“Rich and poor, young and old, of all colours and creeds, most people were violently swept off without a record of their passing.” That is how The Times (December 31 2004) described the victims of the Asian tsunami, a tragedy that has shaken the depths of our humanity, exposed our fragile and frail existence and focused our minds very sharply on our transitory place in the equation of nature and life.
In the age of global media, we can see and hear, we can touch and feel, we can share the trauma of the greatest human tragedy unfolding in its grimmest details and dimensions. But we do not only share the sight, we share the severity of the disaster itself. The victims include not only Asians, but also tourists from a variety of nations. According to official Foreign Office figures (January 6, 2005) there were 407 confirmed deaths and 12,500 missing persons from 14 European and Western countries.
This figure is expected to rise. On the other hand, the environmental, economic, health, social and political consequences will also be far-reaching and long-term, affecting every country and community in the world.
While the response of governments and peoples around the world has been outstanding, unfortunately the ugly and cynical face of politics is not absent from the scene. In his initial response to this enormous calamity, the UN's Chief Mr Kofi Annan talked about “our common humanity” and Mr Gordon Brown talked about “our moral universe”. But is there really, at long last, a sense of common universal inclusive humanity that overrides the “we versus them” dichotomy? Can certain human beings, namely racists, colonialists and chauvinist nationalists, even at this moment of human fragility and transient triviality, allow themselves to feel humane and behave rationally?
Governments, businesses, communities and individuals can share their common horror of what is obviously a natural disaster: A disaster that is not man-made, is apolitical, and therefore no one is to blame. So it is alright to establish a spectacular, international response to the catastrophe, colossal enough in its scale to undermine our homocentric and egocentric view of the universe and existence, and even bring God to account, if not doubt His existence.
But when it's the political animal that creates the carnage and mass graves, then solidarity disappears, minds get numb, cynicism reigns, silence overwhelms and governments and media cartels do their best to not only hide the truth, but also to distort, trivialise and marginalise it. There will be no emergency measures, no international mobilisation and no common human empathy. Nor will there be any feelings of guilt and remorse by the protagonists of crimes against humanity, no sustained media coverage, no generous giving to save certain deaths and to check the preventable human cruelties and inhumanity to fellow human beings.
Just by virtue of being weak, de-powered and historically carved up by stronger imperialist interests, entire nations and communities have been disfranchised. They have been marginalised, turned into permanent, perpetually-oppressed minorities, repressed and ravaged, without any one giving a damn; without Mr Annan managing a feeble noise; without big world politicians competing in their generosity and expressing their humanity - as they do now over the Asian tsunami.
What is crueller and more inhumane? To be suddenly caught in an act of nature's wrath, washed away with waves of mass destruction or to have entire villages and towns deliberately, systematically - in the most dehumanising and humiliating way - destroyed by human weapons of mass destruction?
What is crueller? To have a wave snatch your baby away, or to have a knock at your door at midnight, while all your children are asleep, and a herd of human beasts invade your home, your privacy and your gift of life and liberty; then one by one taking you away to be subjected to torture and rape and buried alive in mass graves while you are embracing your babies? And this done for no reason other than you belong to a different nation and culture.
This is not a figment of my imagination. I am not envisaging a fictional scenario. This is exactly what happened to the Kurds not long ago. It happened in 1988 to 182,000 of our children and parents. The Iraqi army bombed the villages with helicopter gun ships and war planes and then attacked with tanks and armoured vehicles. If the area was mountainous and difficult to occupy, they used chemical weapons to destroy the population en masse - the way they did in Halabja and other small towns and villages on March 16, 1988.
Four thousand villages and towns were destroyed in this manner including the village I was born in and the town in which I studied for my secondary education and taught English for eight years.
Since Saddam was toppled, 400 mass graves containing Kurds have been discovered. The last two were discovered in Sulaymani just recently. So why don't the media, which is obsessed with death and murder, take any interest in these bundled bodies of children, babies and parents lying in mass graves? Why don't teams of scientists and forensic experts visit and examine the bodies?