Tag Archives: ignorance

Fall In Love Outside Your Culture, Don’t Read The News With Apathy

22 Jan

 

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Where we were

 

As the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were happening, we were on a layover in Amsterdam. We had just gone into the city center, checked out the prostitutes and marveled at Amsterdam’s open communication about drug possession, and were back in the airport when I started reading the news.

Where were you?

Like many of you, I followed the news breathlessly, checking my news apps day and night. Probably like many of you, I had many discussions about extremists, the Islam religion, the Christian Crusades, and freedom of speech. Like a few of you, I drew angry comparisons between the media coverage of Charlie Hebdo and the lack of interest on the Boko Haram massacres in northern Nigeria. Read The Guardian’s article “Why Did the World Ignore Boko Haram’s Baga Attacks” here.

"I am Charlie. Don't forget the victims of Boko Haram"

“I am Charlie. Don’t forget the victims of Boko Haram”.

Following all the arguments, opinions, publications and blogs online, I want to say that as a writer, of course I believe in freedom of speech; but especially as a writer, I believe that it is a unique muscle which must be exercised with caution.

As a circus-fitness instructor, I can give you a million warm-up-your-muscles-carefully metaphors, the point of which being: I am happy that the muscle of freedom of speech has (so far) been exercised with such caution and such lack of prejudice in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

I don’t like the idea of Charlie Hebdo making fun of the Prophet Muhammed and I understand Muslim outrage at this. Of course it should never lead to murder. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and inciting anger. Could Fascist caricaturists say they were using their right of freedom of expression when they depicted Jews in anti-Semetic ways?

Or Hergé's portrayal of Africans in "Tintin in Congo" - a great discussion of censorship, literary change, race theory, etc

Or Hergé’s portrayal of Africans in “Tintin in Congo” – a great discussion of censorship, literary change, race theory, etc

(My boyfriend has great arguments against mine. As a law student, he has had so many vivacious discussions with me with opposing opinions, which are really helping us sharpen our arguments & beliefs. For this, I am endlessly grateful to him.)

I believe there is a fine line between FREEDOM OF SPEECH and RESPECT. I would not poke fun at the Prophet simply because I respect the Islam belief that he should not be depicted nor made fun of. That’s okay by me. Yet this line is so fine and so fragile, I am sure we will have many more discussions about it.

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Does it?

 

In the aftermath of the massacres and the great holding up of pens, I tweeted:

I understand that many people hearing about the massacres in don’t feel affected because they don’t know anyone. Well: you know me.

This message highlights a belief that I think about often and don’t yet have a suggestion of solving for.

Most of us will read the news with empathy, but admittedly with distance. After our layover in Amsterdam, we were greeted at Aberdeen Dyce Airport by a bulletin that read: “COMING FROM WEST AFRICA? There is a new epidemic called ebola…” and the information continued. We sarcastically remarked: “Oh, new, is it?” Ebola has been around for years, but now that it is reaching Europe, it is suddenly a topic of conversation.

But this cannot be critised. At the end of the day, most people won’t be concerned by the massacres in Nigeria or the Ebola in Liberia, because there is an international opinion of Africa as a poor, devastated continent on its knees, where terrible things such as AIDS and Ebola simply happen.

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I want to confess: When the war in Syria was at its peak and the death tolls were raging through the news, I didn’t read it for very long.

Why?

Because Syria does not affect me. And why?

Because I don’t know any Syrians.

If I hadn’t grown up in Nigeria, my perception of the country would most likely be a wild place where terrible things like this happen – and nothing more. The following is from the excellent film Hotel Rwanda, a drama based on a true story during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Joaquin Phoenix is a camera man filming the genocide for the news.

A few months ago, a young man called Peter Kassig (or, after his conversion to Islam, Abdul-Rahman Kassig) was captured during his humanitarian work in Syria and beheaded by ISIS. When I opened Facebook the morning after, it was filled with a good friend’s outrage, pain, anger and sorrow. She had known Peter. They had met in her home town Beirut, he had stayed at her house and she had even met his father. She posted pictures of him chilling on her sofa, mid-laugh, enjoying a cigarette. She raged about ISIS, about the state of the world, about how gentle and kind he had been. I read all her posts and I cried with her.

This really brought the ISIS beheadings home to me. I spent hours on the internet researching Peter’s humanitarian work, ISIS and the ISIS victims.

