Exploring society’s complicity towards human rights abuses

Conscience is a creator of meaning.” Martha Stout, Ph. D. The Sociopath Next Door.

I’m not a medical person. I have many friends who are doctors, nurses or surgeons. I admire them all. At one time I wanted to be one. My mum wanted to be a nurse. She wasn’t educated enough to have the confidence to take the exams. Her Sisters of Mercy convent experience of imprisonment, brutality and torture impaired her academic ability. She tried to pursue the nurse path as an adult but she was shamed again by being told she wasn’t smart enough.

Torture, the dynamics of terror and humiliating behavior are recurring themes this past year. As I transform the memories passed down from my mums childhood, I also reflect on the recent kneecapping of a young man in west Belfast. He was hit on the head with a hammer before he was knee-capped. I’m also wondering how the parents in Riverside California could imprison, isolate and torture their 13 children for so long, unnoticed by neighbors. I’m not passing judgment. I’m just curious about the degree of fragmentation and anonymity in that Riverside community.

It’s difficult to accept or process this level of cruelty. It’s easier to look away or stick my head in the sand. Denial as a coping mechanism is a valid reaction. It’s disturbing to know that kneecapping is still occurring in Northern Ireland. During The Troubles here, (1968 to 1998) paramilitaries considered themselves to be law enforcers in their own areas. They used limb punishment shootings to punish petty criminals and other individuals whose behaviors they deemed to be unacceptable. A punishment shooting is typically inflicted by a criminal gang with a low-velocity gunshot to the knee pit with a handgun. Sometimes victims will have their elbows and ankles shot as well. I wonder what level of counseling is available today to the victims of this barbaric crime, in addition to the intensive outpatient physiotherapy they will need to recover. I don’t know what has become of the young man shot in west Belfast. I coldn’t find any news updates. I don’t know if Church leaders or politicians in the area have mentioned it or condemned it. Like so many other acts of terror around the world, this lack of response makes me wonder if we are becoming more apathetic or numb or desensitized to the barbarity.

When I write about inhumane, troubling and unacceptable events like these, it helps me to process them. I don’t write to blame, shame or condemn. My writing is for my own growth, healing and personal transformation which can lead to community transformation. Writing like the windows in the wall above brings the brutality and trauma into the light. Research revealed that 13 individuals in Northern Ireland had their legs amputated as a consequence of limb punishment shootings during the Troubles. If the crime was considered to be grave, the victim was also shot in the ankles and elbows, leaving them with six gunshot wounds (colloquially known as a six pack). Approximately 2,500 people were victims of these punishment shootings through the duration of the conflict.

There are other militant organizations throughout the world that employ these punishment shootings to warn their opponents. It’s used in Italy and it’s used by Hamas in the Gaza Strip to silence political opponents. It’s also used by ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The Bangladesh Police have been kneecapping since 2009 to punish the opposition and prevent them from participating in protests against the government.

Extreme and violent behavior can pop up anywhere in the world. I’m curious to know how others process disturbing events. It’s a personal and collective journey. I know I am not alone. These exploratory questions might help us;

1. Do you give yourself permission to look away from ugly realities and dehumanizing events in your community, or other parts of the world ?

2. Do you live in a privileged community?

3. If you are stuck in a poverty trap economically, socially or emotionally what would help you and your community to get out of that trap?

4. What helps you to process the rage you have over human rights abuses?

5. Does your community have therapeutic mechanisms in place that can help you process trauma in a respectful, dignified, healthy and whole way ?

6. If pain is not transformed, it is transmitted. How do you transform your own pain and how do you help others transform their pain?




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