HED:Lloyd Gray: Distant suffering is unfathomable to us

CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)


HED:Lloyd Gray: Distant suffering is unfathomable to us

Suppose this morning while you are drinking your coffee you hear a commotion outside. You look out the window and see soldiers heading up your driveway.

Within seconds they’re banging on your door. Frightened, you do nothing. They break the door open, come inside and force you and your family out. They immediately set your house on fire, then take you at gunpoint into the middle of the street with your neighbors, where there is stunned bewilderment mixed with mass hysteria.

Gunshots are fired and several people fall to the pavement. The rest of you are immediately herded on to trucks and hauled away. Some will live, others won’t.

Something like this, so unfathomable to us, is happening right now in Kosovo. You are the ethnic Albanians, whom the dictator Milosevic is systematically uprooting and killing. You have no right to exist, certainly not on the soil the Serbs say you are contaminating.

This is not distant or even recent history. It is not a scene from “Schindler’s List,” which while horrible enough can be viewed from the safe distance of 60-plus years. This is happening now, in real time.

It is why the bombs are falling, why the refugees are fleeing, why innocent people are dying. Meanwhile, on this Easter Day, our worries in this part of the world seem so small by comparison.

I don’t pretend to understand all the complexities of the situation in the Balkans, Kosovo and elsewhere, nor exactly what it is the U.S. government and NATO believe can be accomplished with the relentless bombing of the last 10 days. Like most people, I can’t get all the countries, republics, provinces, rebel groups and religions straight.

It is clear, however, that people in that part of the world on all sides of the political, cultural and religious divide are suffering enormously, suffering that most of us in this country have never come close to experiencing and that we simply cannot comprehend.

It is a sobering thought for this most joyous of all days for Christians, the day when Jesus conquered suffering and death by rising from the grave. Evil of the sort that is happening at this moment is what the resurrection promises to vanquish.

It’s an evil born, first of all, of a desire for “purity” for exclusion and expulsion of all that is different, ethnically, culturally and religiously.

It’s an evil bred by pridefully idolatrous nationalism, of equating national and cultural dominance with God’s will.

It involves the paradox that confirms the distrust of the non-religious and drives them farther away: that religions, including Christians, in direct contradiction to the call to love and life, can use religion as a weapon of hate and death.

All of this is not unique to Kosovo, nor is it new. The seeds are universal, the overt manifestations greater in those places that have been at it for centuries.

Back home, we consider ourselves immune from such catastrophe. But are we not beset with similar demons, latent though they may be?

Suppose the issues of our own Civil War had come to a head in the 1990s instead of the 1860s. That war, the only time we have experienced anything on our own soil remotely like what is happening in eastern Europe, was horrendous enough. Today, it would be astoundingly devastating.

Yet 130-plus years later we still are dealing with issues in our national life that linger from that time. Lest we forget particularly with the current talk of American “culture wars” we are not exempted historically, nor in the future, from such catastrophe. Our unique national combination of pluralism and unity racial, cultural, religious, political, economic, geographic and otherwise is not guaranteed. We must work at it in good faith, or it can unravel quicker than we think.

To assume otherwise is to be lulled into the false belief that we are exempt from the wages of sin or that the kind of suffering others experience will, without effort on our part, always pass us by.

Good Friday, and its daily manifestations near and far, show just how prone to evil humanity is. Easter is the antidote, provided we let it break through.

Lloyd Gray is editor of the Daily Journal.

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