Memory. Its a powerful aspect of the human condition. The idea that human beings remember, recall, reminisce or reflect on past events, so that they can either savour them or not forget things that will help them to not repeat mistakes. Sadly the latter is something we don’t seem to do very well, while the former is one we sometimes take for granted.
This post is inspired by many recent events happening around me. But perhaps the catalyst is a film I watched recently, called Amu, which documents the story of the 1984 riots and massacre in Delhi. Hundreds of Sikhs were killed, by Hindu nationalists in a revenge attack for the assasination of Indira Gandhi, whose bodyguard was a Sikh. When the film first came out (2005), there were attempts to suppress it, more particularly by Indian officials, with the argument being made that it is better to forget such things that only bring about unpleasantness. Forget ? How convenient. Its the same argument that gets made by American officials who would be happier if the world forgot about their role in Vietnam and Iraq or the Isreali government, trying to cover up Sabra and Shattilla (amongst dozens of other massacres) or the Saudis wanting us to forget the murder of innocent schoolgirls because of the actions of their police officers. And then theres the whole legacy of European colonialism, slavery, genocide in Germany, Rwanda, Bosnia and elsewhere, and of course apartheid.
These are the atrocities that have been committed by human beings against their own kind. How they get justified through the writing of history is truly an education. Slavery and colonialism have been justified as the white man “civilising” the savages and beasts of the new world, and bringing “God” to the dark continent. In all of these acts of brutality, God gets implicated a lot of the time. I reckon He’s not too pleased about being blamed for things that humans do, in His name. We need to remember that its people carrying out these violent acts. No where does it say in any of the religious texts that God sanctions the killing of innocents.
And then there are cases where remembering becomes a reason to kill. A history of persecution and genocide as in the case of the Jewish community has indirectly led to the murder of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians over 6o years, by Israeli fundamentalists who, afraid that they will be “wiped out”, continue to kill people whose own birthright has been stolen from them. Let us remember that it was the Romans that drove the Jews out of Palestine in 70AD and Christian Germans who killed them ruthlessly in the second world war. The price though gets paid by people who had nothing to do with the historical persecution of the Jewish community, but they are constructed as the ‘enemy’.
When we remember what has passed, it is important to do so without the coloured lens of tribalism, religious affiliations, nationalist sentiments and emotional clutter. While these things give context to our memory, it is important that the truth does not get distorted because of our occasional inability to see the trees from the forests and vice versa.
Remembering is perhaps both a gift and a curse. Either way, we should not forget (excuse the weak attempt at a pun here) the responsibilities that come with it.