Human Face and Cost of Violence

War and violence become abstracted the further we are away from them. All of our exposure boils down to news reports and research updates that try to capture in words, numbers and images a fact that can never be truly conceptualised; brutal destruction of individual human beings.

Amidst all the grandeur geo-political thought exercises, partisan condemnations of who really is the wrong one, victims of this ageless story melt into mere sub-points in an argument.

If numerical citations of how many people died numb us to the deep suffering behind each number uttered, theories and soundbites on why such suffering occurs also distance us from all that is taking place in the world. Human involvement and responsibility disappears as we blame it all on elusive categories, such as politics, religion, power and education.

TS Eliot is right; human beings cannot bear very much reality. All this destruction has a human face and a human cost; both the perpetrators and those who perish are human beings like you and me.

By blaming it on external factors, we are shielded from the knowledge that violence is human, and that you and I too have the potential to destroy. Most subversively, we are protected from facing the deep moral failure in our apathy and lack of action to stop and care for those in need.

It is that reality that I face everyday as a researcher on human rights, Middle East and violence issues. It is that reality that slips into the background in my own writings that offer grand explanations and theories.

So this time, let me do something else rather than telling you facts and figures. Let me tell you a story, a human story in the following half-baked poem I wrote after spending a busy week full of research and reports on violence.

This is a reminder for myself, whose entire education and professional formation taught him to be detached and critical; so that I never forget the weight and sorrow of what it is I am talking about. I hope it will be for you too. 

Violence and Beauty

In the middle of the destroyed town
in the pool of blood
decapitated bricks and mortars,
her dead body lay
in silence
covered in mud,
in sorrow.

Those who saw her
found no trace of her beauty
nor smelt the rose water
she often washed herself with.
Her eyes,
that once made every men drunk,
were frozen in the exact moment
she released her last breath
like a broken clock.
The smell of war filled the air
suffocating every flower,
ever memory
every dream.

She always had suitors, you know,
asking for her hand
from the age of sixteen.
Her father always found them wanting,
“Not good enough for you” he used to say.
Once, a young man-
with a steady job in a big city,
caught her heart briefly;
“No” said her mother,
“He has crooked teeth,
never trust a man with such!”

She awaited hopefully,
wearing her pale pink dress
when she felt it could be the day
fate would finally be kind,
till that day,
when the darkness covered the town,
swallowed her mother and father
and spit her on to the ground,
leaving ugly teeth marks behind.

Her torn dress is crimson now,
her face hidden
under the dark blue of death.
No longing man will ever knock on her door again
Wearing their best suits to woo her family.
Soon, she will be a number,
a fatality in a collateral story,
a story of the monster deep in me, in you, in us
always devouring old towns
to feed its ugliness;
A story that we will never own,
but blame on the aliens
we'd hoped to have possessed us.

She will lay there
and with her, humanity too
covered in dark blue
wrapped in crimson
in silence
in mourning
of the beauty deep in me, in you, in us
that the monster ate,