Saturday, January 28, 2017

First They Came For ...

The problem is not only the disgraceful Muslim ban, the shameful wall, the taking away of privacy protection from many immigrants and non immigrants. It is also the ingrained belief in many that this banning decree only applies to those people from hand picked nations. History has the abundance of similar scenarios when the most vulnerable segments of the world were barred from leaving the persecutions of despot rulers. Many of them perished, children, women, men, emaciated, degraded to the utmost bottom level of a concerted dehumanization process. Yesterday's Remembrance Day for the Holocaust victims is one of the painful reminders of our world's blunder of the past.

My heart goes out to the countless millions in America, Europe and many other places, where the unmistakable xenophobia is rising in alarming speed. The ironic part is that the most victims of the violence, wars and senseless terrorism are the Muslims. They are the ones along with the other minorities trying desperately leaving the war and violence ravaged lands, mama and papa clinging to their toddler son and daughter, while grandma and grandpa hobbling along the ruinous roads and crumbled buildings.

Staying silent in the face of flagrant oppression is not an option as it tantamount to be complicit with the narcissistic oppressors. Being fearful to utter protestation is not fruitful either, and changing colour like a chameleon is ridiculously ineffective in the end, as Pastor Niemoller had captured it so eloquently many years ago during Hitler's time of inglorious prowess:

"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.


This can be rephrased in contemporary terms:

First they came for the natives, and I did not speak out --Because I was not native 
Then they came for the Blacks, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Black 
Then they came for the Mexicans, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Mexican 
Then they came for the disabled, and I did not speak out --Because I was not disabled 
Then they came for the gay, lesbian and transgender, and I did not speak out --Because I was not gay, lesbian or transgender 
Then they came for the protesting women, and I did not speak out -- Because I was not woman
Then they came for the poor white, and I did not speak out --Because I was not poor white
Then they came for the Muslim, and I did not speak out --Because I was not Muslim 
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Also, the Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl's immortal words from Man's Search for Meaning should be a constant reminder for our easily distracted and subdued souls:

"Danger only threatens when a political system sends those not-decent people, i.e., the negative element of a nation, to the top. And no nation is immune from doing this, and in this respect every nation is in principle capable of a Holocaust!"

"only two types of politicians: the first are those who believe that the end justifies the means, and that could be any means . . . While the other type of politician knows very well that there are means that could desecrate the holiest end. And it is this type of politician whom I trust"

"What then is man? Thus we ask the question again. He is a being that always decides what it is. A being that has within it at one and the same time the possibility of sinking to the level of an animal or of soaring to a life of near-holiness. Man is that being which invented the gas chambers; but he is at the same time that being which walked with head held high into these very same gas chambers".

May the world and its trusted leaders and citizenry see the light of compassion before another terrible blunder is made.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

I'd published the following review in Goodreads on January 4, 2017: 

Some in this world are indeed brave and full of compassion. The author of this remarkable non fiction book, Bryan Stevenson, is surely one of them.

This is an impactful book that gives detail on the sordid state of criminal justice system in the US, world's one of the most advanced nations in terms of economy and societal progress. If US is in such a painful state where equal justice and protection for all citizens needs an urgent transformative overhaul, then what can be said about other nations where democracy and human rights are in unstable ground?

In my humble opinion, this should be a must read book as I believe the real life pain and anguish of the innocent people who are denied the fair justice for so many years can help people who are unaware of this miserable justice system can help raise the awareness for the necessary correction in the system.

Some of the invaluable lessons I have learned are:

"mercy is just when it is rooted in hopefulness and freely given. Mercy is most empowering, liberating, and transformative when it is directed at the undeserving. The people who haven’t earned it, who haven’t even sought it, are the most meaningful recipients of our compassion."

"The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."

"An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others."

"people struggling for independence wanted money and recognition from other countries; they wanted more criticism of the Soviet empire from the West and more diplomatic pressure. But Havel had said that these were things they wanted; the only thing they needed was hope. Not that pie in the sky stuff, not a preference for optimism over pessimism, but rather “an orientation of the spirit.” The kind of hope that creates a willingness to position oneself in a hopeless place and be a witness, that allows one to believe in a better future, even in the face of abusive power. That kind of hope makes one strong."

"being broken is what makes us human. We all have our reasons. Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make; sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen. But our brokenness is also the source of our common humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing. Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion. We have a choice. We can embrace our humanness, which means embracing our broken natures and the compassion that remains our best hope for healing. Or we can deny our brokenness, forswear compassion, and, as a result, deny our own humanity."

"we have to reform a system of criminal justice that continues to treat people better if they are rich and guilty than if they are poor and innocent. A system that denies the poor the legal help they need, that makes wealth and status more important than culpability, must be changed. Walter’s case taught me that fear and anger are a threat to justice; they can infect a community, a state, or a nation and make us blind, irrational, and dangerous."

Thank you Bryan Stevenson for your honest and steadfast work.

This magnificent book reminded me another great book I was fortunate to read last year. It is Victor E. Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning. There are remarkable similarities in the noble concept of just mercy that Bryan Stevenson elaborated through various heartbreaking case studies with Victor E. Frankl's painstaking reminder what goodness of humanity can achieve. Here are a few excerpts from that book that I find go hands in hands with Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy:

"What then is man? Thus we ask the question again. He is a being that always decides what it is. A being that has within it at one and the same time the possibility of sinking to the level of an animal or of soaring to a life of near-holiness. Man is that being which invented the gas chambers; but he is at the same time that being which walked with head held high into these very same gas chambers, the Lord’s Prayer or the Jewish prayer for the dead on his lips."

Another excerpt: 

"And in their last words there was not a single word of hatred—only words of longing came from their lips—and words of forgiveness; for what they hated, and what we hate, is never people. One must be able to forgive people. What they hated was simply the system—the system that made some guilty and drove others to their death."

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

This year I will give my best to read as many good books as I can. The year started well. Yesterday I finished reading an excellent novel written by Eowyn Ivey. Here is the short review I've written in goodreads: 

An excellent read. So vivid and lively with wild Alaska imageries! For a few days while reading this poetically written novel I felt like transported to 1885, seeing the breathtaking journeys of Allen Forrester, Tillman, Pruit, Samuelson, Boyd and unforgettable Nataaggi along with Boyo through the harsh wintry Alaskan landscape, Indian villages and spirit full mountain pass leaping out from masterfully constructed words and scenes. Sophie's passion of photography, her patience and determination capturing the "light" around birds are uplifting.

Throughout the adventure of the main story the core human condition, the existential vulnerabilities, the strong's severe abuse of the weak, and the yearning for redemption in guilt conscious mind are depicted well. 

This is also a love story as the separation between Allen and Sophie during the long expedition and Tillman's longing for Nataaggi are written with melancholic sorrow. 

I have also enjoyed Walt and Josh's letter exchanges, clarifying the main story in historical context. I am looking forward to read this outstanding writer's many more books in future.

The following are two memorable excerpts from this book I's noted in my kindle, there are many like poetic observations throughout the book: 
"There is a mythical element to our childhood, it seems, that stays with us always. When we are young, we consume the world in great gulps, and it consumes us, and everything is mysterious and alive and fills us with desire and wonder, fear, and guilt. With the passing of the years, however, those memories become distant and malleable, and we shape them into the stories of who we are. We are brave, or we are cowardly. We are loving, or we are cruel."
"The forest has always had such an effect on my spirits, the moment slows until I can see the intricacies, bright and pure, like removing the back of a pocket watch to see the shining metal gears turning, turning."