STREETS OF MEMORIES

Sometime soon [as you read this, it may already be happening], thousands of American soldiers will flood across the borders of Iraq. Maybe some Brits will too. They’ll probably fight a short sharp shooting war, with some collateral damage to the civilian population and buildings, after which the shooting will cease and the sun will rise on a new day.

            But the sun won’t rise on a set of new problems. Instead, the sun will rise on a new arranging of old reality. The old reality is that Western cultural, religious, and economic values will have been inserted – at gunpoint – into the cultural, religious, and economic mix of a grouping of peoples whose histories and cultures are little understood and, until now – even now – have received little attention.

            But those little-known histories are just as important as they were in Robert S McNamara’s Viet Nam.

            We know of Chechnya today, because events in Chechnya were deemed – by CNN  news editors – to be of interest to us Westerners. Thus Chechnya – its peoples, its problems, its history – was pulled out from under the blanket of ignorance and disinterest and the electrons brought it into our purview in our western living rooms.

            But the people of Chechnya have been at war with their Russian overlords since more than 400 years. Yet Westerners only became aware of the people of Chechnya and their struggles in the 1990’s.  So, today, Westerners see the ‘Chechnyian problem’ as a new problem. But Chechnyians have known four centuries of unremitting struggle.

            The same sort of thing applies to Ruanda where Westerners see the 1995 genocide but aren’t aware of the century’s old system of tribal domination of Tsutsi over Hutu. Or the Kurdish peoples multi-century’s old war for survival. Or Fiji’s one hundred years of friction between native Fijian and imported Indian. Or Canada, where First Nation people seek rights and some redress against new Canadians. Or Palestine, where the brand new state of Israel was created out of the bloodshed of their 1948 War.

            In all of these examples, old histories, past histories, and remembered histories, are as alive today as are the soldiers who await their start orders.

            Once the borders have been crossed and the shooting war has been fought and won, the importance of those many histories will rush to the fore. The deep emotions that keep those histories so vibrantly alive will rise up and little daily frictions will accumulate. These frictions, resulting from the differences in history, differences in religion, differences in cultural values, and differences in social systems, will accumulate and will blow away any chance for the kind of peace that some world leaders have used as the justification for starting a shooting war.

            The leaders of Britain, Spain, and the USA represent less than seven percent of the world’s population and less than two percent of the countries of this world. The other ninety-three percent and ninety-eight of this globe’s inhabitants have not expressed overwhelming support for a shooting war against Iraq. This much larger percentage is made up of peoples whose histories – throughout Africa, much of Asia, and parts of South America – are replete with examples of necessary struggles against invading cultures.

            In our globally connected world, the stockbroker who goes to work on the 85th floor of a skyscraper in any world financial centre is within the reach of any angry activist who – driven by his history – plots against the force that he sees as invading what he feels is his cultural or national domain.

            The Chechnyian, seeking independence, fights the Russian; the Palestinian, seeking to regain landspace, fights the Israeli; the Israeli fights to ensure that no-one – ever again – devalues and maltreats the people of his faith; and the First Nation peoples of all of North America agitate to be treated as complete equals. All of these actions are carried out with degrees of lethality and non-lethality. All of these actions are driven by other actions taken sometime in the past.

            Once the shooting has stopped in Iraq, the next shots to be heard will be the opening shots in an ongoing ‘war of history’. But given the strong religious overtones to this American-led operation, it’s unlikely that the shots in this ‘after-war’ will be kept within the borders of Iraq.

            I believe that there will be a new surging wave of resentment against Westerners. I believe that this new wave will come, not from national leaders – all of whom will utter the correct combination of syllables – but from what CNN and the other Western media have taken to calling ‘the street’. The Arab ‘street’.

            But not only the Arab street.  From many ‘streets’ all over the world.

            I believe that there will be a long “Street War”. This war will play out in an increase in many incidents directed against American [and perhaps British and other] institutions, corporations, and people – who just happen to be close enough, or vulnerable enough, to strike at.

            I believe that it will be a long war. But, lacking the glamour of a high-tech camera-ready war, it will be a war that will not garner much media time.

            It will, though, draw blood and take lives. Many lives. And it is a war that can be avoided, if diplomacy is allowed to play out.

            But it looks as if some modern leaders are so insulated from their own ‘streets’ by their own selected advisors and supporters and by a media process that is driven by a hunger for either a new story or a new angle on an old story; that they do not see the basic human realities – all those ineradicable remembrances – that underpin every political process.

            Today, as in the past, ordinary people do have feelings. The millions of anti-war marchers who loosely coordinated their global activities show that.

            However, today, ordinary people have far greater access to far more power than did their grandfathers and fathers. Today, one man in ‘the street’ can have as much power as a whole army division. That is proven by the carnage at New York’s Ground Zero and the complete shutting down of all US airspace.

            Most importantly and right around this globe, today’s ordinary man is now aware – and has been for some time – that he has this new power. And he isn’t afraid to use it.

 

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