Another act of brutality, a series of them, and the world comes together to protest.
To defy. To unify.
People stand shoulder to shoulder in Paris, in shock, in bewilderment, in silence. We try to make sense of it. We box people: ‘Terrorists’, ‘Islamists’, ‘Cartoonists’, ‘Capitalists’. Blood begs an answer. We are so tired. Grasp for categories – does it help?
I think the time has come for us to change the mouldy old rhetoric, the old name-tags; and to speak of new things that are now known so very, very, very well. Media peddles its wares by staying superficial. Debates rage about ‘ideology’. As if an ideology can lead a person to kill, like a program inserted in the head. We know better than that.
We know the propensity for violence is not inborn. Nor can it be switched-on by reading a scripture. Rage, emptiness, loss of self, gullibility, lack of empathy…these necessary conditions for acts of violence are all embedded in human neurology. Violence tells the story of our childhood. No human was born to kill; our spirit was killed first. Unless there is healing, we act out as was first acted upon us. Is anyone listening? Child-development science has been shouting this from rooftops the world over, for decades!
Every war was first a war against children. Every act of terror was first the terrorising of a child. Every mocking and offensive cartoon was first an emotion of shame and violation.
Look around. Wherever in this world there is patriarchy, wherever there is authoritarian parenting and education, wherever there is punishment and shaming of children en masse, there will be violence. No, it is not about Islam. Not about Christianity, Capitalism, not about Rock & Roll. Unless of course, those are used as instruments of patriarchy and punishment.
Do this as an experiment. Look anywhere in the world where the culture is heavily patriarchal and the family dynamic is authoritarian. Tell me if such a culture doesn’t produce more violence than its neighbours. Tell me if the anthropologists and the brain scientists have been wrong all along.
As long as authoritarianism and patriarchy exist, there will be guns, bombs, petrol engines, coal stacks, chain saws. Violence is always given a brand. Islam. Capitalism. Etcetera. At the core, the driver is always the same. War and terrorism, (if we insist on making those distinctions) are not ideologies: they are SYMPTOMS.
Violence demands a response. But by the time the violence has happened, all responses bring an awful cost. That is because by the time the violence has happened, that is a very late indicator that something urgent has been left unattended. Something has been terribly neglected, overlooked, denied. It has been left to fester, to brew. By the time we send the police, the warplanes…we are too late! We failed to pay attention when we should have. We have allowed children to be shamed, neglected, humiliated, enculturated, ‘socialised’. Then, we left the adults unhealed. In the name of ‘cultural rights’, in the name of ‘non-interference’, we abandon all care. We cloak our indifference and laziness in the banner of ‘tolerance’. Then……BOOM!
We respond to violence…because we have been too detached to PREVENT it at its source.
Wherever there is authoritarianism, wherever there is patriarchy, violence will be generated. And in this globalised age, there is no ‘far away’, there is no ‘over there’, there is no ‘them’. Violence towards children is everyone’s business. Patriarchy three thousand miles away brings a consequence, right here in our street. Our own neglect is instantly exported.
Democracy is not done yet. Neither is peace. These are not acts of Parliament. Democracy is a family dynamic. It is a way of education. Children’s rights must trump cultural rights, or we all suffer. Conservatives are punitive. But liberals are not much help either, when they accept and defend culture for culture’s sake.
I think it is time to be pre-emptive and pro-active. If we care to end violence, we need to insist on ending violence towards children. We need to balance gender dynamics and to democratise family relationships everywhere in this world. Everywhere.
Can we declare that human rights are universal? What a question! The question presumes all humans aren’t human. So: if you exploit a man in the name of religion, then that aspect of your religion has to go. If you oppress a woman in the name of culture, then that aspect of your culture has to go. If you shame or punish a child in the name of tradition, then that tradition has to go. It has to go. Enough!
Children’s rights must trump religion and override tradition. Human rights must trump culture, no matter what the culture. West, East, Middle East, modern, ancient… for the sake of humanity we have to decide that no culture is exempt.