30 April 2020

Being in the Republic of Fear

Pic, courtesy www.dailymirror.lk
Just over a year ago terrorists adhering to the Islamic faith (as interpreted by them), i.e. the National Thowheeth Jama'ath or ‘National Monotheism Organization,’ executed several brutal attacks that left over 300 people dead, an equal or more number injured, caused much damage to the establishments targeted and wrecked the tourist industry.

The following is a part of some observations that my niece, Duranya Freeman, penned from Colorado, USA: ‘Every terrorist has a goal: to make us fear what we love the most. To force us to feel that nowhere is safe. Yet terrorists only truly succeed when they divide us. When our inner fear turns outwards and we start pointing fingers at one another.’

Today, we are faced with a different kind of threat. There’s no identifiable terrorist here, but terror there certainly is. The effect is the same even though there’s no real ‘objective’ that we can discern. It has, in Duranya’s words, ‘made us fear what we love the most, forced us to feel that nowhere is safe.’ It can and in certain ways has divided us. And we do see inner fear turning outwards. There’s enough finger-pointing too.

Eran Wickramaratne, pastor cum politician, made an interesting point in an interview recently. The caption under the link to the relevant YouTube video read, 'හරි ගියහම ආණ්ඩුව, වරදුනහම ජනතාව -- එරාන් හතර අතට නෙළයි.’ [hari giyahama aanduwa, veradunahama janathaava — eran hathara athata nelai]. The point Eran makes is interesting and true. When things go right, the government takes the credit, but when things go wrong it’s the people who are at fault,’ he states and the statement is ‘flourished’ so to speak by his fans for whom Eran has whacked left and right.

It is correct, but it’s only part of the story. Flip it and Eran doesn’t quite look the hero his fan(s) believe he is: ‘When things go right, it’s the people (security forces, police, others in the public sector, especially medical personnel) but when things go wrong, it’s the Government.’

That’s finger-pointing and possibly prompted by fear/arrogance that have little to do with Covid-19.  The more serious manifestation is ostracizing particular categories of people. Stigma. That’s the word. The first detection of an infected person  was ‘news’ of course. The first death too. Certain sections of the media pounced on it. The particular individual’s basic right to dignity and self-respect was brushed aside. Sure, fear might have played a role, but that doesn’t explain the shameless salivating exhibited by certain media houses. It was as though they were reporting about a mass murderer, not a patient.

Then it was the Muslims who were ostracized on account of the identity of several of those among the first to succumb to the virus, helped in no small measure of course by certain fundamentalist Muslim groups who raised a hue and cry over the method of disposing bodies. There was fear there, one might argue, worry over divine wrath if you will as per particular readings of religious texts, but politics had a hand too.

Now it is the turn of the security forces, in particular the Navy simply because some sailors picked up the virus in the course of duty, a duty which was part of a national drive to protect the entire citizenry, mind you.

Of course, the nature of the virus does indicate that no one is safe and there are no safe places to hide. What we need to understand however is that we don’t help ourselves or each other by letting fear dictate our choices, be it word or deed.

Now there is a fairly broad protection regime that has been recommended. ‘Stay home’ captures much of it. Outside of the specifics, however, there is a term that might help us dig deeper into the dilemma and obtain more wholesome answers. Dasein.

Dasein is a German word [da as in ‘there’ and sein meaning ‘being’. Pronounced as daːzaɪn, it means, ‘being there,’ or ‘presence.’ Apparently it is translated into English as ‘existence.’ The German philosopher Martin Heidegger is said to have used the word to refer to the experience of being that is peculiar to human beings. Now that would be broad and rather embarrassing. For our (as in the human species) ‘being’ has been a threat to the entire planet, its flora and fauna, natural cycles and indeed overall health, not to mention a threat to ourselves as well.

Can’t we just be? We have been forced to reconsider ourselves, our behavior, our ‘non-negotiables’ even. And in the collapse of the dimensions of our collective ‘being’ species threatened by the systems we have put in place or are forced to live within, are actually breathing better. And it’s not just the creatures we have as a collective treated as dispensable in the pursuit of objectives; Colombo’s air and water quality have improved, for example.

We have discovered ways of being that are, well, ‘not all that bad,’ even though we’ve had to do without dozens of things and activities which we previously believed are of utmost import for a meaningful existence (or ‘being’). All of a sudden, the ‘imperative’ of a corporate/profit driven set of processes (for the betterment of one and all via ‘trickle down effect’ barring of course the thousands that have to starve or be killed for reasons of sustaining these systems) looks silly. It is interesting that such entities and their apologists are even now clamoring for bailouts from governments in the name of those they exploit. ‘We can’t afford to have businesses closing down because this means people will be out of jobs and won’t be able to feed their families,’ they cry.

Their ‘being’ and the ’being/beings’ of the system they are part of, advocate and thrive in are very different from the being of the ordinary citizen and of course the ‘being’ of the earth.

We have to be. Our ‘being’ has to be different. In fact it may have to be the polar opposite of the being we’ve experienced, championed and thought was inevitable. Maybe that is the real fear. We may be terrified that things will not be the same ever again. However, if we stepped back or even stopped in our tracked and reflected on ‘being’ (or even decided ‘to be’ in a different kind of way) we might be less worried.

The entire world has realized that we live in a Republic of Fear. We can however decide to live in a Republic of Being. A county called Dasein in the most wholesome, compassionate and humble reading of that word.

This article was first published in the DAILY MIRROR [March 30, 2020]


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