Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Is birth the beginning or the end? Self- immolations, life as a burning light

In free flight, Photo by Gloria  Fernandes
2012. This year in numbers has looked elegant to me with two gracious 2s at the end of it. But it is the number 95 that means most to me as I come to almost end of 2012. 82 men and 13 women have immolated themselves in Tibet. Because they were born there and there is no freedom.
They have made me ask "What is birth?" For people were happy when these women and men were born. Now they are gone in our eyes is there shame that they could not live?

 Wangchen Kyi, 17 years, the last immolate on the 9th of December is heart rending. Only seventeen years of age. Her name sounds like my sister´s. Wangchen has paid the ultimate price for freedom. She is one among soon, hundreds. There has to be another way.

I want to think about birth. This is a topic of course that can be enriched by the festivities of this season. See how the birth of one Child is important in December for many people. I think about the greatness of a country that stands up for one person, like India has done for the student of medicine who was gang raped on a bus and is still fighting for her life. That is a birth because hundreds of women are raped in Delhi daily. Because ultimately, there is no such a thing as one person. Never.

The question of the Tibetans is not one between Muslims and Christians. The message Urbi et Orbi Pope Benedict XVI, 2012 received much international press. He mentioned several by name including my beloved Kenya, for to be born somewhere does make the place dear to us at heart. But this should not be over another's rights. Nigeria too was mentioned, and  Africa in general was described as the continent so challenged for peace. And it is true.  Mali, DR Congo, so many refugees in pain and suffering. Much of this conflict is seen to be based on religious differences.

In the message, Asia was in focus. But not directly Burma where the recent killings of Rohingya Muslims has taken place. Europe and its tendency to the right wing was not. Germany was not. The refugees from Afrika come mainly to Europe and find life very difficult. One who mentions China does not mention the sufferings of the Tibetan people so easily. So, that these immolations did not sound like the birth and death of Christ. What are the underlying factors on how we are reaching out for one another in the world today?

But I go back home. I have lost a dearly loved uncle in the last week. We nicknamed him Joj. Medical doctor GN Gitatha, Joj, (RIP). He was always open to everyone around him. In my village, we call that a good person. He learned new things including Haematology and always used them to serve others. For so many people it does not matter their ethnic affiliations when it comes to helping. He walked miles to sit with a sick person even long into his retirement. I did not see him limited by what he was. He learned languages. He tried to reach others in many ways. I could say that Joj burned out his life for others and so he lives even now and left so many people aware that his life was. He did not find a retired life in a village a barrier, neither were his simple clothes. Some people who thought they were progressive in the village did not understand a man who had lived in Europe for some years and now walking around 'just like that'?  He did. He kept fascinated by life in the present. He had no media and was not on fb. His smile on the village paths gave life. He read books. He read his niece's books and was always so happy about them!

As I reflect someone is already whispering that we are born to die. Well, we are also born to live and actually it depends on you to see which one prevails. And living in such a way that we are saying something about our life and that of others. That we are a fire that is burning or a light. Of course those who prefer the dark side of life are welcome. Joj was not born a doctor, he became one. He was always striving to be a better doctor. And so it was hard for him to "oppress" anyone by virtue of being a doctor.

We are living in an age of great technological progress and yet we are concentrating more and more on our own entity and are not too willing to reach far beyond. I have heard people from a very small clan, forget kings, simply say in arrogance that their clan does not speak to another or have anything to with them. They do not marry into that clan they disdain, they emphasise. I have heard the same argument repeated by big faiths, royalty, races and people in power and in class.

I am talking about being born into religions, royalty, tribe or ethnic group, man, woman. In Kenya and else where, I have lived with people who find it hard to relate to others who are not their own. Even if they say that they are ¨born again¨. I find it even worse to keep reading that at home, where ethnic conflict sparked by electoral fraud caused death and much bloodshed, loss of homes and livelihoods.

If we do not have the courage to see that what we are born into is not something we can use to oppress others or humiliate them then we have hardly been born, so to speak.  If we cling onto our being ´born´ this and that, then we are a miscarriage of what we were meant to be. You might ask what we were meant to be, a miscarriage of what and I would say of many things. For too long we have laid deep emphasis on what we are born: This country. This Religion. This Class. This sex. What we are born into or are cannot be denied but how does our birth affect those we find around us?  If it only leads to deaths as in Tibet then it is better that we question our identity. What is growth as human beings on this planet if another cannot live how they wish?

