Merry Christmas, everybody! I hope you’re enjoying some downtime with loved ones. As a zen pantheist Altinist all-of-the-abovism devotee, I hold Christmas to be just as holy as every other day. Still, I got exactly what I wanted this holiday season – time. I’ve finally got some time to relax, play video games, and write. (Pounded out a new story yesterday, in which I took a crack at the horror genre.)

CARE and Terror

Alas, the news this morning is not all joyous. In fact, I’m focused right now on two really horrible stories, one from a while back and one happening as we speak.

Recently Diane and I watched The Narrow Path, a documentary about the peace activist and Jesuit priest John Dear. (It’s good, but the director goes nuts with the sepia filter.) At one point he mentions Margaret Hassan, who was a medical relief worker for many years in Iraq with CARE International, before she was abducted and murdered there. This sort of thing is especially horrifying to me, the idea that someone could devote themselves to doing good work in a place, only to be repaid with such horrible violence. (Like those women in Zanzibar.)

Desperate to know more, I went to Hassan’s Wikipedia page and read about her ordeal. It turns out no one knows, to this day, who exactly killed her. Some group of fanatical scumbags. What I found truly remarkable, however, is that some members of the Iraqi insurgency — and even Abu Musab al-Zarqawi — called for her release.

As horrifying as the whole ordeal is, this last bit gives me hope, in a weird way. I am comforted by the fact that an atrocious person like al-Zarqawi, who was responsible for so much suffering and violence, was willing to stand up for an aid worker. It helps me feel like religious extremists aren’t a totally alien species, beyond all human connection. It’s a small thing, I know, but it really hit me.

War in Southern Sudan

For weeks we’ve been hearing about fighting in South Sudan, and this morning brings headlines about mass graves and ethnic bloodshed. This makes me very sad, and I’m trying hard to resist the standard American mindset of “War in Africa? What else is new?” I’m trying to stay connected with the pain and horror we all felt on 9/11, and keep myself linked to the reality that thousands of people are experiencing that right now in South Sudan — women, men, boys and girls. (I’m always amused and saddened when people only mention women and children, as if men can’t (or don’t) experience pain, loss, and suffering in these situations. Granted, 99% of the time it’s men who initiate and perpetuate them, but other men are of course caught in the crossfire.)

Meanwhile, reports of other atrocities are coming out of Central African Republic. Alas, there’s nothing we regular folks can do at the moment. The UN is sending in 6,000 more peacekeepers (around 12k total) to try to quell the fighting.

What struck me about this story is how blasé we can be about civil war, while simultaneously filling our lungs with indignant outrage when we hear about mass killing. What is war but mass killing carried out by two sides? It’s all so very sad. (This article about corruption in East Timor hasn’t been helping my spirits either.)

So what do we do? First of all, we pay attention. Indifference is the greatest sin, and while of course we shouldn’t fixate on the horrors of reality, neither should we hide from them. Secondly, we allow ourselves to feel the empathy so natural for humans (and so rare in our modern society, alas). Third, if and when some sort of action is possible (via Amnesty International for example), we take it.

No apathy! No sleepwalking!

A Word About the Photo

The news is filled today with images of South Sudan soldiers, emaciated refugees, and terrified children. But it seems like those are the only images we ever see from Africa. (cf. How to Write About Africa by Binyavanga Wainaina.) So I chose an image from the 2011 South Sudan independence celebrations. Let’s not forget there are many awesome people in that country working hard to bring peace back.