Thursday, September 05, 2013


Okay, let me stick my neck out here... (and I do so with the utmost respect for my American friends and the deepest compassion for the friends I have not yet met in Syria)

I used to be bullied at school. Like many other children who have fallen prey to vindictive attitudes and actions, I have known my fair share of being pushed around, being called derogatory names and living in fear of crossing the paths of those who saw me as an easy opportunity to give expression to their inner frustrations.

At the time, I loved those Hollywood movies where victims stood up to their bullies and the bullies run away crying. It often took a quick karate lesson, a blow to the nose which restored equilibrium. I used to believe in that stuff - that the only way to get rid of a bully is to stomp them to the ground.

Then I heard about the allegations of a Syrian president bullying his own people. He used force to which they could not respond. He used his secret power in a mismatch of strength. They say that he wanted to send a message - that he and his government are in power. And like the bystanders who watched me trying to find composure, much of the world looks on, but says and does nothing.

Someone responded. Despite calls from the United Nations and other state authorities to wait and get all the facts straight (and to collectively respond to the situation), there are talks of a response to this alleged bully. This will be done by showing force, not too much, but just enough to get the message across of who is boss. This is what I read in the news:

"If we don't take a stand here today, I guarantee you, we are more likely to face far greater risks to our security and a far greater likelihood of conflict that demands our action in the future," Secretary of State John Kerry told the House Foreign Affairs Committee at a separate meeting on Wednesday. "Assad will read our silence, our unwillingness to act, as a signal that he can use his weapons with impunity," Kerry said. (NEWS24)

The bully must be punched on the nose, it seems. If we don't hurt him, he will continue to hurt others. He needs to be shown that we are strong and that he is weak. But wait a minute, isn't that what Assad did to his own people (allegedly)?

I switched on the television and stumbled onto one of my least favourite news channels. Wolf Blitzer was interviewing a senator. I remember Wolf Blitzer covering the invasion of Baghdad in the early 90's. As a schoolboy, there was something gratifying about listening to this man describe how a bully was being beaten up. I have grown from there, and it seems, so has Mr Blitzer. He asked the senator a pointed question: "Why does America always have to get involved in these situations? Why not Europe? Why not the Arab states?" I wanted to extend the questions to "Why does America not get involved in Zimbabwe? Swaziland?" Why no regime change there? Does Mr Obama really think that the rest of the world sees America as their big brother - the one who will sort out all our bullies? If so, then there is a complete misreading of international perception. Of course there are the conspiracy theories that state that it is in fact all about oil, that governments are not concerned about morals or justice, but only about interests. There may be some truth in this, but I am open to the idea that the powers are more clever than that.

This leads me to the question: How does one deal with bullies? A shot on the nose might of course work, but where does it end? Assad gets a hiding and then the States are seen as the bullies...there is retaliation and a resolve to punch this bully on the nose and in turn people are labelled again and pursued until they run off with a bloody nose. The cycle goes on and on and on. This is not a solution. Showing who is boss, who has more power does not shift people to calm sobriety. It may subdue them, but inside they boil will vengeance. Ask any victim of bullying. They anticipate the day when they will have the guts, the power and the means to stand up and kick the bully in the unmentionables.

Let's move on. So, over supper last night, our 9 year-old son spoke some words of wisdom. It is his birthday next week (on the 11th of September(!!!)). Out of the blue, he said: "Dad, I want to invite the bullies from my school to my birthday party. If I am friendly to them, perhaps they will become my friends". My jaw dropped to the ground. In effect he was saying that by inviting these bullies to his party, they will be forced to face their own aggression, hypocrisy and attitudes towards him. They will be coming to HIS party where they cannot bully or intimidate, but are received as guests and will be showered with hospitality, not intending for this hospitality to shame them, but to restore the equilibrium. The tables will be turned. But at the same time, there are no guarantees of this being a long-lasting solution.

Of course I am not suggesting that Mr Obama should throw a party for Mr Assad. But my son's words reawakened in me the sense that there are ways beyond violence that calls for accountability, justice and non-violent restoration of relationships. As my dad always says: "With violence, you break your finger off in your nose". I know it's crude, but I think it displays the pointless nature of violence.

Congress will be meeting over the next week to decide on a course of action. I hope that they will find creative, innovative and wise words to help bring back equilibrium in a nation which has had its fair share of bullying.