“The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”–Stephen Bantu Biko

Finally, as of the weekend it seems (or perhaps I just didn’t notice it before, in the events of the last week), the trees are bursting out with green tips.  The long and soggy winter has given way to a greener, more glorious spring, whereas last spring the grass, due to droughts, came up brown.  The forsythia, dandelions, redbush, hyacinths, and daffodils are out and are waving in gentle spring breezes.  The temperatures have wavered from 50-74 (F) or so, and the world seems a brighter, sunnier, sweeter place in spite of pollen counts vexing some folks and bad weather reports coming in from elsewhere.  It’s possible now to sit by the water and watch the ripples and the current and dream of an impossibly beautiful summer still to come.  And already this morning, there is on the news a report of a five-person shooting in Seattle and a shooting of undetermined number in North Carolina.  This is on the heels of last week’s Boston Marathon bombings and shooting spree and God knows how many separate bombings and shootings and stabbings and slayings and injuries in the last year, some due to verifiable quarrels, some simply due to indescribable malice, others due to mental confusion, others due to doctrinal differences, and others (as seems to be emerging in the Boston bombings) due to apparently unknowable factors.  For, though both of the Tsarnaev brothers were said to be devoutly religious Muslims, the outrage of their relatives and communities speaks I believe genuinely when it declares that they were not acting as sincere Muslims act, but were acting out on their own tick, motivated by unimaginable things even to their nearest family members.  So here we sit, as a nation and a part of the world community, left with another question mark even more noticeable than that of 9/11 because that had an origin of easily determined cause (a particular radical group).

It may sound odd to quote Steve Biko at this juncture, from his own struggle for freedom and dignity, but I would like first to quote and then to explain my frame of reference:  he said “The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”  He was abused and jailed and suffered for a cause, and it may seem odd to apply his remark to a whole nation, nay, a whole world enslaved by violence and mayhem, and to pilgrims from other countries “yearning to breathe free.”  But who is it but the convenience store clerk, working the night shift, or the female student, trying to make her way home at night after a late class or library study, the enthusiastic people at a political rally supporting their candidate, or the happy crowds in full daylight enjoying a community spectacle and thinking to get away from chaos and heartbreak for a day’s communal fun, who stand the most to lose when martial law of the streets becomes the norm due to insane and unpredictable explosions and bullets?  We all lose freedom and dignity and the right to keep open minds in that situation, because the caretakers of our nation have to treat us all as potential suspects in order not to miss a real miscreant through carelessness.

Our dilemma is a real one, experienced all over the world in this century, and becoming more and more what a frenzied and frustrated newscaster who was trying to follow up the scene in last week’s day of terror on Friday called it (when the second Boston Marathon bomber was finally cornered):  he referred to our dilemma as “the new norm.”  Is this the truth?  Is terror and looking surreptitiously around oneself constantly in all directions instead of just looking both ways when crossing in traffic to become the new norm?  Is reporting tittle-tattle on possibly innocent new neighbors with some “funny” foreign habits that are not ours to become the new norm?  Is going through numerous checkpoints and security checks and barriers where we need to present identity cards the new norm?  Guess what?  In some parts of the world, it already is, and has been for quite some time.  And maybe it’s time that we in the United States stopped flag-waving in a chauvinistic way and pretending that it can’t continue to happen here just because our individual right to bear guns and apparently kill each other at will is “secure” and instead raise our flag more reverentially and attempt to make realistic adjustments to our new conditions as long as they may last.

For, things change.  They do, though we don’t always notice it right away.  It may not be today, it may not be tomorrow, but while a utopia is perhaps not likely, neither is a dystopia absolutely necessary.  We are not the slaves of Fortune, but are instead the controllers of our own souls and hearts and minds, and we can choose to maintain freedom and dignity inside ourselves, in our own hearts and minds, not to forge forward without fear, but to inform ourselves with our fears, of our fears, and then to try to go ahead anyway, heads and hearts not high, but realistically levelled and eyes alert and aware.  The human mechanism is a wonderful entity–you’ll notice I don’t say “thing”–capable of marvelous degrees of adaptation, and because we are not things and are reasonably and within limits self-directed at our best, we can choose to participate in our own enslavement by adverse conditions, or can fight free of the bonds of hysteria and cant, and can ask ourselves what more, under each set of requirements, we can do to keep free of feeling enslaved.

Now is the hour of our choice, a long-overdue choice according to some.  We are now more than ever, as Plato said of himself, “citizens of the world,” and now as then, when the known world was a smaller place by far, we must act according to a different set of responsibilities, a mature set of responsibilities, acknowledging that there are those who perhaps for partially understandable reasons do not like us or fit in with our descriptions of ourselves, whether we label them agitators, lunatics, terrorists, or human ciphers.  We must deal with the anomalous and abnormal in our midst, and must begin by accepting that even as “the old world, she goes on the same as she always did,” that “the world has [also] changed,” that now as never before there is more ferocious firepower and destructive power and wanton energy around to make our task a hard one.  What we must ask ourselves is:  will we, with Steve Biko, refuse to allow our inner beings to become oppressed when we cannot prevent the external being from suffering oppression, will we, as the world has with a resonant voice and Boston has with one unified voice decreed in our stead, be strong?    I think that with respect and acknowledgement for all that was lost on that Monday in Boston and with the same respect for the sufferers and grievers in every like situation, my question answers itself.