It is not a very alien idea. Kings dressed in rags and walked as paupers in years gone by so they tell us, to see how life is for the others. Today, kings or royalty might Twitter as does Pope Benedict XVI and some other leaders of the world. Who among them is really concerned about what is happening in Tibet? But we all need to see for ourselves around us. We need our own eyes.  We have to recognise that we are that other person we see as outside of us. And this is not just a romantic idea. Well it has never been. Because some people such as Hitler were so obsessed with what one is born genetically, 6 million people died in gas chambers. One would like to think that this is over but its ugly signs are not under cover. They are visible in Europe.

Today my heart goes with one couple I read about in a Norwegian language magazine  All Verdens Historie Number 14/2012. I am impressed by the man who refused to salute Hitler. It was in June 1936 in Hamburg. August Landmesser kept his arms folded on his chest as all others saluted. He did not intend not to be seen.  In a sea of Hitler salutes a photo has shown that he remained firm because he was in love with Irma Eckler, a Jew and engaged to her. They had a child. He was arrested for watering down the German race and was imprisoned. Even though he disappeared and had escaped and found a job but was disappeared and believed to have died in 1944. Humans in love and daring to be. The Gestapos arrested Irma in 1938 and in 1941 she was sent out of Hamburg where they were and in 1942 she was killed in a gas chamber.

I have talked about similar occurences, (would you call them stories? ) with people who always pipe out very fast that the thing to do is to have saluted to save his own life. Such people define life as breathing, eating for more years. But let me try and stick to my topic. What we think we are born into brings us very many problems, I have seen.

When the Rohingya Muslims get their houses burnt by Hindus and the act blessed by monks, I shudder to think that we do not understand being born into religions. I really do. Did we want Burma free so that some people can die? We have to fell some walls. Why should a child, a woman, a man die because of religion? Who is God that you might take life on behalf of whom all religions say is sacred and holds life sacred? There are so many things that obviously tell us that being born here or there is just accidental but we see it as ordained by some mighty force. I have not forgotten the same thing is done by other Muslims somewhere, say in Nigeria or Egypt, they persecute the Christians. Kill them at Christmas in church and on most ordinary Sundays of 2012. Christians did that before to the Muslims, so what is this all about?

The same differences occur in other areas. Lineage remains captured in a way that does not make sense for the outcomes in the lives of so many other human beings. I understand our longings for home and to belong. I know I felt it when the Mannasseh race left India over 2000 years later to go home to Israel. I suffered very much reading the Exodus and I wished I could just go and push Pharaoh out of Egypt all by myself for when you read these things as a child, they continue happening in your mind and are never over.  I later learnt that there are many other pharaohs in our lives.

It is important that Tibetans regain their freedom and space. There have been more  It is more important if their freedom is going to mean much to the world including to China´s own freedom. Because Mohammed Bouazizi was born in Tunisia, he immolated himself for Tunisia. But his fire was aflame beyond the Tunisian borders. Likewise when we are born, our flame must go beyond our religion, our light must go beyond my own things and touch humanity.

But how is it that we are not able to cope with those who we think are different by birth, religion, race and culture? How does a an 'accident', as they are called in Metaphysics of Being, such as location, colour, place and so on become so very important over the substance?  Look at race. And that not only black and white abut also racism with race. Dark skinned Indians versus are oppressed by lighter skinned ones. The cast system reigns.

What is it that we are not doing to focus now what we should become regardless of where we are born? Fundamentalism is rife in many ways and we need to help ourselves to recognise that we are not whom we believe we are.  Are we all together living a lie? It sounds strange I know.

So I look at this birth thing again in religion. Seeing what is becoming of us because of confessed faiths, I have said before that actually nobody should be born anything.  We have to thank rather than condemn those who are questioning our society in this regard. If we cannot live above or confessed faiths then Christopher Hitchens' international bestseller will always be greater than God.

I think we must quickly invite all forms of criticism and questions today. We have to take this life as a gift ... and unwrap this it. I see the scars of it in politics. People claiming power as family, that is to inherit it from their fathers (almost always)  at the expense of the many who were not born to there father of those who claim it. Sometimes it can be fair but it hardly ever is.

I cannot believe it when I see people even fighting from groupings that hardly mean a thing to the world, considering how the world is disorganised. Tibetans cannot to be forced to be what they do not want because they are growing in a different way. I hope that we will all dedicate more action and thoughts to Tibet right from today. Before 2013 most likely there will be another self-immolation. Shall we not all tell representatives of peoples voices to speak out against this all over the world? If the world behaved like India last week, standing up for Tibet in spite of our own wounds, and nothing changed, we would at least say we stood up to be counted!