The Trauma of Life: The Pictures That Shook The World

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Source: Aleppo Media Center/Time

Just when I thought my conscience was dead, when my heart had hardened enough to take the most gruesome of things, and when I had become cynical enough to appreciate the value of anything in this life, a picture shook me like very few things had ever before.

We have seen so many . We have seen the helpless death of Aylan Kurdi pictured on the beaches of Turkey. We have seen so much that we should not have seen. The genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo, the children suffering Assad’s chemical attacks, and the corpses of dead babies from Gaza Strip and the Syrian civil war.

Somehow this image is different. Somehow it is more shocking that any other thing we have ever seen.

Shocking in its lack of violence. Shocking in its calm.

But it only strengthened my view that this world is no place for a living creature. It is no place for a fragile little kid like Omran, who has now probably seen everything that a human should not in their entire lifetimes. I have probably never felt so disgusted with the idea of life in the recent years.

Throughout the time of the survival of Omran, we keep on hearing the calls of “Allah,” who was so conspicuously absent from the scene. Probably that’s why.

It’s a different feeling in a natural disaster, perhaps, where you are helpless for reasons that are beyond anyone’s control. But this is not supposed to happen. These families really had done nothing wrong to deserve this sort of hell.

But to my mind, if these pictures did not destroy your faith, probably nothing would.

Nothing has destroyed my faith in humanity like this ever before.

Not everything about this is apparently so tragic. Omran’s family survived the brutal air bombing on their apartment complex in a rebel-held neighborhood in Aleppo, allegedly by the Russian jets on August 17. The bombing was enough to scar the family for life, but there was hope that they would escape the war zone. However, Omran’s brother Ali, who had been rescued too, could not make it and died of injuries.

It’s probably not the worst thing in the world. At least the family survived. At least the child survived, and who knows who and what he would go on to become.

It’s not worse than the Holocaust. It’s not even worse than the killings of the young children that an Israeli gunship strafed apparently for fun.

But does that make the personal tragedy of his life any less important? Why do we have to consider the severity and the magnitude of a tragedy to reserve our outrage and shock and grief for it?

I don’t know what to make of such a tragedy.

Should we embrace life harder than ever before, or should we move away from it? Should we celebrate his life or should we mourn? I don’t even have to explain why we should mourn. Others are saying he is lucky. Is he?

Should we value life or should we see it as nothing but a series of painful and traumatic experiences?

There comes a time for families when their lives are irreversibly destroyed, and altered for the worse. It is moments like these that change them forever, which change the course of their lives.

In reducing it to a conflict with complicated powers, how we discount the life of an individual.

Should we use it to push the anti-war agenda or should we use it to rally support for more war against Assad, Russia, and the Islamic State? Should we use it to trash whoever is our political opponent or should we use it to advocate for the acceptance of more Syrian refugees?

Is this what our existence comes down to? Is this what life is about?

I don’t even know what’s right anymore.

I don’t know whether I am sad, angry, frustrated or disgusted. I don’t even know what to say anymore. This is the sort of shock after which you don’t want to be happy again.

I don’t even want my mind to be numb anymore. I don’t want to suspend my consciousness, as I would usually do. I want to absorb every bit of these pictures.

Even crying does not undone the grief. It does not undone the trauma of life.

I don’t know how to respond to the pictures of Omran Daqneesh.

We would move on from this, but for a change, something inside is dead.

 

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Life is Precious

Source: Alamy/The Guardian

Source: Alamy

It may be a painful experience overall, and it maybe overrated, but there are certain things about life which make it so precious.

One of the reasons life is precious is precisely because of that painful experience.

What makes life so precious is your time with your loved ones. And there is not a second of which I would want to trade with anything, especially death.

But just when you start taking it for granted, and especially come close to taking it away, you realize how precious life is.

 

Yes, indeed, I want to live.

For every single second that I can be with those I love.

