Tuesday, April 09, 2013

"History is not Essential"

One of the things that rile me is people who complain about the revolution in Syria without questioning why it had become necessary in the first place. It strikes me as incredible that some people would think it is easy for a human being to risk life and limb to go out protesting in the face of a feared secret police day after day. Maybe they think that poor or rural people aren't the same as them? There is, after all, an element of class snobbery and urban disdain for the countryside. But I believe there is also something else at work.

A Syrian relative of mine once asked derisively what use would studying history be for people? His question reminded me of the Jewish man in Schindler's List who is told by a Nazi soldier that 'history is not essential'. Since when is history not essential? There is no time in our lives when history is not as important as it is now. Carefully documenting the crimes on mobile phones and interpreting what we are seeing truthfully and accurately is not just important for bringing war criminals to account, but so that our children and the children of other peoples will know what happened to us one day.

More importantly it shows us how the failure of governance and corruption not only led to the subversion of a whole state, but to the deaths of tens of thousands of people when it became unsustainable. Wherever we look to the rise of totalitarian systems we find the rise of strife and calamity. The people who tell us today that history is not essential are the same type of people throughout history who were silent in the face of injustice and pretended that they didn't know what was happening.

The older generation new what was happening in 1963 and after. They knew what was happening when Syrian Kurds then had their citizenship revoked and people started disappearing off the streets. They knew about the trade unionists, journalists, doctors and lawyers who were arrested or exiled. But instead they chose to stay quiet and make a living. 'Stay out of politics' was the adage they lived by. But you can't stay out of politics. Politics will follow you into your house and your wallet. History is also the study of the politics of those who came before us. But history means you know what is happening, and knowing something is wrong imposes a duty to act, an inconvenient duty which will risk life and limb. That can be a problem, so such people decided that 'history is not essential' and cursed those ignorant peasants who rose up when things became intolerable.

What better way to sustain their delusion even now than by denying this is a revolution. After all nobody denies that this regime is distasteful. But then they will say bring us a real revolution and we would join it. What is a real revolution? You would ask of them. And they would say that a real revolution is planned and organized. That it would not have unsavoury types involved, and that it would have a doctrine and universal creed motivating it.

So this isn't a revolution, and it isn't worth joining, according to them. So I ask them to show me a revolution in human history that was as they describe. That wasn't ugly and violent. I detest revolutions and the chaos that they bring, but I detest the Lie and the evil which make revolution inevitable even more. The revolution is like a guttural cry from that dark place inside us. Though it is dark and from the jungle, this animal impulse cannot accept what is wrong for long, and like a hurt animal it will lash out against friend and foe. We all have it inside us, but some people pretend they are better than the 'riff-raff', unaware that they are a week away from killing each other should they ever become similarly destitute and desperate. This is a revolution in every despicable and glorious sense of the word, and if we had only paid attention to what had happened to those before us then we wouldn't have been in this mess today. History, as it turns out, is very essential.

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