I am no artist. Not in any sense of the word. I am an architect. I modify space or rather create living or livable and sometimes unlivable environments. I am not a writer either, but I do write. But I wouldn’t for the life of me keep quiet at a time like this. Silence would mean a tacit approval and acceptance of things as they are. I am a cynic. A thorough-going pessimist and a realist. The world is as is. Things are and they exist in different layers. Nothing is black or white and truth, to the postmodernist, varies or depends on who is telling it.
What is it I will not be quiet about?
Women being violated in their homes.
Children being shot by police.
Men being killed by police.
Homes and business being destroyed.
Nurses, doctors and other professionals being taken for granted.
Attempts to grab power from the people.
Arithmetic being insulted.
Lies being told as truth.
Ethnic profiling by the state.
State sponsored violence.
Our constitution being seen as a book of suggestions.
But as I told my friends when we started this conversation, that I am conflicted and have many thoughts on this. Hope, in a way is the greatest of all evils. It prolongs human misery. The hope that things will be better, especially when there is much against this hope, is to prolong our misery. Herein is my first conflict. I am agitating for change. I hope change is possible. But I also believe such a hope prolongs my misery. The cycle of violence seem to me to have no end in sight. On the country, it does look like it will only get worse. The state has, by convincing the populace of Al Shabaab and other external enemies, militarized the population. And the most unfortunate thing is this has happened at the level where critical thinking is a luxury. In the police, the army cadre, the National Youth Service, guards and so on. They search you at a local mini-supermarket and as you get into a church (the irony- even those who pray for god’s protection are not sure they can depend entirely on god).
In my brief study of history, I have come to the conclusion that historical events do not have a single cause, but that their causes go back decades in an unbroken continuum of cause-effect. What are we to do in such a scenario? What can each of us do to affect the cause of history or rather to improve the present? Are we to watch helplessly as history unfolds before us? How do we become participants in changing the course of history, to write a different history? These and many more questions are what we are called to reflect upon.
In his book, If the War goes on, Hermann Hesse, writes
At the same time we scholars and artists joining in the outcry against certain belligerent powers. As though today, when the world is on fire, such utterances could be of any value. As though an artist or a man of letters, even the best and most famous of us, had any say in matters of war.
He continues his lament,
Others participate in the great events by carrying the war into their studies and writing bloodthirsty war songs or rabid articles fomenting hatred among nations. That perhaps is the worst of all. The men who are risking their lives every day at the front maybe entitled to bitterness, to momentary anger and hatred; the same maybe true of active politicians. But we writers, artists and journalists- can it be our function to make things worse than they are? Is the situation not already ugly and deplorable enough?
Here then, is first a question of what our effect will be and a secondly a challenge to not make an already ugly situation ugly and deplorable.
As I have said elsewhere, and some have disagreed, the real battle is that with the self. That is the first battleground of history, of fate and if each of us can win the battle against hate, greed, we may as well be on course to writing a new history for mankind.
As I conclude my ramblings, I live you with this poem by John Bell for reflection.
If the war goes on
If the war goes on and the children die of hunger,
and the old men weep, for the young men are no more,
and the women learn how to dance without a partner,
who will keep the score?
If the war goes on and the truth is taken hostage,
and new terrors lead to the need to euphemize;
when the calls for peace are declared unpatriotic
who’ll expose the lies?
If the war goes on and the daily bread is terror,
and the voiceless poor take the road as refugees;
when a nation’s pride destines millions to be homeless,
who will heed their pleas?
If the war goes on and the rich increase their fortunes,
and the arms sales soar as new weapons are displayed;
when a fertile field turns to no-man’s land tomorrow,
who’ll approve such trade?
If the war goes on, will we close the doors to heaven?
If the war goes on, will we breach the gates of hell?
If the war goes on, will we ever be forgotten? If the war goes on…