The BBC’s ‘Outlook’ program had an interesting story a few nights ago about the Israel-Palestine crisis. It is never a good idea to dwell on issues of such importance in the middle of the night but I found my mind wandering.
What set me thinking was a comment by an Israeli man whose daughter had been killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber but who had dedicated the rest of his life to reaching out to both Israelis and Palestinians in the quest for peace.
This endeavour met with stiff opposition on both sides with very chilling results. An Israeli man told him “You should have died in the explosion that killed your daughter” while a Palestinian school teacher had told his students to ignore his peace campaign because it would undermine their struggle against Israel.
Both comments sent a shiver down my spine. It was astounding how both sides were so heavily invested in continual hatred and armed struggle that it was peace they considered as completely irrational.
I think the Israel-Palestine crisis is only one example of the veneer of civilization. We like to think we have come very far as a species and advanced into a state of enlightenment. We boast of our state of development and our humanity and we look back at our distant ancestors’ lives as belonging to the dark ages.
Most of us see the 21st century as the apex of civilization, with humanity having long buried much of its savagery. Even the wars and geo-political struggles of our time are seen as somehow more rational than and not as senseless as those of the past.
We like to think we have moved on so far that the Dark Ages are barely a blot on the horizon.
But I wonder quite how true that view is. Those who know me well know I am hardly an eternal pessimist; on the contrary, I would put myself firmly in the optimist camp.
However in some cases, I find myself aligning myself reluctantly with the doom and gloom camp. It strikes me that in many ways, we are a lot more tied to our dark past than we would care to admit.
Of course we have moved on in a million different ways and if I had to pick between living in the twenty-first century and living in the thirteenth, there would be no contest. Y
et despite our progress, it surprises me how much our baser instincts are still tied to the darker ages. It was something that occurred to me as well when I read about the recent Kampala riots.
Indeed anyone who tunes into BBC News or opens a newspaper even briefly may find themselves seized with the same sense of ‘ennui’.
Hatred and savagery are still relevant to world affairs as they were in the distant past. Furthermore, cultural and geographical hatreds may change with time, but they remain relevant and issues of identity and power cast a large shadow over current affairs.
In many ways, humanity is a giant contradiction: we strive for enlightenment and the full benefits of civilization, but on the other hand, we are still preoccupied with the kind of squabbles that would have cavemen nodding their heads in recognition.
I don’t know whether we will ever leave the chains of the past behind, but they still bind us and hold us back. As someone once said “The past is not dead- it is not even past”
The author is a columnist, The New Times