Sunday, May 28, 2006

Is this ‘civil war’ yet, Mr. Bush?

“Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite… Sectarian and ethnic cleansing has since continued apace, as mixed neighborhoods are ‘purified.’ ”
“Iraq Is the Republic of Fear,” by Nir Rosen, in today’s Washington Post

Before this goes any further, could we at least cleanse the language? ‘Ethnic cleansing’ should be permanently retired because it whitewashes what it purports to describe, and encourages the view that those who are in some way different from oneself should be treated like the soap scum in my shower. We are not talking about ‘cleansing’; we are talking about the murders of people we perceive as ‘other,’ even if their difference is nothing more than a slightly different belief system than our own.

It is precisely this concept of ‘other’ that allows people the luxury of murder-without-conscience, that sets neighbor upon neighbor, that justifies the murder of children and the defenseless. It is murder, not an exercise in cleaning, and that must be the message that is sent loud and clear.

Always I find myself viewing such behavioral aberrations as mass murder in the context of history, both the short span of recorded history and our much longer evolutionary history, but this is generally not very uplifting. Today is no exception, when I came across the diagram below:

Science 12 May 2006, pp. 838 - 839.
A key paragraph accompanies the diagram:
“People seem to use one region of [the brain] to consider the mental state of someone they perceive as similar to themselves and another region … to consider someone perceived as dissimilar.”

We do not think the same way, or even with the same parts of our brain, when we view those we perceive as ‘other.’

The message seems to be one of two possibilities: Either we are hardwired to see others of our kind as not-like-us, freeing us to be conscienceless murderers when strife arises, demonstrating that we are mere animals endlessly playing out our mandate; or we must strive to be more inclusive in our choices of who we define as being similar to ourselves.

Because that is really what it comes down to: We can choose to use our abilities of rational thought to learn and deeply comprehend that we are all in this together, with the same needs and desires, more similar than different, or we can focus on our relatively insignificant differences that divide us, like religious beliefs, skin or eye color, or region of origin.

But it seems that, rather than any diminution of so-called sectarian or ethnic bloodshed over time, it only, and ever, gets worse and worse, as our weapons improve and the stakes get higher.

Through it all, I ponder: is this what it means to be human? Is this all there is?


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