I’m receiving quite an education about Farc while learning more about myself as a participant in discourses. Two of Alf and Ana’s friends have commented on my susceptibility to rhetoric. I need to be firm in my response although I very much hope we can continue to dialogue, even if dialogue with Farc is an impossibility.
First, Juan and Javier, No! It is not that I believe in the words as a reflection of Farc’s actual intentions. I do know better than that. My initial info came from the wikipedia links posted at Thorny Days, not from any of Farc’s own self-representations (which is not to assume the wikipedia entry wasn’t originally made by a Farc member, however I do choose to exercise some trust that some compilation of minds with different political perspectives have checked out and contributed to the wikipedia entry). My view is more complicated, and my words are carefully chosen. I knew some of my thoughts were risky, but this is just it, yes? We live in risky times; how will we confront our own fears? How can we possibly manage our own pain?
Yesterday I began to read a book for my own dissertation research proposal: Stories in the Time of Cholera. The professor in a course I took last fall on “Language as Action and Performance” mentioned this anthropologically-based discourse analysis as a powerful demonstration of the power of language to shape horrific realities. The authors trace the institutional use of cultural reasoning to create and justify medical profiling,
“document[ing] the mechanisms through which denigrating images are generated through specific institutional practices and in response to concrete organizational crises, presented for public consumption, used in creating widely shared perceptions of people and events, and made the center of public policy” (2003: xvi).
I had not realized, before beginning to read, that the cholera epidemic was in Venezuela, and not too long ago (early 1990s). I was struck immediately by the rhetoric blaming Colombia (which is weird, since the Orinoco Delta is on the opposite national border, near Guyana). The deft analysis of the authors in showing how everyone’s talk about the Warao and other indígenas contributed to 500 deaths is absolutely compelling and scarily discouraging – how can such deliberately de-personalized forces ever be countered? Through the framework of medical profiling, the authors show how the words and stories of politicians, journalists, and even health care professionals create a racialized tiering of sanitary citizens and unsanitary subjects, thus pre-creating the rationale for the co-constructed inevitability of failure to prevent the cholera epidemic.
What we are part of, HereAndNow – me as an absolute newcomer, and “you” (specifically any who have suffered because of Farc, and particularly those who know Alf and Ana) – is “The Talk” that will determine the parameters of possibility for the future. Now, I needed to know the depth of the pain and passion of which Juan wrote. The words were effective: I had nightmares of rape last night. I am absolutely grateful for the education and the respectful tone, despite the obvious upset triggered by my words. We all need to be able to say “the hard words,” we cannot afford to run what Briggs and Briggs-Mantini describe as “the risks of leaving hard words out of the story” (xviii). So I hope none of you will stop confronting me on my misconceptions, ignorances, and even sheer idiocies. I cannot meet my own ethical standards if you do not insist on trying to shape them. Please do not let me off the hook.
At the same time, I believe how we characterize the real human beings who do make up the membership of Farc matters. I do not on any level agree with or condone their actions. But, let me just jump off on one of the starker facts: the forced conscription of eleven-year-old boys. Horrific, inhumane, unjust, yes. We can apply every epithet to that behavior and be correct. But what about those eleven-year-old-boys who have now grown into the young men composing some percentage of Farc’s “armed forces”? They had to survive, didn’t they?
How long and how persistently will we insist on punishing them for the fate they have had to live? Understand me, I am not excusing their actions. And – I refuse to put myself on some higher moral plane simply because I’ve never had to face the choice of killing someone or dying myself. Perhaps as an adult, now, I might, maybe, be able to take the ultimate stand and risk surrendering my own life rather than take another’s. As a child? Who among us can honestly make that claim? I am sure there are some, I do not intend to diminish anyone with that bedrock altruistic clarity. In reality, though, I think those individuals are truly rare.
No, I’m not suggesting any kind of blanket amnesty. I am saying that we must invent ways of talking that maintain some acknowledgment of humanity on the other side. Evil, as Hannah Arendt has tragically explained, is banal. And, perhaps we are not all susceptible, and/or can even break out of it despite socialization. If there is this chance, is it not the best and most effective way to insert an intervention that might actually cause the larger dynamics to shift? Meanwhile, we – injured and afraid – must not forget the common core of human instincts from which any abuse of power emanates. I do not say we excuse; I do not even say we go so far as to forgive. I do say we must understand, and from this understanding forge a better way.