Grief and Grace on Christmas Eve

Fiji’s leading writer Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book, Loving You Eternally, will be published next year.  Only the other day I heard that a mother, escaping the civil and religious
23 Dec 2015 10:30
Grief and Grace on Christmas Eve
Multi-religion Tree

Fiji’s leading writer Professor Satendra Nandan’s new book, Loving You Eternally, will be published next year.

 Only the other day I heard that a mother, escaping the civil and religious strife in Syria, was drowned. Her seven children died with her in the Mediterranean seas, once the cradle of civilisations.

The only survivor was her husband, father of their seven children. They sadly add to the statistics of over 11 million refugees scattered from that ancient land; 4000 have perished in the waves.

These are stark facts. But below the facts are the tragic truths of the terror of tyranny, beheadings and bombs; and the hidden history of a terrible past ravaged by an old hatred. One wonders if God is so great, why so much hate?

The past can maim, halt, blind and kill. It can warp the best minds and bring out the worst in some of us.

Mr Donald Trump, an aspiring candidate for next year’s US presidential elections, trumpets that ALL Muslims should be banned and, if time permits, they could be banished from the US.  Then he’s likely to build a wall to prevent Mexicans from entering the states of his republic: a nation of migrants, refugees and the Statue of Liberty—and smoking guns. He seems quite unaware of the desperate journeys his many ancestors and compatriots made to the American shores years ago.

He should read more: he seems to have a longer hit list than a reading list!

In Europe the ugly wave of nationalism is on the rise. Angela Merkel, Time magazine’s Person of the Year, alone cannot prevent this tsunami. But she’s stood her ground to redeem the German past—in a year Germany has taken almost 250,000 refugees.

Chancellor Merkel’s popularity in the polls may have declined, but she has made Germany stand very tall. Of all European leaders, she alone gave substance to the 1953

European Convention on Human Rights. More than most, she understands what the murderous machinery of a state can do, if not resisted with force and forceful strategies.

The world seems caught between Iraq and the hard rock of apocalyptic stupidity. Lot of oil and blood is spilled—you can smell it in the black smoke of the oilfields rising like genies from the darkened holes across ominous horizons.

The terribly obscene scenes of the half-shattered buildings in several cities paint a grim picture. Only the black flag of ISIL flutters on desolate, broken buildings, imported tanks, and battered antique monuments.

And we know as bombs are dropped, more than things are falling apart and the blood-dimmed tide is loosed upon the world.

It’s sobering at Christmas to remember this prophetic poem, ‘The Second Coming’, by W  Yeats written almost a century ago. Another of his great poems is ‘Easter 1916’.

There are some moments in history when a seed is sown and the old order changes forever. Easter 1916 was such a moment for Ireland and its centenary will be commemorated and celebrated by the Irish next year.

The exact date is April 24, 1916, at noon when the Proclamation of the Republic was read—a Republic that  “guarantees religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all citizens, and declared its resolve to pursue the happiness and prosperity of the whole nation and all its parts, cherishing all the children of the nation equally.”

Today that has positive echoes in Fiji. We, too, can celebrate as a people where constitutional equality is the essential quality of our constitution. To make it a daily reality is the nation’s great challenge and every citizen’s responsibility.

The Irish have experienced grief, sectarian violence and tragedy on their island but they have survived every crisis and emerged stronger. Irish writers, thinkers produced the finest flowering of literature  and gave grace to the nation’s deepest sorrows.

In the current global crisis we’re urged to protect our values of freedom, democracy, civil liberties, free speech and a host of others which have evolved through quests, conquests, religious wars, genocide, slavery, ethnic cleansing, ideological pogroms, world wars, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, and a million other inhuman acts, especially in the last century.

The Pandora’s box was opened a long time ago and the ills spread far and wide through waves and winds, on foot and in ships; but, Hope had still remained within it as it does spring eternally in the human heart.

That Hope was in peaceful migration and cultivation of inclusive multicultural democracies. The Paris meeting of 200 nation-states recently is a reflection of that overarching reach. Some things are still possible even in the most trying of times.

