Thursday, 10 June 2010

Trauma in the world around us & striving for peace

Recent news of the Israeli forces storming an aid ship bound for Gaza brings home the tinderbox of tensions that are part of life in that area of the world.  To those of us living in parts of the world distant from this tragedy the actions of the Israeli forces seem inexplicable.  Perhaps those of us who have wrestled with our own experiences of trauma may be able to see the dramatisation of inner turmoil played out on this larger scale.  

In squaring up to our own trauma as well our internal conflicts it's inevitable that we become more aware of them in those around us.  As I've remarked in an earlier article when I've read about other people in crisis I've been struck by how very ordinary they all look, how various their circumstances have been and how many of them there are.  This sort of thing is everywhere.    

How does society continue to function at all?  It seems to me that it's through the ordinariness of every day contact and routine.  I can see this when I look out the window, dig the garden or go down to the shops: we potter about contributing here, benefiting from other peoples contributions there, drinking cups of tea...  The seasons turn...  We have our families and all their little and large concerns along with our own.  It's all familiar and largely dependable.  There's enough that's normal and known to keep the whole thing going, just!  Maybe.

But what about those societies in which what's normal and known doesn't have this balance?  In fact, what about those societies in which what's normal and known consists largely of chaos and destruction?  In their lives the Wasteland isn't an internal state or limited to their own household, it extends to include whole communities and the known future.  For these people the end may not be in sight.

Palestine, which includes the Gaza Strip, is one such place.  There are many others.  I include for your interest two brief video clips which tell the Palestinian side of the story:
Slingshot - Hip Hop trailer


Dam - Palestinian hip hop group



Writer Salman Masalha makes this eloquent commentary about the disastrous events  that occurred when the Israeli soldiers boarded the aid ship Marmara.

Taking a longer view of events, on the Jewish side of the equation their history of persecution is so lengthy and traumatic that it's not surprising that once the conscience of world leaders was sufficiently pricked it may have seemed to make sense to provide them with a clearly defined area that they could truly call their own.  For centuries many Jews had been deprived not only of the natural right of land ownership but had been hounded from place to place, even country to country.  The history of the Jews is horrendous.

The holocaust brought the devastation of an entire strata of society across Europe.  This would surely leave those who survived with overwhelming trauma of another dimension altogether.  One can't but wonder how much harder it may have been to help them start again in their former homes and neighbourhoods, most of which no longer existed, but possibly better in the long run.  Israel was certainly their historical home, but it was also the historic and indeed the present home of the Arab people.

Furthermore, the implications of grouping together a whole nation of people with this degree of trauma sitting so close to the surface are frightening.  No one can turn the clock back.  So now the Palestinians are placed in the situation of being abused and traumatised.  What now?  I suggest that those who deny the existence of hell haven't experienced it.

Abuse is the result of a person or groups of people exerting damaging influence or control over others.  When this has happened it needs much more than compassion and compromise to begin to set things right.  What is needed is acknowledgement and some form of justice.  Then compromise can begin to find its place.

But in a situation like this the cycle of abuse, trauma and injustice has become like a house of cards in a high wind.  It's tragic.  Very likely the trauma is there in all of them.  And if not in all individuals, then certainly in family heritage.  The strength of feeling that lies within our family histories is considerable and should not be under-estimated. Anyone who watches programmes about genealogies, such as "Who do you think you are?" will witness this in every single episode. 

In dealing with personal instances of crisis and trauma we have to navigate a great deal of unpleasantness both within ourselves and in relation to others.  We are challenged to find healthy ways of dealing with the more onerous aspects of our personalities and behaviours and those of others.

I'm sure that the same principles apply to conflicts on a larger scale.  Striving for love and peace alone is not enough.  Striving for peaceful solutions which include finding better ways of working through contentious issues that include violence and aggression, is necessary.  The energy contained within these difficulties has the potential to help power through to new better possibilities and solutions.  I see the danger of simply ignoring or suppressing unpleasantness as being far more risky in the long run.  The pain and sense of injustice that's at the back of it may dull with time, but it doesn't simply evaporate.  It is likely to just sit there quietly, until next time.  

However, if nothing else is available to us we have to come back to moral codes of how to behave.  Ultimately it's not about nations in which individual identities can be conveniently submerged, it's about people.  We're all people.  We all have responsibilities to each other which should never be forgotten or ignored.  We all know what these are - we have only to look in our own hearts to see how we ourselves would wish to be treated and then extend that hand to others.   

Those interested in exploring these sorts of issues further may wish to read Madeleine Albright's remarkable book, "The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God and World Affairs".  Madeleine was Secretary of State for Bill Clinton and in that role had first hand experience of diplomacy and efforts towards conflict resolution in the Middle East.  She gives much valuable information about Islam, Jewish as well as Christian thinking and has continued to consult widely among all these groups while forming her own views which she expresses openly.  She underlines how important it is that we wish to understand, especially when we don't, and that in tackling conflict that we be willing to communicate constructively for as long as it takes.  She is committed to this for the long haul in the face of what seems like overwhelming odds.   I found reading her book helpful and inspiring. 

Another book which gives a valuable perspective on the struggles of the Middle East is Queen Noor's memorable book "Leap of Faith: Memoirs of an unexpected life".  While in her twenties she married King Hussein of Jordan and converted to Islam.  She created her own unique role in humanitarian work in this very troubled area of the world.   Again we have a side of the news which isn't broadcast on television. 

This (lightly edited) article was originally published in "Rushleigh - The Wasteland Chronicle" where its companion article is:

Purchasing links for interested readers: 
"The Mighty and the Almighty: reflections on America, God and World Affairs"
Amazon.com - other editions available



Amazon.co.uk - other editions available

Fishpond.co.nz - other editions available including audio.  To find them click on the author link of this editions author details.
The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs


"Leap of faith: memoirs of an unexpected life" by Queen Noor
Amazon.com - other editions available



Amazon.co.uk - other editions available


Fishpond.co.nz  - other editions available)
A Leap of Faith: Memoir of an Unexpected Life

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