When we look back over history, there have been many dark periods. Plagues. Natural disasters. Oppression, slavery and unending violence. And countless wars. Yet there has always been a fragile thread of hope in human progress – an enduring belief that life could be better, more secure, fairer and peaceful. After the twentieth century, the most violent century of all time, that fledgling hope in human progress seemed to be shattered. The truth of humanity’s soul was laid bare to reveal unimaginable hatred, cruelty and violence towards our fellow human beings. It wasn’t a new thing though. Humanity has always been capable of incomprehensible brutality.
Dark times are not a thing of the past. Just a little over eighteen months ago, we witnessed one of the worst fire seasons in living memory. Fires of apocalyptic proportions raged across Australia. As an ominous sign of the consequence of climate change, we could not imagine that life could get any worse. In a very short while, though, some new words were introduced into our lexicon: Covid 19, lock down, social distancing, hand sanitisers, masks. By the time we got to December 31st, we were so over 2020 we couldn’t wait to see the end of it. But as the Covid pandemic stretches into its second year and Australians are still buckling down for a never-ending series of lockdowns, we wonder when will this all end?
Even before Covid, the usual run of the mill stress of everyday life could often leave us feeling overwhelmed, mentally and emotionally exhausted, and our brains functioning more like a bowl of mush. Now we have the additional anxiety about the vaccination rollout, the stress and isolation of another round of lockdowns, and the ongoing confusion about changing restrictions and border closures. People have lost jobs and livelihoods. Some have lost loved ones. And more bad news continues to roll in.
The recent release of the IPCC report into climate change depicts a terrifying future. The impoverished nation of Haiti has been hit with another natural disaster and a horrifying humanitarian disaster is unfolding in Afghanistan. As the Taliban regains control of Afghanistan I fear for the future of thousands of girls and women who face harsh restrictions and the loss of even minimal rights that have taken years to achieve. The speed of the takeover has been breath-taking and quite rightly raises many questions about the failure to predict and plan the withdrawal of troops. I don’t think there are any easy answers or solutions for Afghanistan. There is a very long history there, and maybe that was the problem. That history was just not understood or maybe the western alliance over-estimated their ability to bring about lasting change.
I was bitterly disappointed, though, to hear that the major justification for the withdrawal, or the cutting and running as I’ve seen it described, was that the mission in Afghanistan no longer served US interests, or anybody else’s interests, apparently. Are nations only ever motivated by their own national interests? I know full well that conflicts are never fought for the preservation of human rights. World War Two had nothing to do with saving the Jews. The Gulf War was not about the people of Kuwait and the mission in Afghanistan was never about relieving the oppression of its people. But as we watch the Taliban regain control, knowing their ideology and their past history, and see the desperate scenes at the airport, it just looks unbelievably selfish to callously abandon people to an unknown and terrifying fate.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. The rights of women, as well as children and minorities, have never been important to men and most world leadership is still predominantly male. Any rights women have achieved have been hard won, often requiring bodies to be placed on the line and dragging men kicking and screaming to the negotiating table. And I don’t expect that those same leaders will be too vocal about demanding the preservation of human rights. After all, they are quite happy to forge alliances with other repressive regimes. As Stan Grant notes:
“The world is prepared to live with tyranny. The world tolerates human rights abuses and Afghanistan is already a humanitarian disaster.”
And sadly we know that Afghanistan is not the only place in the world where oppression, misery and crimes against humanity are taking place. Sometimes it feels that everywhere we look, all we see is disaster, misery and death. If twenty years of hard work can be swept away in just a few days, why bother at all. The whole world seems to be going to rack and ruin. Perhaps we might as well crawl back into bed, pull the blanket over our head and wait to be consumed by the fires of climate change or terrorism. According to the experts, we are at an even greater risk of terror attacks now than we were 20 years ago. Fabulous. The end is surely nigh.
And to top it off, today is World Humanitarian Day which is about “advocating for the survival, wellbeing and dignity of people affected by crises, and for the safety and security of aid workers.” The ongoing oppression and violence around the world, let alone recent events, makes a mockery of the United Nation ideals of dignity, respect and freedom. Does it really have to be so hard to love your neighbour as yourself? This year’s focus is on the “human cost of the climate crisis,” which is kind of ironic considering our own government’s failure to take climate change seriously.
Some days it can be really hard to be positive about life. Wherever we look there seems to be misery and suffering, and it places a crushing burden on our soul. We can feel so helpless in the face of so much human suffering, and the worst of it, is that much of it is caused by human selfishness, greed and hatred. We take one step forward, and then another ten steps backwards. It can be just so demoralising and depressing that we wonder if there is any point at all.
But even in dark times, that thread of hope is still there. It might be fragile and battered and it might be only just barely flickering, but it is still there. It might take a little time to resurface, but when it does, we can take a deep breath and step once more out into the fray. Despite all the disasters this world has seen and despite all we know about our own human frailty, we still believe. Amazing, isn’t it.