Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Turned cheeks and closed eyes.

Shortly after the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the new regime was rounding up sympathizers of the old regime of the Shah of Iran. Among the people they rounded up was a wealthy Iranian Jew, who was a merchant dealing in precious stones. He had prospered under the Shah’s regime and indeed at a point of time had presented a diamond pendant to the former Empress. But now he was being held as an alleged “Zionist spy”.

It turns out that his interrogator in prison is a man called Mohsen who was himself imprisoned and tortured by SAVAK, the Shah’s notorious secret police which used brutally coercive methods to keep down dissenters. Obviously his heart is now bitter towards those who were sympathetic to the Shah and his rule. As the interrogator describes his experiences in the Shah’s prison, Isaac, the Jewish merchant rushes t defend himself by saying that he was apolitical and had nothing to do with the torture and the human rights abuse that prevailed at the time. But Mohsen responds “But you do! You looked the way, and that’s enough to make you an accomplice. “

If looking the other way makes one an accomplice, I wonder, of how many things I may be guilty of. There is a quote of the author Shiv Khera that I see painted on Delhi auto rickshaws, which says something like this “If robbers are breaking into your neighbors’ house and you are sleeping indifferently then be sure that the next house to be robbed will be yours”.

The philosophy of turning the other cheek to the aggressor when one is being oppressed is rather too difficult to follow. But we do turn the other cheek, except that we turn it away and in the process close our eyes that we may not see and deafen our ears that we may not hear. We have divided society, community people into two rather inconsistent boxes – the black and the white; the bad people and the good people and while that is rather convenient, it is not wholly an accurate classification; for most of us are indifferent and grey.

Isaac the merchant, busy signing contracts, chasing supplies and deliveries and updating his bank statements never expected that the world he knew would suddenly change around him till two bearded young men came by to get him. We too, busy doing the same or similar dreams, plans and ambitions are busy looking the other way…. Anything to avoid involved, anything to avoid disruption to the carefully laid out plans in our PDAs and diaries.

There is this famous quote attributed to the German pastor Martin Niemöller which goes like this

“When the Nazis came for the communists, I remained silent; I was not a communist. Then they locked up the social democrats, I remained silent; I was not a social democrat. Then they came for the trade unionists, I did not protest; I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, I did not speak out; I was not a Jew. When they came for me, There was no one left to speak out for me.
I must say that I love reading. I have read Shiv Khera. I have read Martin Niemöller and the words are quite moving to read. But like Isaac in Tehran, and like many others I could talk about, my eyes remain closed and my hand s and feet remain paralyzed.

1 comment:

Winnowed said...

When you stand by and watch a crime take place, you are guilty of acquiescence, which is a form of abetment, which is almost the same as carrying out the crime.