Sunday, November 15, 2015

Alienation and civilization from Paris to the world

Last week, I spent a couple of hours at a restaurant in République, the Parisian neighborhood where a bar was struck by a horrific episode of brutal and lethal violence last night. This morning, I imagined myself in that same place shuffling chairs and tables trying to run away from the bullets, feeling my heart beating inside my throat, adrenaline rushing through my entire body, focused on escaping the infernal scene of madness, being reached by a deadly bullet and knowing that was the end of my story: murdered randomly, victim of the alienation that has invaded many men in my generation.

Alienation is the estrangement or loss of contact with reality. Among the many causes that may lead to it are drug consumption, sports fanaticism, fiction from books, movies or video games, religion, social exclusion, violence, and indoctrination of all sorts. The perpetrators of such heinous acts of terror, in Paris and in other places around the world, are alienated.

There is no simple cause or explanation. Some of them belong to the “lost generation”, kids that migrated to Europe at a young age and remained at the margins of society. Since September 11th, Muslims worldwide have been unfairly stigmatized as a violent culture with a violent religion. These kids grew up under the promise of a more prosperous future but the largest economic crisis in decades has kept millions of educated, healthy, young adults unemployed and unattended. They have been victims of structural violence, when a disharmonious system inflicts pain and suffering on a group of people. Violence always breeds violence. They have become ideal recruits for paramilitary organizations that are fighting a war of alienation. The so-called IS, or Islamic State, is the most notorious, structured, and powerful form of alienated organization.

Civilization is not inherent to humanity. As a species, we have evolved socio-politically until becoming civilized. Among all civilized values, I claim peace is the most precious, forged over millennia, through cultures and generations that have seen and fought lengthy, deadly wars and have been exposed to vicious degrees of violence. In this context, I borrow my definition of peace from Galtung: the ability to transform conflicts creatively and harmoniously. This is, to a great extent, the way in which many nations around the world deal with conflict. Unfortunately, this is not yet the case for all nations.  

For those of us who aspire to be civilized, we have the obligation to behave and react peacefully, that is, harmoniously even towards the perpetrators, as difficult as it may be, and creatively in search for solutions to a conflict that is deeper and more widespread than we wish to believe.

There is no difference between a shooting rampage inside a theater in Paris during a concert and at a movie theater in Colorado during a Batman movie presentation. There is no difference between a shooting inside a bar at Republique and a shooting at a kindergarden in Newtown, Connecticut. The executioners lost touch with reality. Gandhi used to say that guns were not the problem, because there was always a finger pulling the trigger. The problem lies within us, in our beliefs, in the narrow-minded arrogance that makes us interpret that we are right while others are wrong.

To say that a particular religion is to blame for this is equivalent to what Hitler did, stigmatizing and persecuting Jews during the Holocaust, a genocide that belongs to an uncivilized time of human history.

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