On Suffering

Is it right to say that those who have not suffered what others have suffered cannot comprehend their plight? If you have not experienced extreme poverty and intense  discrimination do you have less legitimacy when you speak out about it? Our life stories differ so much. Do those who have suffered the most have a greater measure of understanding than the rest?

The philosopher, Slavoj Zizek makes a very good point when he says that suffering does not make you more compassionate, nor does it make your understanding more correct. Most importantly it does not make you right! Personal experience of suffering may increase your knowledge and awareness of hardship, but it may cloud rather than illuminate your vision.

Zizek said this in relation to the holocaust. None of us are holocaust deniers when we say that the experience of the Jews during the second world war does not make the state of Israel an exemplar when it comes to human compassion.

It has often been noted that it is an unfortunate reality that many of those who suffer abuse in childhood go on to repeat the same behaviour patterns when they themselves become adults. Perhaps this is because they know nothing else, they lack appropriate role models, they are unable to achieve objective oversight.

We learn from Eurostat statistics that the unemployment rate in the Brussels district of Belgium known as Molembeek is over 25% with youth unemployment even higher than that, at around 40%.  From amongst these disaffected youths IS has found supporters for its terrorist attacks on France.

Suffering does not make you right,  but it can make you vulnerable. Vulnerable and susceptible to brainwashing and indoctrination. Areas of deprived, disenfranchised, desperate people form a fertile recruiting ground for groups preaching dogma. This is not a justification, it is simply an observation.

The extent of the human suffering of the long lines of recent migrants is beyond denying. Because there is no formal, legal mechanism to offer help for displaced peoples migrants have been exploited by crooks and bandits who simply want to profit from their hardship and who care little about the legitimacy of the process. The money paid to these bandits poses further threats to our national security. It is always a mistake to feed the black economy.

Migrants risk their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, seeking a safe haven and a better way of life. Leaving migrants with no option but to turn to bandits to find an escape from violence has not only increased the risk to themselves but also to us. Their fears, their enemies, are the same as ours. If we are serious about national security we should provide generous assistance rather than bombs. If the international community resolved to co-operate over making compassionate moves rather than military moves there might be a lot more progress towards peace and security for all.

It may be that in this chaotic, disorganised exodus the occasional terrorist sneaks across borders but would they not find a way in any case? Do we not just make it easier for them by creating confusion at the borders and deaths in the waters around Europe?

Evidence shows, however, that the majority of terrorists associated with terrorist attacks are home grown. The more we spread confusion on this point by suggesting that we should be suspicious of desperate, displaced people fleeing for their lives the more we assist the terrorists in their intention to divide communities and recruit support from people who feel mistrusted and deprived of any future.

It is of strategic importance to address underlying causes rather than to react dogmatically out of fear and vengeance. It is imperative to act quickly when security is threatened, but we must avoid reacting in ways that make things worse. Did ‘shock and awe’ make us safer? Isn’t it time to take a more enlightened approach?  If we are serious about improving security it makes sense to examine cause and effect. It is not fool-headed to say that we will all be much safer from terrorists if we act with greater compassion to mitigate suffering.

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