Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Remembering lives and taking responsibility

A story on Al Jazeera Television memorializing the victims of the Newton shooting describes the short lives lived by the children, describing their lives, remembering their acts of kindness, and describing their innocence. As I bear witness to the stories memorializing the children that were killed violently in the Sandy Hook shooting, I feel pain in seeing the faces of the children whose lives were taken away.

Seeing their faces, reading their names are acts of memorializing, of remembering them, and of acknowledging the dignity of their lives. Recognizing the names of the children gives meaning to their lives and offers a space in our thoughts for recognizing their everyday lived experiences, the potential they could have achieved, and the people they could have become.

As we feel pain in witnessing the lives of the children, we connect with them. We empathize with their journeys, and find a way to link our separate stories with theirs. Our feelings of pain and empathy thus work together in raising calls for action, in wanting to do something, and in desiring to bring about change. This is especially so when the victims of such senseless violence are children. Their immense tragedy of their lives cut short urge us to act.

Sifting through media stories in the US to media stories in India to media stories on Al Jazeera, I am touched by the different cultural stories of remembering the twenty lives that were lost in Newton, Connecticut. That memories are our cues to action is summed up in what President Obama had to say in his address to the Newton community on Sunday "We bear responsibility for every child ... This is our first task, caring for our children. It's our first job. If we don't get that right, we don't get anything right." Feeling the pain and connecting with the stories of suffering of innocent children work to mobilize us to do something. They urge us to act, to take ownership of the situation and to mobilize to do something. We seek meaning through such tragedies and struggle through the absence of interpretive cues that would allow us to make sense: What really happened? What could be done so this doesn't happen again?

As I sift through my Facebook newsfeed, I am touched to see friends and acquaintances across the world share their feelings, post about the pain they feel, and join in several conversations about action, ranging from advocating for gun control to censorship of media violence to creating access to mental health services. These are excellent examples of how communication is catalyzed through memorializing, through the storying of lives lived, and through the articulations of pain. That it is through communication that we come to mobilize is evident in the calls to action, the petitions that have been circulated by organizations like Change.org, the Facebook calls, blog posts, and twitter feeds urging policy changes and programs building access to mental health.

As I witness the names of the children killed in Newton, Connecticut, I am left wondering what would have been the names of the chidlren in Pakistan and Afghanistan whose lives have been cut short by drone attacks and by bombs dropped on their homes. Like the children in Connecticut, these children in Pakistan and Afghanistan were going about living their everyday lives in innocence. I wonder what their personalities were like. I wonder what their potential in life was. I wonder about the people they would have become.

As I witness the body counts, the number of civilians (many of whom are children) that are killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan, as I see images of dead bodies of children savaged by the attacks, I am left searching for the names, the stories, and the descriptions of the personalities. I am looking for the story of a Salma who lit up the room, who had only good things to say about others, and who touched so many lives with our affection. I am wanting to remember a Masood who loved playing with marbles. I am wanting to memorialize the story of Sana who filled up the room with her laughter.

As I look for these names of the children killed by the drone attacks and bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, I am left with some images of dead bodies. No images of lives lived and no names to attach with. No stories of the innocence and compassion of these children. I am left wondering about the dignity of these lives lost, the stories untold by these lived lost, and the meaning of these lives.

So why are these names and stories missing? I wonder how my Facebook friends would react if I asked them to memorialize these names. When there are no images and no names, there is no action to rally around, no calls to action to organize about, and no policies and programs to campaign for. When the children who are killed by the drone attacks have no name, the President has no need to find meaning, to seek out interpretation, to feel pain, or to hold us accountable to act. Instead, without these names, the President and the American public and people around the globe can go about ordering the drone attacks, standing silent as these attacks take place, and shelving stories of these attacks as necessary collaterals.

As I witness the suffering of the children in Newton, Connecticut, I am also reminded of the suffering of the children in Peshawar. I am reminded of the need to memorialize the lost lives, to name the lost names, to co-construct the stories of lives lived. The suffering of children everywhere calls for us to act, to work together to fight the worst forms of human injustices that perpetrate violence on innocent children and stop short their lives lived.

As I write this, I am wrapping up with a call to action to my friends who study media and memory, who work in the media, and who shape media policies and media practices. Let's collectively join our hands in memorializing the names and the lives of the children killed in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in other parts of the world. Let's memorialize the tragedies of death of children in large scale unleashed by Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. Let's share the stories of the lives of these children, the people they were, the lives they lived, and the many lights they lit up.

And for my Facebook and Twitter friends, let's enact our collective storytelling capacities to share stories of these lives lost and names erased. Let's work together to change the culture of violence that takes lives. Let's work together to bring dignity to the stories of these lives lost. As President Obama reminds us, we bear responsibility for every child.

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