Monday, 11 August 2014

A young girl measures human progress

A picture in today’s Guardian caught my attention. 

From the Guardian of 11 August
I wondered what different people might see in it. I imagine most of us would see a young girl. A child.

If we looked a little closer, we might think she was sleeping peacefully, although the setting – adults and other children sitting behind her, wide awake, and frightened – might suggest that she was actually sleeping in exahustion. I still hope that most of us, if we were present, would want to do nothing worse to her than lower our voices so she could keep on sleeping.

If we then read the article, we would discover that a large group of men in Iraq, where she comes from, would have wanted to do far more than that. They would have seen in her a target, a Satan-worshipper, and they would have been driven by a holy zeal to do God’s work, into killing her or forcibly converting her to Sunni Islam. After conversion, she would have been reduced to slavery.

I don’t think there’s much to rule out in the list of things that could be done to a young girl who’s made a slave by the Islamic State.

All that because she’s a Yazidi. That indeed is why she is where she is in the photo, and exhausted. She’s just completed a draining trek to safety in Kurdistan, from a home invaded by the IS militants.

The safety’s only relative, because it depends on the ability of the Kurdish Peshmerga to hold IS at bay. Equally, though she’s lucky to have escaped – many thousands of others have not – that luck is also relative: she is now entering onto the misery of life as a refugee, dependent on charity, with neither a home nor a living to support her.

So we should amend our view of the photo again. An exhausted, unfortunate young girl, we might say.

If she were from Gaza and not Iraq, she might not now be the deliberate target of a terrorist movement, but she would be in serious danger nonetheless, as a potential victim of collateral damage by the Israeli Defence Forces, one of the world’s most powerful armies. She would be at risk because Israel has decided that, in its self-defence, it has every right to deploy hugely destructive firepower in densely populated areas. Anyone it kills as a result it views a regrettable but entirely legitimate casualty.

So again, let’s review our judgement. An exhausted, unfortunate young girl who doesn’t really matter much, even to people who claim to respect democracy and human rights.

Which adds up to a measure of just how far humanity has progressed down the tens of millennia. We live in a world in which many people feel that it is perfectly justified to snuff out the life of that little girl, or to cause her unbearable suffering. Some will act that way because they believe it is the will of God. Others out of indifference to her fate. Yet others to gratify some deeply deformed appetite.

Humanity will have reached a state we can call civilised the day we can look at such a sleeping young girl, and the only thing any of us would want to do to her, is cover her with a blanket.

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