I find “Christ and the Soldier” by Siegfried Sassoon a gripping tale of war and carnage. The poem was written after the Battle of the Somme and is a conversation between a soldier and Christ which ends:
"Lord Jesus, ain't you got no more to say?"
Bowed hung that head below the crown of thorns. The soldier shifted, and picked up his pack, and slung his gun, and stumbled on his way.
"O God," he groaned, “why ever was I born?”
I was born in Afghanistan in 1981 and lived my early childhood in Kabul under Soviet occupation; I survived the brutal guerrilla war against the Soviets, I lost friends and family to Mujaheedin War of Kabul, I kept my spirit through the Taliban reign of tyranny and I braved journeys to escape to Europe. I know what it is like to be on the other side of the European border, the large governments united to keep the little man at bay. I believe there are lessons to be learned from wars to strengthen tolerance and foster shared values.
I am now a British Citizen and live in Brighton. I watch in astonishment racist, xenophobic, anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments taking root in most of Europe. In some countries they are translated in to legislation and far right parties are part of governing coalitions. Even if they aren’t in power, the far right influences political and social policies in the EU; recent examples are Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. For years the EU manipulated social policies under the guise of “European Values” to remodel nationalism. In this climate, identitarian and ethnic agendas were strengthened to bolster “self-pride”. We live in a society of intolerance and darkness and fail to understand the complexities of past wars and contemporary challenges, doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past and blunder our way in to modern conflicts.
I have learned a few things about conflict and intolerance from personal encounters and its history in Europe, which I will attempt to summarise here. First is the fallibility and weakness of humans: people despair when faced with tough choices and under threat, and when we despair we commit depraved acts. In order to engage with people, we ought to see behind their shortcomings so we understand their point of view. The second is the false belief in the superiority of European culture or nations: other people are not malign or evil and what we recognise as a nation or group is often an artificial construct. Third is the power of lies. Anyone with some political awareness must have seen how misinformation has shaped our societies recently. Finally, and most importantly, is the fragility of our peaceful existence. My world has crumbled on several occasions and no one saw it coming. We lost our home and lives the third time in a flash, and as unexpectedly as the first time; we were astounded by the power and speed of the storm that swept comforts from under our feet and blew our dreams away. We are all responsible for sustaining peace and tolerance by creating positive stories about our collective identity and confronting false myths. I will be exploring each of the points in subsequent posts.