Years ago when I was a student in high school I was staying in Beirut at my aunt’s place, when the government was toppled and a military government took over. It had been almost a year since the civil war had started in some parts of the country. Overnight the situation turned from bad to worse. During the night that followed there would be heavy bombing between the different militias and political or religious factors. I would be so scared that my aunt would sit with me most of the nights during the ordeal till dawn broke and the bombing subsided. On this one particular night, the bombing had started earlier than usual. To raise my spirits my aunt called me to her bedroom and pointed down.
“See that house in the valley down there, where the lights are on? They are awake like us. We are not alone.”
And I looked at that lonely house with the lights on in the valley and thought, they can’t sleep too. And I wondered how many people lived in that house. Were they as scared as I was? We stayed up all night. Then, in the morning, everything went back to normal, and people tended to their business as though nothing had happened. It was only that afternoon when two ambulances from the Red Cross drove to our street that the story was revealed. The ambulances had come to collect the bodies from the house in the valley. People said that the entire family of five had been slain in that house with the lights on during the night. They said that some fanatic members of some militia murdered the whole family because they belonged to a different religion or perhaps a different political party. And all that time I thought they were awake because they were afraid of the bombs. Who gives people the right to commit such carnage? What is the right political power or religion?
“No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.” Elie Wiesel
I shudder when I think of all the atrocities committed against people, against nations, in the name of religion or politics.
“A destruction, an annihilation that only man can provoke, only man can prevent.” Elie Wiesel
Decades have passed since that incident, and although I am continents away from the country I was born in and where it all happened on some dark night, with Christmas approaching I feel as though I am not supposed to write all this but:
“I write to understand as much as to be understood. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel
Some nights when I stop at a traffic light and look around at the houses nearby and the lights are on, a shiver runs through me.
“Because I remember, I despair. Because I remember, I have the duty to reject despair. I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I’ve been closer to him for that reason.” Elie Wiesel