Monday, September 11, 2006

How Far, How Deeply Do we Remember

A young student of my mine shared her grief over the unexpected and violent death of her mother. Her mother and thirteen other passengers perished in a bus hit by a train. While I listened to her, I was quietly surprised at how she referred to her mother’s death. A number of times, she paused and solemnly expressed, “that painful memory of 7-11 will never leave me.” Her mother died on July 11, hence 7-11. Today, it would have been two months since my student’s mother perished. The memory is necessarily painful as it is fresh. Today, a not too fresh memory is nonetheless still painful. In the United States, relatives, friends of the victims of 9-11 will gather at ground zero to pray and remember. They will not be alone. Even ordinary Americans who have no relations among the victims will be there. Beyond the boundaries of the American continent, non-Americans, ordinary citizens of other lands will remember.

There are two modes of remembering here, one engendered by blood, another by a conscious choice. Those who have loved ones among the victims of 9-11 will always find reason to stand on the hallowed grounds of ground zero. Each time, they will more and more come to terms with a grief and loss that time may somehow heal but not remove. And there are those who choose to remember to nurture the memory that feeds the fire of a passion against an evil whose constant occurrence, has become, in the words of Hannah Arrendt, “banal” or quite ordinary.

While the families and friends of victims remember 9-11 with deep pain, we wonder how leaders remember? How does George W. Bush remember? How about Blair and Howard? And what do they remember? What do they seek in their remembrance?

Sometime this week, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo must have listened uncomfortably and tensely to the remark made by Finland’s Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja at the opening of the Asia-Europe People’s Forum, “while the European Union welcomed the abolition of the death penalty in the Philippines in June 2006, let me add, however, that we also want to see an end to the political killings which still form a harsh reality of that country.” (cf. Philippine Daily Inquirer, p. A1, September 11, 2006, “Europeans rebuke Arroyo on killings.”) Surely on Europe’s soil repeatedly turned crimson by a long history of wars, peace that stands on justice and respect for human rights is a value deeply revered. Blood flowed generously from the time of the Cesars to the Crusades, all the way to the dark decades of the 20th century that saw the Holocaust, the First and Second World War, the atom bomb dropped in Horishima and Nagazaki, and various wars fought within and beyond nation’s boundaries. Yes Europe does remember but not all in the same breath and depth. Britain’s Blaire should remember, yet like Bush and Australia’s Howard it is a peculiar remembering that selects some and conveniently forgets others.

Our President has announced her plans to invite the European Union to see for itself what she dismisses as the exaggerated and propagandistic claim of militant groups about her serious record of human rights violations. A voluminous book on memory has been written by the philosopher Paul Ricouer. In it he speaks of various maladies of memory. Apropos of our President and quite typical of other leaders, the concept of “manipulated memory” can be applied. This kind of memory produces “abuses, resulting from a concerted manipulation of memory and of forgetting by those who hold power.” (Cf. Paul Ricouer, “Memory, History, Forgetting,” University of Chicago Press, 2004, p.80)

We live in a frightening world run by sick leaders whose obsession with power and themselves does not make them hesitate to manipulate memory and remembrance either by gentle massage or violent brainwashing. The European Union must not fall into the trap of collecting data, of facts and figures whether provided by the Philippine Government or its critics and leaving without noticing something more fundamental, the sinister mind or minds manipulating the facts.

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes
September 11, 2006


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