One of the saddest recent images seen in a long time was the video of a truckload of several hundred young men of the Shiite faith being transported to a field, where they were shot and killed. Just prior to their execution, many, appearing to be teenagers and adolescents, were on their knees begging for their lives. It was heartbreaking to watch. And then…piles of bodies.
To witness young boys and men, just starting out, to have their lives brutally extinguished in this way, was almost beyond comprehension.
And then another heart-wrenching image — to view the photo of a boy and his mother of the Yazidi religion, having just jumped into the cargo hold of a plane, escaping the threat of oncoming terrorists — and to see the face of the terrified crying boy and the look on his mother’s face as she beheld her son, each not only afraid for their own lives, but perhaps even moreso, of the life of their beloved.
As the Yazidis were hiding out on a mountaintop, and before food and water were brought to them, there were the distressing images of young women and girls lying on the ground, starving, crying out with fear from the pain that malnourishment and severe thirst can bring. Somehow, these images invoked for me a haunting image I shall never forget: that of a terrified young mother and her children huddled on a dirt floor, with others, awaiting execution by a Nazi shooting squad at the infamous Babi Yar, the ravine in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. There, on September 29th and 30th 1941, 33,771 Jews were killed in a single operation, the largest single mass killing in the history of the Holocaust up until that date.
To become aware of man’s inhumanity to man as we witness mass shootings and beheadings now by radical extremists in Iraq and Syria or to be aware of the atrocities of the past, whether it was at the hands of the Nazis, or in places like Rwanda or Cambodia, or the suffering of Africans on slave ships en route to involuntary servitude, is to make one acutely conscious of the dark side and tyranny of our species when Mind operates without Heart — and living beings are so completely objectified and dehumanized, that words like empathy, or kindness, orfeelings simply do not register with the perpetrators.
As we seek to understand the reasons for such cruelty of humans against humans, or rather those who have bought into the notion that those they exterminate are not humans, and as the Nazis were prone to say, “untermenschen” (lower than human) — the possible “explanations” are myriad in number. They include anger and rage; feelings of worthlessness, or loss of identity or pride or purpose in life; or hopelessness; or economic hardship or chronic poverty; or futility.
The artificial “remedy” for all these conditions tragically result in blame and projection of one’s resentment onto others – others who are seen as different — others who are objectified into “things” and “not people.” Consequently, there is no contact with the “other” as individual person – but the hatred, which is really a deep self-hatred and self-disgust — gets projected onto the “collective other” — the other ethnicity, the other religion, the other politics.
The dimensionless survival mind, the negative ego, feels threatened; and so extinguishing the perceived enemy seems by this mind to be the only solution. There is no room for words like humanity, or heart, or empathy — it is simply “us versus them” — and “them” becomes consigned as “not human, not life, but anti-life.” Out of the desperation the perpetrators feel, there is no desire or willingness to understand another and work together to solve problems, but rather to act quickly and ruthlessly to wipe out the enemy — the “enemy” who is in truth no one more or less than a fellow human struggling and dealing with life’s complexities as everyone else.
One day, in a sweep of the Jewish section of Dortmund, Germany, the Nazis dragged people out of their homes, to deliver them by truck to trains headed for places like Auschwitz and Treblinka. My father’s mother, my grandmother, and her four children, were among those apprehended; and in a vain effort to save her children, this diminutive-in-size but hugely brave woman was bayoneted and killed by her perpetrators in the street. I will never forget the anguish my father felt over the years as he mourned for his mother, and the way in which her life came to a brutal and terrible end. To the Nazis, she and millions like her — hardworking, God-fearing, loving people — had lost their status of personhood. They had been objectified into “untermenschen” — along with one of the most tragic episodes in human history.
Ironically, we see in history the capacity of those who seek to gain control, power and dominance by justifying their acts of dehumanization as religiosity in the name of God. But this is not religion, or any kind of spirituality that speaks to most people’s understanding of the purpose of religion — to teach and foster unconditional love, reverence for life, brotherhood/sisterhood and kindness on the Earth. All of the world’s great wisdom religions, Christianity, Islam (Sunni, Shia and Sufi), Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Native American spirituality, and the Shamanic traditions, stood and stand for these great values. But those who seek to imprison others in the trap of their own ideology while exercising disrespect for life are no friends of humanity – or the Earth.
As the great humanitarian, theologian and philosopher Albert Schweitzer has enunciated in his view of Reverence for Life, respect for the life of others becomes the highest principle and the defining purpose of humanity.
A great document, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, inspired by the American Declaration of Independence, embodies the sanctity of life and the human rights of all peoples, individually and collectively. The Lebanese philosopher and diplomat Charles Malik called it “an international document of the first order of importance.” Eleanor Roosevelt stated it “may well become the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere.” Pope John Paul II called it “one of the highest expressions of the human conscience of our time.”
The UDHR has become the basis for much international law. The first six of its Articles state:
• All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
• Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.
• Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.
• No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.
• No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
• Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.
We owe it to ourselves, our ancestors and our posterity, that the principles enunciated in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the fundamental spiritual principle of Reverence for Life, be upheld and honored everywhere, and for all future generations. For the sake of humanity. For the sake of Freedom. For the sake of human creativity and potential. For the sake of Life on Earth.
Mike Schwager is a speech writer, publicist and media interview coach. He contributes to The Huffington Post on spiritual and humanitarian themes. He is also host of the Internet radio show, “The Enrichment Hour” on WSRadio(dot)com, and editor of www.Enrichment(dot)com, and www.EnrichOurWorld(dot)net. His media relations sites are at: www.mediamavens(dot)com, and www.TVtraining(dot)tv. Mike can be reached via e-mail at: moschwager@aol(dot)com.