However, it seems many nations are retreating in the tortoise shell of repugnant nationalistic ideologies, curtailing the civil rights of their citizens and denying citizenship to millions: it is really citizenship that gives us the right to have rights.

And one of the consequences of this is the strident voices in several seemingly democratic societies. Mr Donald Trump may just be the tip of a volcanic iceberg.  Luckily the genius of the US has also produced Donald Duck—and therein lies much Hope.

The US, as we know, was the first colony of the New World. Colonialism became part of our heritage.  It cannot be denied, for although modern colonialism was brief compared to more ancient empires, its impact has been vast: it permanently changed the contours of an expanding-shrinking planet.

Colonialism implies migration in many aspects: of explorers, settlers, scientists, migrants, mythology, ideology, language, literature, ideas, institutions, inventions.

And wherever there’s migration, a multicultural world is in the making which means, at the turn of the 21st Century, the whole earth.

Migration’, as Salman Rushdie that creatively controversial British-Indian migrant writer puts it, “also offers us one of the richest metaphors for our age.  The very word metaphor, with its roots in Greek words for bearing across describes a sort of migration, the migration of ideas into images.  We all cross frontiers, in that sense, we are all migrant peoples”.

The South Pacific, like most of the world we know, has been peopled by migration. Today many are migrating from the islands of the South Seas.  In our own region our largest and perhaps the most generous neighbours have been created as nation-states by immigration.

The world is culturally multiple, and every individual is a crucible of many cultures.  The plurality of life is our singular identity in the modern world.  The tradition of cultural, intellectual, religious and scientific ‘impurity’ is the essence of modernism.  Anglo-centric is egocentric; Euro-centric is eccentric.

Cultural, spiritual, intellectual and ethnic diversity is inherent in the fabric of contemporary society.

We live in a ‘multi’ world:  multiracial, multilingual, multi-religious, multi-polar and now becoming increasingly multinational.  Unfortunately, these big words also hide a multitude of sins.

One can despair at this state of affairs:  and become alienated, hand-cuffed to history’s evil . On the other hand, in this disjointed history and emerging societies we can see a starting point for an enquiry into the question:  Who are we? What’s our humanity?

After all, the so-called established societies were once colonised and their own civilisation has been fed from many sources:  Christ was not born in London, nor was Marx a Moscovite.

No-one has written more insightfully of this new nihilism and dilemmas of our contemporary universe than the indentured grandson, Vidia Naipaul. For the past half a century, in his fiction, travelogue, journalism, he has interpreted the world for the colonial and the colonised.

Often misunderstood, he believed in the values of modernity and his great wonder at human civilization which he has explored through the colours in the spectrum of his own personal experience.

This “mode of writing that Naipaul has perfected over the years, in which historical reportage and social analysis flow into and out of autobiographically  coloured fiction and travel memoir—a mixed mode that may turn out to be his principal legacy to English letters,” wrote JM Coetzee, the South African literary Nobel laureate , author of Disgrace.


VS Naipul

Almost forty years ago, VS Naipaul, now married to a Muslim, wrote :

“I feel there is a great universal civilisation at the moment which people would say is Western.  But this has been fed by innumerable sources.  It’s a very eclectic civilisation and it is conquering the world because it is so attractive, so liberating to people.  What disheartens me is that there are certain cultures where people are saying “Cut yourselves off.  Go back to what you were.

“There is nothing to replace the universal civilisation they are rejecting.  The Arabs, the Muslims, some Africans are doing this.  I think it’s a disaster.

“The great Arab civilisation of the seventh to twelfth centuries was the world’s most eclectic civilisation.  It wasn’t closed to outside influences.  It was endlessly incorporating the art of Persia, the mathematics of India, what remained of the philosophy of Greece.  The mistake of Western vanity is to think that the universal civilisation that exists now is a purer racial one.  It’s not the preserve of one race, one country, but has been fed by many.”

It is this we should defend to defeat the destructive forces of medial evil from outside and the jihadist siege within.

The real tragedy will be if terrorism creates fear in free societies. And we deny simple humanity and citizenship rights to people because of race or religion.

There should always be room in the manger, if not in the inn.

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj


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