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A conversation is recounted in the book # Shantaram  in which the character, Khaderbhai, says: “There is no such thing as believing in #G...

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Saturday, 4 April 2015


#AlShabaab separists from Somalia on Thursday slaughtered 147 Christian university students in the #Kenyan border town of #Garissa. They separated out #Muslims from #Christians and then systematically set about killing the latter, some reportedly by beheading. Al Shabaab say that the university has been "colonized by non-Muslims" who should not be "on Muslim territory". They also seem to have a thing about people who are educated.

#WilliamZuma, son of our esteemed and thoughtful #President, says that "foreigners need to leave the country...We urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave."

The other great son of South African soil, #JuliusMalema, has urged his EFF followers to destroy all statues and relics which could remind us of our apartheid and colonial past. Obliging, EFF supporters on Thursday torched a statue in Uitenhage commemorating the Anglo-Boer war, and then of course ran away, no doubt feeling a lot better about themselves.

Noting, condemning and then for a moment putting to one side the inherent, appalling and inexcusable evil of the Al Shabaab attack and the boorish behaviour of the others, let's dwell on the common theme, which of course is separation.

It seems that all too often we see people fostering separation - whether in an international, national, racial, relationship or even road rage context - and somehow trying to excuse or justify it by suggesting that the separation is what will ensure or enhance their own identities. If Al Shabaab think that killing Christians will make Muslims more Islamic, or that Mr Zuma Jr. thinks that driving foreigners out will make the rest of us feel more South African, or if Mr Malema thinks that destroying statues will make Blacks feel more Black, or more peaceful about where the country has come from because they can no longer see the statues, they are all missing the point gravely.

Our identities, self-esteem and self-recognition come from the acknowledgement of who we are fundamentally as human beings and not from separating ourselves from what (or from whom) we think we are not. When we can claim our identities relative to our sense of self-worth and existence as feeling, loving and authentic human beings, we will stop trying to separate ourselves in an attempt prove we are worthy of a place on the planet.

It is no mistake that some of the people acknowledged more or less universally as truly great leaders and influencers - Nelson Mandela, Mohatma Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr. amongst others, leaving aside the great spiritual and religious leaders - spoke only of connection and conciliation. That was their context: it was never separation.  In fact it was about ridding the planet of separation, because they saw their fellow man as one. These were real people who made an astonishing difference, not just in their societies, but all around the world. The United Nations, whatever its shortcomings, aspires to do the same.

So when we see people trying to esteem themselves and claim their identities by behaving appallingly towards others by separating themselves in outlandish ways, challenging as it may be, I think we are all called to engage in a different context: the context of connection and reconciliation. 

Having extremists see things in anything but their own way is never going to be easy, but perhaps having them live in a world which works in a context of connection might have them eventually see themselves as worthwhile human beings just as they are, rather than desperate people who cannot claim their place on earth without trying to make all those whom they believe to be different from them disappear. 

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