Thursday, July 27, 2006

“Getting Used to EVIL”

Just recently one of the last living witnesses to the horrors of Polpot’s Khmer Rhouge passed away. Thousands still remember this piece of Cambodia’s bloody past in their very skin. Millions know about it from stories they may have heard or read at that time. But more and more of the present generation are beginning to have a rather bland response to what seems so distant and perhaps even fairy tallish to them. This is the same to many contemporary Germans who do hear about Hitler’s Holocaust but are not at all ruffled by the it. How Christians react to the word “Inquisition” is also indicative of a similar phenomenon. Contemporary Filipinos are no different. When we hear the words “Martial Law” and/or Marcos what is our response?

Of course those who lived through the horrors of the Marcos years still cringe in pain, sadness and anger. The present younger generation do hear those tagged as “activists” or “militant” chanting “never again to Martial Law” and hardly could they understand why the indignation and much less identify with a cause that seems more and more distant and alien to them. Recently, I spoke to a friend who had just visited the Horoshima Memorial. He describes the present Japanese attitude to the history of Hiroshima. They remember Hiroshima with deep sorrow but do not spend their time or energy blaming anyone.

The Japanese however both young and old remember and remember well. Remembering well does not constitute a sentimental and empty exercise. Remembering well clearly entails understanding well or having a profound insight into the deeper causes, processes and meanings of an experience. Remembering with understanding is what the dictum, “those who do not remember the past are bound to repeat its mistakes” is all about. This is what insight ultimately means, to remember with understanding in order not to repeat and promote the error, the weakness, the evil inherent in an act or experience whether past or present. Thus, this remembering will not and cannot be empty and indifferent. The memory-bearer will not only invite others to remember but also to remember with understanding and the concomitant commitment not to repeat nor promote a particular evil.

Thus memorials are crucial in promoting memory in the deeper sense of remembering, understanding and commitment. This is the purpose of the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. Anyone who visits the Holocaust Memorial leaves sad and even angry at the evil of that phase of human history. More than focusing on the madness of a Hitler, visitors leave with the insight that the holocaust was a crime of man against man, a crime against humanity.

At this very moment, Israel is bombarding Lebanon. So much of this beautiful and historical city is once more destroyed (Israel last attacked Lebanon in 2002). Again, many of its innocent civilians are once more sacrificed on the altar of war and arrogance. Recently four UN observers also perished. The four come from Canada, Finland, Austria and China. The whole world is once more roused by the evil of war. Yet the bombings, destruction and killing of the people and civilization of a weaker and more vulnerable people by a country of superior economic, military and political power continues apparently deft to the growing global opposition.

Just as Israel has launched its war against Lebanon for failing to release two Israeli soldiers captured by Hezbollah guerillas some weeks ago, the Philippines had just gone through another political exercise called the SONA. A high level meeting of world leaders seeking an end to the violence in Lebanon has just been concluded in Rome. Israel however, continues to justify its attack on Lebanon. Similarly, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in her SONA likewise justified her continuing occupation of the Presidency through another list of promises that are growing emptier and more incredulous than the previous ones. It doesn’t matter.

Government media and its allies will simply continue stating that things are getting better and that life in the Philippines is moving on. It doesn’t matter for they know that people can get used to evil until it no longer matters. People can get used to killings until it becomes ordinary. Lying, cheating, harassment, bribing, corruption will, in time become ordinary and accepted as part of life. This was the disturbing phenomenon that philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil.” This was what she discovered as she observed and reflected the Nuremberg Trials of Hitler’s men charged of responsibility for the holocaust. Arendt commented about how ordinary they ( Goebels and the other generals ) look, and added, how ordinary and banal evil has become.

Just as war in Lebanon and Iraq is seeming quite banal or ordinary, so are Gloria’s SONA’s beginning to sound true. So many seem quite in the Philippines today. They seem to believe the lie that things are looking up and life is moving on. A group, disparagingly called the “minority” does not stop raising their voices and condemning the lying, bribing, stealing, cheating and planning to hold on to power. Into the convenient category called the “minority” all those who oppose, denounce and criticize are continually and indiscriminately described as “no better and no less ambitious.” Intentions are often mixed. Surely some and perhaps many of those denouncing Gloria are no better and equally ambitious, but it will be equally evil to say and believe that “all” are.

I thank the Lord for the “few” who continue to denounce and not deny the evil consuming our land. It does not matter what others say of you. In the end, it is the Lord who will judge and reward you for when many have accepted evil as ordinary, when many have gotten used to it, you have not ceased to unmask and denounce its ugly and murderous face. You have not forgotten. You remember, understand and continue to fight not only evil but its increasing banality.

This is what it means to unmask evil. It has become more difficult to fight evil, requiring greater sensitivity, sophistication and courage. Indeed, the world needs those who will always denounce and fight evil, those who will never get used to it. I pray for you and may remain firm in the love, truth and strength of the Lord.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
July 27, 2006


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