The Trouble with Remembering Bad Memories

May 24, 2007 at 6:36 am (Uncategorized)

Technical difficulties, kids – sorry for the absence of a post yesterday. I was hoping it would just work itself out overnight as these things sometimes (bizarrely) do, but no such luck. Every time I click on the ‘Write’ or ‘New Post’ icon, my computer crashes. Well, no, that’s not quite right. Safari crashes. And having tried this a record-breaking number of times in the last 30-odd hours, I’ve finally admitted defeat and skulked up to the internet cafe at the end of my street.

Greetings. Yesterday’s post was going to be about the question of collective memory in on-going conflicts like that between Israel and Palestine. My Egyptian journalist friend who’s based in Gaza sent me a really interesting article about…well, it was about a number of things, but one of them was the extent to which memory matters when you’re looking for possible solutions, and it’s not okay to say ‘Let’s put the past behind us.’ That very sentiment, though, is what my husband believes needs to be embraced with the current Iraqi crisis. Tuesday night he went to the Lowy Institute and heard the Iraqi Foreign Minister speak. Apropos my exchanges with Warwick re. the Lowy in recent posts, people may find it interesting to know that the minister did want to shed some light on some of the ‘positives.’ No surprises there; apparently he’s frustrated that the media keeps reporting on all the negatives, among which there’s the super-negative: an estimated 65-70,000 civilian casualties. Yes. That’s a tough sell, all right, and kind of hard to get past if you ask me. If you are interested in an insider perspective outside Iraq’s Foreign Ministry, I urge you again to click on the Baghdad Burning link on my blog roll. The author is a civilian, not a politician, and her interpretation of the crisis is at odds with the positive reading. Having said that, it is important to believe, now it’s happening and has been happening for so long, that some good can ultimately come of this. Perhaps there are positives, as the Foreign Minister claims.

Which brings me back to this memory/let’s wipe the slate conundrum. Llew said when he got home from the Lowy that whilst he disagreed with the invasion of Iraq, they’re there now, the damage has been done, so isn’t the point to look at the reality of where the crisis is at and attempt to move forward from there? Well, yes, but no at the same time. People don’t forget – won’t forget. On the contrary. Surely we know by now that the inherited memory, the story that gets passed from generation to generation, is one of the most potent weapons of identity, religion, and power that people have. There are stories being created in Iraq every day that will be ear-marked for future generations, and I doubt a single one of them will involve America arriving on a white charger to save the day.

But maybe if there was no memory of how it happened, just a desire to end it starting from today, maybe then people could imagine a better future for the average citizen of all these war-torn -places. Maybe if there were no stories of invasion and civilian slaughter and mistreatment, maybe if there was an amnesty on memory, maybe then there might be a way out. But how do all the involved parties make something productive and good come out of this hell as long as everyone has their conflicting story? How do you ask people to lay those stories down when it’s tantamount to demanding they relinquish one of their sole weapons of defence? I wish – how I wish – I knew.

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