The many meanings of May 18, 2009
Daily Mirror Editorial
In some part of this island, perhaps in a humble home, or in a public place heavy with ideological fervour or political statement, someone will light a candle or lamp, someone will grieve. Someone will remember someone who was loved. Remove all the ideological and political makeup and two things will remain: Love and Grief.
In certain places, most likely in the public sphere, there will be celebrations. And there will be mourning. In both sites there will be self-righteousness. Some will say, ‘we have every reason to celebrate’ and they will not be wrong. Some will say ‘we have every reason to grieve,’ and they will not be wrong either. Throw both parties in one room and several things will fly out of the window: Grief and joy, the commonality of loss, motherhood and mother’s milk memory, the first flush of love and the sweetest of memories. Reason will be slaughtered by emotion. A wall of suspicion and animosity will immediately manifest itself, lines will be drawn and a cacophony of argument will drown out sobriety.
This was where we were when all this began and this is where we are now.
Those who mourn will say ‘we have the right to mourn our dead’ and those who mourn others or celebrate a victory over terrorism will have lots of things to say about ‘our dead,’ what they stood for and what they did.
There’s nothing as uncivilized as begrudging a mother or father the right to mourn a son or daughter or vice versa, the right of anyone in fact to mourn a loved one, regardless of the politics practised or the ideology and outcome that the mourned stood for, fought for, killed for and died for. This needs to be recognized.
As for the politics, it will always ride on such sentiments, play it up, and twist it if possible into anger and agitation. Beneath it all, one thing needs to be recognized: The angst over a nation that could not deliver a sense of belonging, a nation that was desired, and a nation that did not and may not ever rise over the inevitable rubble of armed struggle. This too is being mourned.
And this brings us to two things. First, the refusal by acts of omission or commission by successive governments to subject to a thorough audit the historical claims of the ‘aggrieved,’ and secondly and as or more important, the dilemma of a citizenry that does not feel ‘belonged’.
Instead we have a situation where antagonisms are allowed to sharpen and a hardening of political positions to the intractable which inevitably throws common ground out of the equation. Antipathies and anxieties are allowed to grow and feed off one another. Reconciliation is turned into a hollow word.
The wounds of fratricide take long to heal, so long that the ‘who’ of their making ceases to be relevant except in the selective allusions that prop extremism.
On this day, which allows some to celebrate and some to grieve, we need to recognize that the very variance of sentiments the day inspires telling us of a nation that is some distance away from healing.
We can, however, agree on one thing. People died. We can agree also that had it not ended on May 18, 2009, many more people would have died. There are things called small mercies, then. Nevertheless, as we are relieved by such things, we can also lament that tens of thousands of our fellow citizens perished over 30 long years. We can argue over who killed whom and why, we can cry foul or talk of what was deserved, but we cannot deny that whoever died was someone’s son or daughter, a prince or a princess to some mother or father, and perhaps a hero or heroine to some child outside of whatever the particular person’s politics was.
It is not ours to prescribe sentiment. Let people celebrate if they must or grieve if sorrow is what is associated with the eighteenth day of the month of May. We propose, however, that it cannot hurt if, in the name of human commonality if not anything else, to walk into the hearts and minds of those people on the other side of a wall called Suspicion and Animosity. It will not deliver reconciliation, but it might spark hope.