Filed under Other than literary days....

8 responses to ““The most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”–Stephen Bantu Biko

  1. There is no other way forward. I think that to some extent we discovered this in the worst days of the IRA bombings here in the UK. I was in Birmingham city centre the night of the pub bombings and was there two nights later as well because otherwise how we’re we going to live our lives? And the people of Northern Ireland, especially those in Belfast, lived with the check points and the terror everyday of their lives for decades. There are sensible precautions you can take, but we can never let these people win.


    • Thank you for your comments and understanding, Alex. The support and encouragement of those runners in the UK for your big race and indeed of others all across the globe was especially appreciated by us here in New England.


  2. D. James Fortescue

    The world is not one of boroughs anymore; it is truly global.

    It is currently a world of ‘growing pains’. All the cultures of the world are being forced to live alongside each other, and with that comes those who cannot or will not adjust.

    The worst aspect of this situation is that there are those who would manipulate such a situation for destructive purposes, and there are still those who can be manipulated to willingly do horrifically misguided things in the name of any purpose.

    The most important thing that must be remembered: those who would do such terrible things are a minority. Which means the majority are not like them. We must resist the urge to ‘broad stroke’ those of any nationality or affiliation, strive the embrace the good, and mutually share our learnings so that we can all better understand each other.

    Easier said than done, but one can hope =)


  3. Dear David, I fully agree with your comments, and especially with the one which says “we must resist the urge to ‘broad stroke’ those of any nationality or affiliation.” Only this morning the news came out that a targeted Canada Via Rail attack had been foiled with the cooperation and information of the Muslim community, who felt that it was part of their responsibility to take an active role in stopping an al-Quaeda attack. That speaks volumes, to my mind. We are all in it together. The motto of the New England transit system is: “If you see something, say something.” A little extra vigiliance and endeavor from everyone helps everyone out.


    • D. James Fortescue

      I heard of the foiled attack on the radio as I drove home from work, but not of the Muslim community’s participation in preventing the attack. The latter should be strongly highlighted, to counteract the overwhelmingly pessimistic view of Islam.


      • The revised and augmented report was on the computer this morning. I agree with you wholeheartedly that every community has its malcontents and every community its good citizens, and I think it’s up to us to form a world community of good citizens.


  4. A thoughtful post as always. I, too, am a Biko fan. If you have not watched “Cry Freedom” rent it. You will love. Unfortunately, there will always be people in the world, in every country, who believe that killing is the answer to the problems they face. It has gone on for decades and will continue to do so. No one learns that those actions do nothing except cause more killings and retaliation, the proverbial vicious circle. I was thankful to see the authorities in Canada putting down a potential attack before it was launched. To this Boston event, what can be said of two young boys who had such indifference to life; such lake of empathy and compassion toward others; such self-centered, egotistical vision of their place in the world? Sadly, we (human kind) create them and allow them to exist by fueling their anger, rage and belief that they are doing it for “a greater good.” That’s the problem. And until that changes the world will not. One can only hope it does not escalate even more out of control because in the age of nuclear weapons that will be disaster. Americans want to live in peace AND freedom which means we will be subjected to this kind of behavior. You can’t have a truly free and open society in today’s world and not expect others to behave badly in it. So how do we enjoy our country and its freedoms and be always safe and protected? If you can answer that, my friend, you are a better woman than most. All the best to you.


    • Dear Kathy, Thank you for your exquisitely expressive and thoughtful response. No, I don’t have the answer, but I know that our almost arrogant disregard of the rest of the world’s problems must go away and we might even have to give up just a bit of our vaunted freedoms in the sense of going through and patiently tolerating more security checks and perhaps having a bit less privacy in public places in order to combat these incidents. And I am not a friend of the gun lobby, I’m afraid. Only today, another five people were shot in Illinois. Just how do two young men buy guns in the United States as easily as the two Tsarnaev brothers did, without raising red flags? I don’t suppose they aroused any curiosity by buying the pressure cookers they made their bombs from (after all, those could’ve been used for cooking), but what about the guns they shot people with and defended themselves with afterwards? And I think it’s high time that some control was placed over terrorist sites on the Internet which tell how to make explosive devices. While we can’t propose to control those sites in another country, perhaps, there are apparently a number of those sites in the U. S. If every country made an effort to control its own problems of this kind, and through Interpol and such we worked together, that might be a start. But as you acknowledge, and as we both know, all evil is not capable of being managed out of existence; we just have to do the best we can. Thank you again for your engagement with the issues, and your response.


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