Friday, April 4, 2014

Not "Never Again"

The thoughts I have today are heavy and more than a little overwhelming. My ideal day would be to self medicate with an oversize hunk of chocolate and then curl up in a ball and nap on my office floor.  Alas, I don't have that luxury so I continue to work, desk covered in post it notes, printed lists with additional tasks hastily scribbled underneath.

The thoughts I've had today started with a reminder that today has been 20 years since the beginning of the genocide in Rwanda. That day, started with an airliner carrying government leaders being shot down and sparking smouldering hatred that raged through the country leaving death, dismemberment, torture and rape in its wake. It was weeks in which radios identified vehicles filled with fleeing Tutsis as cockroaches and ordered the Hutus to annihilate them. The voice of authority coming out of thousands of radios, voicing aggression, pandering hatred, demanding murder. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands until the very country was dismembered. Family members betrayed family members, neighbours attacked neighbours, teachers severed the limbs of students, men who sold produce to customers became their rapists. Whole families were killed and those who were not, were left to flee, leaving the bodies of their loved ones where they fell. In spite of the presence of peacekeepers from outside countries, the world went on with their lives with minimal response to the atrocities. It wasn't due to lack of information, it was due to lack of empathy. Rwanda reminded us that after all the outcry after the Holocaust, that really, "never again" was just rhetoric.

Even now, people hear about Rwanda and have the audacity to say "never again" while the same hatred and terror runs rampant throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo, while the Central African Republic's Muslims and Christians slaughter one another senselessly, entrapping innocent people in communities to starve or forcing them to flee with no where to run. In case, you're one of those that believe that these are African issues, then turn your eyes on Syria where three years in, millions (I want to scream that number for emphasis) are displaced either within the borders or in neighbouring countries because of a conflict that really has nothing to do with the common person on the ground. Men, women and children lived lives extraordinarily similar to ours, taking children to school and then to music lessons, working in the business sector and then shopping at the market on the way home, until their government and others decided that these ordinary citizens should be used as collateral in a war that has everything to do with greed and corruption and nothing to do with bettering the lives of those they purport to serve.

Never again, in deed.

And then to Afghanistan. We've watched the footage of Canadian troops withdrawing for the last time in Afghanistan and the preparation for elections. These should be signs of hope and progress. And then today. The cover of the NY Times features a photo by the Pulitzer Prize winning photographer, Anja Niedringhaus. And a report comes in across the wire that this amazing and gifted woman, was shot multiple times from metres away by an Afghani policeman yelling some misguided homage to his god. And that, is life today.

So for all the post it notes and added scribbles of to do's that could bury me on their own,  today can not and will not carry on until I take some time, as I often do, to peruse again, the amazing photography of one of the greats, Anja Niedringhaus. And I do so, with prayers for her coworker and our fellow Canadian, Karen Gammon, who was injured in the same attack.

These women did not have to use their skills for this particular type of photography. The world clambers for photos of beauty and joy, for easy inspiration and visuals to simply feel good about.  I would challenge you today, for we are all busy, but don't be too busy to take a moment and look at the beauty and the joy, the inspiration and the kind of life we should all emulate - that which involves risk and injury, even to the point of death, in the hope that we could make our world a better place to live. For that, that is the legacy that we've been left. There is no "never again" in a world that continues to live unto itself and ignore that which goes on around them.

Anja Niedringhaus Photography

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