05 May 2024

from 1979 to here and now

The year of 1979 was an educational year for me. I was a second year student at the university of Heidelberg, I had just turned 21, was really naive and impressionable, although at the time I considered myself to be extremely well versed in all things politically. Every day I collected the leaflets handed out on campus, I even read most of them but possibly didn't quite understand all of it. I frequented the radical and the feminist bookshops, I attended various meetings, admittedly some because I wanted to impress a guy or was involved with a guy who tagged me along. I campaigned for amnesty international, reclaim the night and rape crisis groups, I attended various South and Central American exile groups mainly for the great music and food but ostensibly to support their fight against autocratic regimes. I rolled my own cigarettes, wore dungarees, had long hair, occasionally took the odd illegal drug, went to festivals, rallies, sit-ins etc. and in between somehow managed to attend courses and sit exams.

Among my friends at the time were three sisters from an Iranian family, whose father had fled to Germany to escape the corrupt regime of the last Shah. These three women knew how to have a good time and could be found at the best parties and festivals. Politics was never on the agenda until the weeks in January and February 1979 when the Shah fled Iran and the exiled Ayatollah returned. First, all three of my friends - together with happy fellow students also looking for a good time - were celebrating, there was dancing and drinks and food and lots of rejoicing. During the day, they were distributing leaflets about the Iranian revolution and freedom and the end of oppression of all people and especially women and so on. Within maybe a week or two, that changed. My friends were now wearing black headscarves, chanting slogans about the new supreme leader and the power of Islam. I didn't understand what was going on. Still don't.

I think of them often these days, when I watch images from students protests across various countries, mine included. I rewatched again and again a short clip of three masked but very apparently not Arab young women, somewhere in the US, shouting, we are Hamas, we are Hamas, we hate you, at a small group of Jewish people.

I want to accept that it is probably not really hatred that drives them, but the feeling that justice is being trampled underfoot. Justice is such a high motivation for many people - I get that. The suffering of the people in Gaza is obvious, as is their helplessness against a locally overpowering Israel. 

And yet, I am searching the various media channels to see if there is any resentment towards Hamas anywhere among the protests, and I find none. 

Yes, there must be an urgent end to the violence, a human catastrophe, possibly genocide, is unfolding in Gaza. Yes, the Israeli army is guilty of several war crimes, this must be investigated. Yes, the situation of the Palestinian civilian population is intolerable, a solution must finally, finally be found that enables peaceful coexistence in the region.

But, Hamas is a terrorist organisation that not only accepts the suffering of the civilian population, but has deliberately caused it in order to make political capital out of it. Hamas is a racist, homophobic, anti-women organisation. Maybe they are not (yet) as bad as the taliban but if you follow the money, you can see the relationship. Please educate me if I got this wrong.

On a more amazing and possibly cheerful note, two things here that moved me this last week:

The Chauvet Cave was discovered in 1994, one year after we had spent the summer roaming around that part of France and I like to think that we may have been near it, maybe pitched our tent on a meadow close by. Inside the cave, there are paintings, works of art created 32,000 years ago. Like this one:

click here for source and more


Then I read this report on how Orang Utans use herbal treatment on infected wounds. 

And suddenly, the world has become big again, full of wonder of possibility, and we humans, we are back to being just small co-inhabitants.


Ms. Moon said...

That is the most amazing observation of the orgutan using a plant medicinally, both internally and externally. I am so curious- what caused his wound and did the medicine really help it to heal?
I can never figure out how the very same species that created the art like that in the caves is capable of such unutterable cruelty and hatred.

Pixie said...

Hamas is using civilians as human shields, babies, children, women and men, not just the Israeli hostages, but their own people as well. It's despicable. If I believed in hell, I would hope there is a special place for them.

Anonymous said...

You have expressed just what I have been thinking about Hamas. I fear the students are being manipulated to some degree by more sophisticated protesters with an agenda. I don't think we have done a good job of educating students about the complexities of the mid east conflicts. I'm 73 years old, and there has never been peace there in my lifetime.

I have seen coverage of the orangutan applying the medical treatment, and I also saw photos of him days later with his face healed. It is so healing to think about that!

am said...

"And suddenly, the world has become big again, full of wonder of possibility, and we humans, we are back to being just small co-inhabitants."

The sorrow of the history of war has deep roots and so does the joy of human and animal creativity.

I still hear the words of my Sephardic friend who said last October,
"Both sides are right and both sides are wrong." It's difficult for me to write anything about the horror that is taking place for both sides. Thank you for what you wrote.

And thank you so much for writing about the Chauvet caves in this post. Recently I bought a poster of the portion of the cave with the three horses and put it on my bedroom wall. I feel close to the artist or artists who made those images. The assumption seems to be that it was a man or men who made the drawings. I like to think a woman was one of the artists. I learned about the caves in Werner Herzog's documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. Something in my DNA remembers those caves and feels peace there. Against all odds.

And the creativity of animals! Or is it science? Or both? Or something else?

am said...

This came to me today. Spoke for me.


Colette said...

I appreciate your truthful summary.

37paddington said...

I am aware that the student protests are being infiltrated by bad actors saying hateful things to smear the students' sincere bid for humanity and peace. Some of these bad actors are paid. I do see denouncements of Hamas online, they are absolutely a horrific organization, but when people march to end the indiscriminate bombing in Gaza, they are NOT marching for Hamas, just as when people say "Free Palestine" they a NOT saying they hate Jews or that Jews should not have a homeland. Many Jewish people are part of the ceasefire movement, and they point out that Netanyahu's bombing of civilian targets makes Jews just as unsafe as Palestinians. I have no idea what solutions are the right ones, but I weep at the dead babies in my social media feed, and I cheer the students on campuses because they don't wring their hands and say this is too complicated for me to understand, instead they get out there and try to do something. Their belief in their power to change the world is to be protected at all costs, and we must therefore do what you are doing, comb through the sands to discern what is true, and WHO is true.

Also, we were doing the same things in 1979, you in one part of the world and me right there on Columbia's campus in New York City. Sometimes I feel the years collapsing, as if we have not moved forward as a species, as if we repeat the same tragedies again and again. But I cant afford to think that way. And so I look to the idealism of the students who are calling for peace and our shared humanity. Thank you for this thoughtful post, and for daring to write about what is happening. Most of us don't know how to approach this nightmare, and so avoid it altogether, for fear of getting something wrong, or being misunderstood.

A young woman I work with is Jewish with a Ukrainian mother and Russian father, close relatives in the IDF in Israel, and a roommate and best friend who is Palestinian. She is having such a hard time right now and there is no right thing we can say to help heal the terrible fractures she is grappling with.

Sorry for being so long winded in your comments! Sending love to you, dear Sabine, my 1979 sister.