Some acts of violent terrorism are, for better or worse, easier to internalize. They hit home. Others are incomprehensible, but somehow don't cause the same emotional impact. For instance, the genocide in Darfur is horrendous, hideous and appalling. And I experience all those words though the filter of my brain, not my heart. It doesn't hit home for me. The recent attacks in Mumbai/ Bombay are all together different. I find myself in the process of completing a routine act and suddenly the absolute repulsion of the recent Mumbai attacks knocks the wind out of me. My mind trails to the nanny who managed to sneak the small boy from the Chabad center. Amazing woman, God bless her. I think about that boy- Did he see his parents murdered? Tortured? What horrendous images have scalded themselves against the membranes of his eyes, in the recesses of the folds in his brain?
Maybe because the recent terrorist attacks hit close to home for me- the International Jewish Community and the International School Community. (A Couple whose three children attended the International School in Mumbai were killed.) - Maybe because India and Bangladesh used to be one and the same...
With all the violence in the world (and yes, on television, in films) I wonder if we have become desensitized to the extent that we have forgotten, as a community and as individuals, what it means to be outraged. For some acts to cause our guts to turn, our jaws to clinch and our fists to tighten until our knuckles are white and we're oblivious to the pain of our nails digging into the flesh of our palms. -An outrage that motivates us to action and kicks us out of complacency. Why do I feel that we are all standing slack-jawed as the images pass before us on the screen of our choice? And when we turn our heads, we shake the images loose and continue. We might bemoan the world, blame the groups that we perceive as responsible, and sigh about the world. And then we keep walking. Why aren't we screaming?
And I wonder, if we were to scream, what would we say? What words would shape themselves to express our angst, our fear, our outrage. And who would hear us? Really, what good would a little screaming do? Do my scream, my tears, my pounding fists, count for anything? All the problems seem insurmountable, impassable, unmanageable.
Today I read an article in the NY Times. Careful with the link- the image is unpalatable. Kristof is in Pakistan- again close to 'home' for me in Bangladesh- and he's discovered what he dubs "Personal Terrorism". He is aghast and screaming (Thank you Kristof) about acid victims.
Living in Bangladesh, I'm already familiar with the concept of acid victims because of the Acid Survivors Foundation here. The basic concept is that upset husbands, jilted lovers and any one who can access acid (Bangladesh is actually the only country in the region who has tried to limit access.) can throw the acid at a person. Let me say that again. Revenge is taken out by throwing acid on a person. The acid burns through the flesh, the muscles and the bones and causes almost instantaneous blindness as the smoke rises from the living person's body. The victims are primarily women.
My apologies for the graphic speech.
Last year I also worked with a senior as she researched dowry practices in Bangladesh. What I never throughly thought through before last year was the violence that comes with dowry. This is most graphically seen in India where men marry women, accept the dowry (which is usually preposterously large compared to the family's annual income) burn their new brides (usually gasoline + match) and then can start the search for another woman and her dowry.
Now, I think we can really start to talk about terror. The "War on Terror" is focused on guns, bombs and terrorist cells that are, supposedly, coming from elsewhere to attack us at home. What about the terrorist that sleeps in your own bed?
Previously, I purported that when we devalue other humans that we devalue our own lives. How can men (yes, most international terrorist are men.) be expected to value the lives of humans in different countries, with different value structures, and different belief systems if they cannot even value their sisters, wives and mothers? Where is the sanctity of human life?
It is painfully obviously that women are indeed the weaker sex in many places throughout South Asia and the world. Their weakness is not because of actually physical inability or inherent mental inferiority. The societies in which they live subjugate women- not usually the upper classes- but yes the lower stratum that are the majority of society. Bride burners and Acid throwers are usually not prosecuted by law nor admonished by society. Somehow, these individual terror attacks have become normalized.
I think that by the time a young man or woman picks up a bomb, a gun or grenade and is intent on creating death and pandamodium, we've lost our chance. It's too late. We can track terrorist organizations and cells and renegades for centuries. As long as the communities that produce terrorist are untouched, the cycle will remain. But what if we could push for woman's rights? The right to live without fear? To fight against rape, international trafficking of women and children into sex slavery, against dowery, against bride burning, against honor killings, against female genital mutilation, against acid attacks- if we could slowly put pressure and cause the most vulnerable members of so many societies- women- to be valued- maybe if the young men coming from those communities could see all people in their societies as human and deserving of basic human rights. Maybe, just maybe, we could reduce the number of people who could envision themselves as terrorist.
Currently the there is the International Violence Against Woman's Act that is waiting to be passed through congress. This is a way to act, a way to scream, a way to pound your fists. This could be a start to providing protection for women globally and possibly changing the mentality of terrorism as acceptable ways to show power and strength. Unfortunately, the bill currently lacks enough votes to pass.
So, what are you going to do?