 

Bottom Line Feminism

Source: The Nation

Source: The Nation

If there is a single most important issue that could make the greatest difference to women’s rights in Pakistan, it is their financial independence.

Apologists irritated by feminists might want to disagree with it just for the sake of proving them wrong. But the fact of the matter is that the conservative structure of our society, obsessed with maintaining the unreality of sexual purity, is clearly rigged against female individuals.

Marriage itself is an area which is traditionally designed to disable professional opportunities for women to a great degree, citing the natural role of motherhood and family building. The traditional norms ensure that women remain dependent on their husbands for lives, which subjects them to endure never-ending abuse in many cases.

While you would expect modern and educated women to overcome these hurdles and end a relationship when they have to, many women are handicapped to do so even in our upper middle class. You can’t end an abusive relationship because you would have no means to live, and nowhere to live, especially if your own family refuses to accept you. But even in a normal marriage, no woman should ever run out of options on how to live their lives.

In many cases, you cannot help but conclude that the greatest protection women need are from their socially conservative parents, who are ready to sell them to the next best buyer for the next best price.

Just because marriage has the seal of social and legal approval, does not necessarily make it any different to slavery, if that is what it really turns out to be.

There is an easy way women can escape the abuse that ensues. By simple having the means to live on their own. Just like anyone else is supposed to.

We already know that, don’t we? Yet, it is still a problem, and it’s the 21st century.

And there is hardly anything we can do when we find such instances around us, even in our very families.

In practical terms, there is no cause more important to focus on than to promote the financial independence of women in Pakistan, especially outside the universe of the affluent and the educated.  And it is indispensable for women to reclaim their due space in the society.

This is why the more useful of our activists are focusing on helping women become financially independent and making actual difference in people’s lives.

Not to get too optimistic, but initiatives such as WeCreate from the US-Pakistan Women’s Council is more on the lines of what we need. I guess it’s about time that we momentarily stop complaining about America being the evil empire and start thanking them from thinking about women in our country, among other things. Because apparently we could be doing a better job.

But this is not the first initiative that promotes entrepreneurship and financial empowerment for women. While the Pakistani government has also initiated such projects which are much needed, we should not wait for it, or for American aid, for that matter.

Private local businesses and non-profits can make a difference by partnering and initiating grass root platforms to offer hope, if not security, to women facing domestic social pressures and help them become financially independent. We can never have enough of these initiatives.

No woman should ever be afraid of the idea of divorce and of living as a single mom. Ultimately, it goes down to building the culture of gender equality in economic participation, with zero tolerance for discrimination.

Eliminating segregation and ensuring financial independence.

That’s pretty much the bottom line to my mind.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

 

Lessons From Gaddafi

Source: The Daily Telegraph

So the reign of the old Colonel, Moammer Gaddafi, has come to an end. Finally.

All things must pass away, they say. A man, for example. Nothing lasts forever. But perhaps these taken for granted facts were something the illustrious dictator of Libya forgot. I would not go into the political echoes of the event, but just human lessons you could extract out of it and what the historian could tell you about it. Still politics is as related to the matter as the eye is related to sight.

Everyone has a loathing for Gaddafi for being brutal and cold-hearted and cruel for bombing his very own people. But at the same time, I could also imagine what would be going through his mind and in his heart. A falling dictator is the most desperate man in the world. So while I despised him for being cruel to his own people who paid for his luxuries, I also had a bit of sympathy for him and his family. Like I had for Hosni Mobarek of Egypt and his family.

I don’t want them to flourish on the luxuries they do not deserve but I want them to live. For those who want them dead because they were responsible for the death of their loved ones is a different story. I can’t fully understand death for justice so I would leave the subject to those who do and be thankful as long as I am not the one facing the shooting squad. But I still think their families are innocent and deserve to live.