How do we connect this world? How do we raise a generation that doesn’t watch the news with complete apathy? – Or, god forbid, doesn’t watch the news at all.

It is the people we know.

I read the news the way I do because I have friends in the U.S Army & Air Force; in Lebanon and Israel; in Germany (thinking of PEDIGA rallies in Dresden & Leipzig); in Vienna; in Nigeria; in Peru, etc etc etc. When an earthquake happens, a massacre, a riot – I have people I contact on Facebook to see if they are alright.

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That affects how I read the news.

My only idea so far is to urge everyone reading this to adopt a godchild; one living in Egypt, Liberia, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon, Peru, Belgium, New Caledonia – perhaps in the country that affects & interests you the least – and then we’ll see how people read the news.

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We CANNOT afford to separate ourselves from the terrible or joyful events happening in the world. We cannot afford ignorance or separation. I am happy we live in this internet-era of great digital connectivity. People argue that it is making us lose touch with one another – and yes, I’ve sat in cafés where no one speaks because everyone is on their phone – but the internet is connecting us, and the more we travel, the more we care about countries, people and fates.

I would urge everyone to travel to countries that don’t interest them, to make a connection and then see how their interest in the news changes.

Before we became a couple, my boyfriend knew very little of Peru and nothing of Nigeria. Now he is becoming an expert on indigenous civil rights and Ken Saro-Wiwa… and I am reading Václav Havel and Jiří Weil.

Travel, make friends, fall in love outside of your culture, adopt a godchild. Don’t read the news with apathy.

At the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Jan 2015

At the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Jan 2015

My Personal Japan

25 Mar

A journey through life in Germany, a journey through my heart of Japan

I got a call from the psychiatric ward in the morning. A panicking voice screamed: “They’re rioting! They say we’re the mad ones! They’ve lost complete faith in us and in our ability to rule the world. What shall I do? What shall I tell them?”

“Tell them they’re healed and they can all go home,” I replied and hung up the phone.

In the late afternoon, I had wine with a friend. “I’m so bad, I haven’t been keeping up with any of it. Tell me, what happened?” As I told her how the events had unfolded, I couldn’t stop staring at her white wine swimming elegant circles in its oval glass on the table between us. Its luxury unnerved me, offended me. The golden purity reeked of decadence and I wished I could show it fish markets and watch it recoil. In silence, we wined and dined and felt utterly malignant.

At dusk, we visited his mother who had blankets around her feet. “It’s Chernobyl all over again. I can’t watch it anymore. I feel so helpless and so angry. Those poor people, I am with them. I am with them.”

At night, huddled over an iPhone in a bar, the boys googled the wave. “Some idiot wants to surf the tsunami. Someone else thinks the Americans did it. Isn’t it strange that you can google and actually watch the entire tsunami online? Why is everyone filming and nobody running?”

I went home and watched the news until the journalists began using poetic euphemisms, until I could recite their poetry with them. They interviewed Japanese fishermen walking slowly through the wasteland, who said they were looking for souls. “Just to find them,” one man explained. “I will keep looking until I find them.” Souls we lost, souls we must retrieve. The souls they found then walked among them, whispering about the Infinity of things, and the people listened and queued to enter the emptiness of supermarkets.

As my day finally ended, I returned to my heart, to my personal Japan. You, my true friend from school – you, now living in Tokyo – you, my beautiful Noriko. Your skin so perfectly placed I could never read any of your emotions, except when you were puzzled. You spoke softly, carefully and gently preferred saying “I don’t know” when you really meant no. You drank so much and could handle so little, and at the end the party, you were ruffled and crosseyed, lovingly comforting someone – O you and your big heart! Your slim black eyes scanned the world, innocently looking for more trouble, simply looking for a deep conversation about where are we going, where did we come from, what is this illusion we’re in! You treated us all like we were home. When I told you my feet had turned into fish, you took me as I was. You laughed yourself off the chair and later turned catatonic with delight. A single red streak flashed across your face when you giggled, as though the sun always endowed your laughter with a piece of its sunset. How you always surprised & fascinated me, how I grew a garden of Love for you.

She is the Japan we know, the friend we always watched over with Our Love. To give your portrait to the world so that they recognise your smile in the sunset, and see your face when they think of Japan these days.

dedicated with Love, to our friends in Japan

Noriko Okuda, Hiroki Fuji and Tomohiko Takeda