I had the privilege this past weekend to be invited to witness the Mothers of Srebrenica grieve, memorialize, mourn and engage in social activism as they visited six execution sites where their husbands, fathers, sons and beloved relatives were senselessly slaughtered during the genocide that occurred during the Bosnian war. Each woman bears the burden of carrying on her fallen loved one’s story as she continues her process of living with the memories that her people were brutally tortured and murdered because of their ethnicity, social, economic and political status, and religious beliefs.
As I travelled to each site with these women my mind, heart and body felt an immense amount of physical and spiritual pain for the Bosniaks continued suffering which has been perpetually in motion for over 20 years now. To think about genocide and genocide denial one must become immersed in a state of disbelief, anger, deep suspended sadness, confusion, and every other feeling the human mind, body and spirit has the capacity to experience. For the Mothers of Srebrenica and every other survivor of genocide, injustice and erasure of memory, culture and history as well as generationally transmitted health disparities remains a consistent commonality that is undeniable.
Silence perpetuates this historical traumatization as well as what some might call an “evil” that exists in the world which continually tempts the human species to violate, dehumanize, exploit, abuse, humiliate and annihilate its own. I cannot give you an explanation or a rational analysis educating you why genocide occurs because genocide is irrational. Genocide reminds us that the human species is far removed from the civilized, loving and humane society we try to convince ourselves to be. The Mothers of Srebrenica call every one of us to action to take the first step and break the silence around genocide and genocide denial.
I am not a survivor of genocide and I cannot speak for any other person than myself. What I can tell you as you read a small fragment of my experience witnessing survivors of genocide grieve and suffer as they visit their loved one’s execution sites is that it is mine, yours and our responsibility to never forget. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves and others about the facts: genocide has happened, is currently happening, and will continue to happen in the world.
The human species has the supreme power to end war and genocide because the human species created war and genocide. Oppression is uniquely human because in comparison to the animal world, human beings have the ability to engage in praxis (reflection and action that can transform reality). Responsibility begins and ends with, as Paulo Freire taught, “In order to achieve humanization, which presupposes the elimination of dehumanizing oppression, it is absolutely necessary to surmount the limit-situations [humans create] in which people are reduced to things (p. 103, Pedagogy of the Oppressed).”
I am reminded everyday of the violence human beings socially construct in order to dehumanize one another as I continue to educate myself about the oppression experienced by people around the world. I can draw no other conclusion than this: our species continues to be in a state of crisis. We must overcome our obsession with objectification which leads to dehumanizing coexistence.
We need to evolve. If we do not evolve, we will not survive.