The Logic of Conflicting Victimhood Narratives
"It is the immorality of the act itself that bothers me. It is also
the dehumanisation of a group of people, such that one can be easily
substituted for another, irrespective of their age, gender, occupation
or political orientation"
10 October 2016



The Logic of Conflicting Victimhood Narratives

Bay Yanga Jacob Lagu (Published @citizenlagu.net)

Despite the corrupting influences of war, some actions must remain
unacceptable and beyond the pale, if we are to lift ourselves up as a
people.

My father once told me a story from his time in the bush. Such a thing
is a rarity. He hardly speaks of his experiences during the long years
of the civil war. I’ve grown accustomed to his silence and learned to
treasure and analyse the few wartime memories that he felt he needed
to share with me.

In 1971, an airplane carrying civilian northern Sudanese passengers
and a handful of foreigners crashed near Mundri, in an area controlled
by the Anya-nya. The local commander promptly contacted him asking for
instruction on what should be done with the northern survivors. Many
of my father’s staff urged him to do away with them. “Our enemies
don’t take prisoners,” they argued, “they would kill our people had
the roles been reversed.”

My father agonised over the decision. The desire for retribution was
not insignificant, given the brutality of the war. As it happened,
shortly before the crash, a church congregation in Yei River had been
massacred by government forces. This served to inflame passions among
the Anya-nya fighters, my father’s included. And yet the immorality of
such an act greatly concerned him. As with all difficult decisions, he
spent time alone to consider and turned to his faith for guidance. He
decided to unconditionally release the prisoners. His staff needed
more than a little persuading, but they eventually agreed with his
decision.

I asked him why he let the survivors go. “Someday, I’ll meet my maker,
and I refused to face God with a massacre on my conscience,” he
answered.

If there’s one thing I have learned, it is that war is a dirty
business. It inevitably degrades us all. It diminishes our humanity as
steadily as we dehumanise our adversaries. I remember now something
else he once told me. At the time, the significance of it hadn’t
really registered. “There are no bad soldiers, there are only bad
commanders.” I realise, that his personal convictions had been an
essential example, which helped moderate the excesses of war. Some
actions would remain unacceptable and beyond the pale for the Anya-nya
soldier, despite the corrupting influences of war.

Our own civil war has been extremely brutal. Civilians have borne the
brunt of atrocities committed by all sides. No-one can lay claim to
the moral high ground. No-one is unsullied because all have
perpetrated acts of violence against the innocent. I lay the blame
squarely on the commanders. They’ve not had the moral fortitude to
truly lead their troops, whether by sanction or by example.

Consequently, we are all locked in conflicting victimhood narratives.
Each side believes wholeheartedly that they are the victims of
injustice. Each side believes that their adversary is the unrepentant
aggressor. What makes this state of affairs particularly pernicious is
tribalism. It causes us to associate a person with their community. It
has sharpened the distinction between “them” and “us”. It has led us
to the tragic calamity of collective punishment.

21 Dinka men, women and children are reported to have been gunned down
on the road from Yei to Juba. Their only crime was their ethnicity.
Some Equatorians either refuse to condemn the killings or are openly
unrepentant in their approval of it. “The Dinka must be paid back in
full for the massacres of Equatorian civilians, perpetrated by Dinka
soldiers and militiamen, in Wonduruba, in Pageri, in Loa, in Lainya
and a dozen more places,” they reason. “We are only doing what they do
to us every day. We must let them feel our pain.” Some Equatorians are
so caught up in their victimhood narrative that they can’t see the
forest through the trees.

Am I concerned by the accusations of terrorism or the blanket
condemnation of all Equatorians by simple association? No, I am not. I
am conscious that some among the Dinka community are trapped in their
own victimhood narrative and this only adds fuel to that narrative.
I’m also conscious that some opportunists will seize upon this tragedy
for sectarian advantage. Am I moved by the threats of retribution
against Equatorian civilians coming from sections of the Dinka
community? No I am not. Given the savagery of this war, I, like many
others, have come to always expect and prepare for the worst. The
constant stream of credible reports I receive of beatings, torture,
murder, forced disappearances and a host of other horrendous crimes
committed against Equatorian villagers and townsfolk by the army and
its allied ethnic militias in the conduct of their counter-insurgency
operations is relentless. So much so, that I have grown inured to the
tragedy.

No. It is the immorality of the act itself that bothers me. It is also
the dehumanisation of a group of people, such that one can be easily
substituted for another, irrespective of their age, gender, occupation
or political orientation. This is certainly not the Equatoria that I
recognise. These are not the actions of patriots, because true
patriots hate injustice in their own homeland more than anywhere else.
To my fellow Equatorians in the bush, I will pass a message from a
European sage who a long time ago warned: “He who fights with monsters
should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if
you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.”

South Sudan is long overdue reform. From independence, the trajectory
of the country has been destructive instead of constructive. Our
society has become divisive instead of unifying. Our politics is
regressive instead of progressive. In times of crisis I’ve learned to
turn to my faith for guidance. One particular verse from scripture,
John 10:10, informs my approach to reformation: “The thief comes only
to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and
have it to the full.” Reformists must put their efforts into building
something that is aspirational and visionary, instead of simply
pushing back against what they understand to be bad.

Despite the corrupting influences of war, some actions must remain
unacceptable and beyond the pale, if we are to lift ourselves up as a
people.


Posted in: Opinions

-- 
To post to this group, send email to southsudankob@googlegroups.com
To unsubscribe from this group, send email to 
southsudankob+unsubscr...@googlegroups.com
Visit this group at https://groups.google.com/d/forum/southsudankob
View this message at 
https://groups.google.com/d/msg/southsudankob/topic-id/message-id
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/d/optout
--- 
You received this message because you are subscribed to the Google Groups 
"South Sudan Info - The Kob" group.
To unsubscribe from this group and stop receiving emails from it, send an email 
to southsudankob+unsubscr...@googlegroups.com.
To post to this group, send email to SouthSudanKob@googlegroups.com.
Visit this group at https://groups.google.com/group/SouthSudanKob.
To view this discussion on the web visit 
https://groups.google.com/d/msgid/SouthSudanKob/CAJb14oqgkWmn__wf__XhanK-cvo1kFjUX58u0KK3-rNFE0wfSA%40mail.gmail.com.
For more options, visit https://groups.google.com/d/optout.

Reply via email to