These past few weeks have seen extreme violence in the Middle East. The spectre of violence has not made any distinction between old and young, privileged and unprivileged, Arabs and Israelis.
This mindless violence begets the question — why? What did the innocent do to be subjected to such horrific violence and bear witness to unspeakable crimes against their family, friends, neighbours and fellow citizens?
There are no easy answers. To glean even a mild justification for such extreme cruelty, we must look back into the past and try to find a modicum of rationale — if any can possibly be offered — for it.
Over centuries and millennia, the human-driven ‘civilization’ has inflicted violence upon everything that came in the way of its ‘civilizing mission’. While early in the stone age, this manifested in finding ways to ‘deal’ with ‘wild’ animals, it acquired the form of clearing out forests, introducing large-scale agriculture, building cities, harvesting water for these cities and putting up boundaries between nations and nation-states in later stages.
All of this involved violence, in myriad forms and to varying degrees.
Chopping trees — sentinels of forests and balladeers of nature — to make way for settlements, agricultural fields, towns and cities was in itself a kind of violence. An egregious type of savagery. But it was deemed ‘okay’ since it involved ‘mute’ beings. The trees could not move from their spots, they could not scream and protest. The wildlife that found shelter in the forest could not outrun and outwit hunters armed with cunning, cruelty and deadly weapons.
When swaying trees made way for towering edifices beholden to civilization, the cries and tears of the natural world and all its denizens could barely be heard by those on the dubitable ‘civilizing mission’.
The same was repeated, with stupefying regularity and alacrity, in all the places humans forayed into and tried to change. Is it a coincidence that the practise of roasting a turkey on Thanksgiving (giving thanks to whom and for what?), the sacrifice of animals on some pre-determined days to ‘appease’ the gods and the custom of keeping animals domesticated involves varying degrees of brutality and cruelty?
Yet, all this — despite being so abominable — is tolerated, condoned and celebrated in cultures across the world. There is not a culture or civilization in the world that has not participated in violence against nature and animals.
Therefore, when this cycle of violence sweeps up humans in its course as it hurtles towards devastation, it makes no distinction and entertains no excuses. In a uniform manoeuvre, violence digs its claws into the weak and the hapless, then enfeebles and destroys them completely. It cares not whether the victims are elderly or infants, the elite or the under-privileged, powerful or defenceless.
When violence hits, its apathy towards the fate of its victims is heartbreaking and mind-numbing. Not even the cries of innocent babies, vulnerable women and enfeebled seniors are enough to stop its devastating march towards annihilation. Appallingly, this violence is committed by others of our own species. It knows nothing and heeds nothing except the fulfillment of its narrow, myopic, illusory aims.
Is it any wonder that once satiated — only momentarily and after having annihilated every resistance, every sane voice of reason, every appeal to abstain from violence — the spectre of violence already sets off on the lookout for newer places, newer people, newer victims to wreak havoc on?
If there’s one lesson from the current, raging Israel-Hamas conflict, it is that violence has no master and serves no one. The sooner we realise this, the better it will be. But the pressing question is — will we?