filled with loathing and condemnation and forget that we are creating unfavourable energies that truly do no good. And how we forget completely how to love. How to love even our enemies. How we simply forget what is at stake, and simply talk and talk and talk. Much of what I’ve tried to say here, was aptly surmarised by Neil Oliver in the following paragraphs of his spoken words Pilgrimage:
“I think about the lines separating good and evil, passing not between states, and not between countries, but right through every human heart. I feel hate and so I know I have it in me to do terrible things as does every single one of us. I know that we are watching others do terrible things on our behalf because we are too concerned about self-preservation to do those things ourselves.
“If you know and accept as much that you are potentially dangerous, you might just keep the hatred in check for a whole lifetime…these are dark days, and they will likely get darker for a while yet.”
What Nelson Mandela probably didn’t imagine was that a long walk to freedom wasn’t only about the South African Journey. That the rest of the world, and each human being, was going to embark sooner than later, on a long walk to freedom while still here on earth. I have tried to imagine what truly it feels like for Ukrainians who have to leave their homes and all they’ve struggled to build, to places they probably never imagined they’d set foot in, but I keep failing at this. I sincerely cannot imagine. But perhaps, I need not imagine for long. As awful as it sounds, we Nigerians appear to be only a hair’s breadth away from such an experience. And from all indications, ours will be much more pathetic. We seem to have arrived an epoch where everyone is on the run, and there is no kindness in the wilderness to save us. I’m painfully reminded of Asa’s Fire on the Mountain.
I want to reject the indifference I ever felt amidst the struggles of Ukrainians, Syrians and every nation torn asunder by wars. I want to feel something. I do not want to offer only pity and words. I do not want to inadvertently turn someone else’s pain into a debate. I do not even need to make a point with someone’s struggle. I want to consciously and actively render help. I want to constantly remind myself to send them, prayers and love. I want to be intentional about it until I grow into that person who breathes love and gives love without consciously trying to do so. As Khalil Gibran describes it in his work Giving: “to give as in yonder Valley, the myrtle breathes its fragrance into space”
I am now asking myself why I wrote at all. Why I had to comment at all. If it isn’t sufficient and best to simply make this resolve personally and live by it. Maybe. Maybe truly, that would have been the best answer. But I only want to invite anyone who cares to join me in first reflecting on this issue. This is an invitation letter that draws us to deeper contemplation and a personal resolve to end this.