Opinion » Pique'n Yer Interest

Two stories from Mosul and Munich



Tuesday's late-night headline in The Guardian was a showstopper: "'I hate this beard. By God, I hate it': Iraqi men celebrate their freedom by shaving."

The civilians of Mosul in northern Iraq, a city considered a hub of culture and enlightenment for 1,000 years, had spent 30 months under the extremist and fascistic control of ISIS/Daesh.

A co-ordinated military effort started to free a metropolitan area of around 1.3 million and the fighting continues there. Mass graves are being found; Daesh is understood to be using human shields. Half a million Mosul residents fled after they gained control in 2014.

Mosul's citizens were made to shoulder the extremist policies of the occupiers; they were tortured or murdered if they did not. Women were suppressed, homosexuals were thrown from rooftops. Along with that violence, U.S. bombings were a part of life. Outsiders were killed, tortured or raped.

At one displaced-persons camp, men have been able to get rid of a wretched symbol of extremist occupation — their beards. Had they tried this before now, they would have been severely punished.

Four barbers whose work had been illegal in Mosul stepped forward to help.

From the story: "Having fled Mosul the night before, Hani Mahmood Amin says shaving his beard is symbolic of his freedom: '(ISIS) destroyed our lives. I am so annoyed with this beard... Even just a beard shave feels good."

Imagine what Amin had to go through to get to this point.

In Munich in 1933, a Jewish lawyer called Michael Siegel was beaten by brown-shirted police to the point where his eardrum perforated and teeth were broken. He was then paraded through the streets with a sign around his neck that read: "I will never again complain to the police."

This was not long after the Reichstag was burned in Berlin on Feb. 27; Hitler had been appointed chancellor of Germany in early January. Siegel had gone to the police on behalf of a client, a Jewish businessman whose store had been ransacked and who had been sent to the Dachau concentration camp.

Ten weeks after Hitler seized power the machinery was in place to harm and humiliate Siegel. That machinery of government would go on to entrench Nazi rule and lead to the death of millions. Siegel was one of its first victims.

He and his family stayed in Germany until escaping in 1938. Siegel and his wife went to Peru; their children, who were sent to Britain as part of the Kindertransport, never lived with their parents again.

Both stories make me think about the apparatus of suppression, the upheaval and toxicity of violence. How things move from what is spoken to what is applied. About organizing it, recording it, executing it. Both Daesh and the Nazis had a talent for setting up systems, having big plans and they took or were given the ability to execute them.

I've been trying to think of ways to describe Tuesday's other news, the election of Donald J. Trump to the U.S. presidency. The crudity and the real and implied violence that his campaign brought forth has made me turn to history for lessons, and to seek comfort.

Now that he is president-elect, how are decency, trust and moving forward to be clawed back in the world's most powerful country?

He won. It doesn't mean he's right. Remember this when and if the many threats Trump made are applied to Americans and American life. Because one thing was clear on Tuesday night — his opponents could hardly fathom such threats being carried out. There is shock, fear and confusion.

The racism and threatened expulsions of millions, the hatred and abuse of women, the disregard for the process of law (calling for the arrest of his opponent Hillary Clinton and continual trial by mob), his failed business practices (templates now for his economic and taxation policies), his threats to tear up the Paris Accord and NAFTA, his plans for the Supreme Court, his vice-president's homophobia and toxic evangelicalism — and Pence's expected-to-be unprecedented powers. Trump's strange ego. His party's hold on both the Senate and Congress. All this will shape our children's lives even if we don't live in America.

So what do you do if you want to change it? You come forward and participate; you don't back down from potential tyranny. You make alliances with others who are endangered. You help each other. You be everything they don't want you to be. Now is the time.

I don't know how the problem is going to take shape, whether it will be as hideous as Mosul or Munich, but we will find out.

Connect. Organize. Be kind. Have ethics. Continue. If nothing else, it will piss them off to no end.