Establishing this point, let us move forward. Royalty. which need not be hereditary and let me integrate it to the modern times despite the general despise of monarchies and the popularity of republics, bears the burden of the sins attached to its name. This is what the history tells us. Think of the Romanovs, murdered in cold blood in some oblivious house and picture the young Alexei and Anastasia and their other sisters dying, simply because they were the children of Czar Nicholas II. Cruel from a human viewpoint, but just the right thing to do maybe from the Bolshevik perspective. Maybe it was necessary because an Anastasia appeared in Germany several years later.

In the modern times, families of government figures may be allowed to live in peace if they remain quiet, just like the son of the exiled Shah of Iran. Gaddafi had a choice of fleeing Libya much earlier than he did. He could have read the writing on the wall. Even a child watching TV could. But maybe Gaddafi wasn’t watching TV or he would have known. Instead, he was hoping to cling on to the throne he had been clinging on to for nearly four decades. It is was too dear to him, maybe more than his family, which is why he lost his sons and grandsons in the battle for it.

It is not a question of right and wrong or good and evil here. It is a question of being a victor or a loser. The rebels were backed by the NATO and Gaddafi could not have expected to resist them for long, so in the end his rule was limited to his palace in Tripoli. So he retreated too late. I was keenly waiting for the news of his escape to another country, but the more it was delayed, the more I became convinced of his delusions, erratic thought process and messed up priorities. He was stuck somewhere in the middle of being a man who never wanted to give up and who was too afraid to die.

A spectator and a historian would never be able to make up their minds about whether to hate the man or whether to have respect for him. Most of them would comfortably eliminate the latter option, as you cannot really have a lot of respect, if at all, for a man who cannot really make up his mind between his family and his throne, and not sure of what was more prized to him. But maybe anyone else in his place would be torn apart in the same dilemma. Being as resourceful as he was, it is easy to say that he could have easily found his way to a safe country with his family.

For a moment, I thought Gaddafi was fighting for his pride and his glory. That he would fight to the last bullet in the barrel and the last drop of blood in his veins. The kind of dictators who would rather commit suicide than be overpowered by the enemy and captured and humiliated, like Adolf Hitler of the Third Reich or the great warrior kings of Rajputana. But no, he even wasn’t that type. A confused man or one who was caught in the whirlwind of circumstances. Who can tell but himself. But we can see where he was wrong and what he could have done to minimize the damage. The throne was already lost and there was no other way to it.

Had family been the first priority of Gaddafi, he could have left Libya with them way too early than when he really did. I heard the news that his daughter gave birth to a child when he reached with his family in Algeria. This is what the difference can mean. Life and death. I guess one of his sons died in the action, fighting against the rebels, or in a NATO bombing. Maybe they did not have to do that. Maybe he did not have to be so brutal to the public. Maybe he could have had enough foresight to realize that his end was near. He could have run away way before the Bastille was overrun. He did just that but he also assigned the task of guarding it to his loved ones, if that is the right term to use here.

Not all dictators give their power away so violently. There was Pervez Musharraf of  Pakistan, for example. Not all are too smart, recall the way Saddam Hussein ended up. Maybe he didn’t have many friends. A huge mistake for a dictator. Gaddafi was made to give up his power just like every other dictator, but he seemed more like a child separated from his toy, if you ignore the innocence part. But still you would expect him to foresee it.

I think it could be a completely seperate and dedicated area of research, how dictators should escape their impending doom. Survival can make man do crazy things and the things that Gaddafi did would go down in the history as among the craziest. So if you are a dictator and love your family a bit more than Gaddafi did or love your throne a bit less and if you are fighting against the NATO, it is better to make an early, safe and pleasant escape to a country like Algeria if Saudi Arabia refuses to accept your entry.

It remains to be seen if he will be tried for crimes against humanity. That also depends on how many friends you have, and how many you run out of. I just happened to glance past a New York Times photo feature based on the family pictures of Gaddafi found in his palace, which now lay in ruins. I have no idea why the American publication felt the need to publish it, maybe to emphasize the humiliation faced by the man and his family, but I leave you with it.

In the end, you have to come to the point when you need to decide whether you are a dictator or a human.