Wednesday, May 25, 2011

angels and devils

No, this is not going to be about a Dan Brown novel.  sorry folks.

Being here, in Belgrade, Pris(h)tina, and Bosnia, events, the history, the politics are acquiring human faces. Many of the faces are ones lifted out of walking through the streets or ones imagined (like the face of the former owner of my shoes). Sometimes it is my face.
ok. so perhaps that is a confusing way to start. Let me begin here: I just spent the past week reading myself to sleep, and then reading myself awake the next morning with Slavenka Drakuić's book "they would never hurt a fly." I hadn't realized that last spring I had read another of her books "S." dealing with a  woman in rape camp during the war--even a year later, I still can feel the rawness reading S. left me with.
'They would never hurt a fly' takes the same scope of story--of war--looking in the other direction, not at victims, but at the perpetrators, now standing trial at the ICTY in the Hague. For me, she started breaking down this barrier between the imaginable and the unimaginable. Is it that these crimes are unimaginable, or that I don't want to imagine them (or the people performing them) as human, not only as human as their victims, but as myself?
If you should really want to hit this one home, watch "Ordinary Men," which, as a friend pointed out to me is "not a date movie." That perhaps is an understatement. but still an amazing film. I went into it not actually knowing what it was about (specifically, I had a general, vague sense), which, while made for an uncomfortable viewing, was also somewhat fitting, because then I discovered along with the main character--who is also in the dark--just what their task was.

In being here, as I learn more about the violent crimes, corruption, compliance (not to say that they are specific to here, this place, these wars), and thinking about not only issues of guilt but of responsibility, I can't help but begin to place myself within these narratives. Sometimes it's just through being an American, and the powerful role my state can play in the world, in the lives of others, others who I may never meet, or see, or even know were impacted.
But there also is a very personal face. In one of the interviews I conducted for my ISP, one man, after recounting his experience of being displaced in 1992, living in a refugee camp, returning to a twice ethnically cleansed community, told me, "my story is your story because we are both human. we all have the capacity to be as kind as angels or worse than devils." 

It's hard to know how to follow that up. I remember after he said that, we sat for a few moments in silence, contemplating.

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