“It’s a disgrace,” Gertruida says as she folds the newspaper, “an absolute tragedy. Imagine destroying those old artifacts? What on earth will that tell the world about Isis?”
“Not much more than we already know, Gertruida.” The bushy brows knit together as Servaas sits down with a sigh. “I’m not opposed to Islam, but this makes them really look bad. Would God really command the beheading of people and the destruction of statues? No, I don’t think so – not in the way I think of a loving God, at least.”
“You can’t blame Islam, Servaas. It’s not the religion – it’s the people who interpret the Quran in a certain way.”
“Oh, and now you’re an expert?” The remark sounds more aggressive than he intended, so Servaas hastens to add: “No offence, Gertruida, but you know we don’t know much about the Quran as such. Few Christians read it, after all.”
“I’ll have you know that the Quran does have a lot to say about how believers should conduct themselves. It says: ‘They enjoin good conduct and forbid wrongdoing, and they hasten to do good works. These are among the righteous.’ And it says something about religious tolerance, too. ‘Certainly, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Sabians, and the Christians, whoever acknowledges God and the Last Day and does good, will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.’. The problem isn’t the Quran or Islam – it’s far more complex than that. It’s about the Sunni and Shia groups that simply won’t let the sun shine on each other.”
Servaas is silent for a while, impressed by Gertruida’s knowledge. “But why? Why can’t they live together?”
“It goes back to the death of the Prophet, Servaas, in the year 632 AD. a Caliph or successor was chosen – a man named Abu Bakr. Some thought he was the wrong choice and under the leadership of Ali, the Shia movement started. Well, Abu Bakr was assassinated and eventually Ali became the fourth caliph in 656. Again there was revolt over this choice, and the Sunni’s gathered against him. Ali was assassinated in 661 – and since then the fighting never really stopped.
“Today the Sunnis claim – as part of their perceived rightful heritage – portions of Iraq and Syria as land that belongs to them. The fact that there’s a lot of oil underground, is – according to them – of no consequence. But you and I know: logic whispers, money shouts. And sometimes, it shouts louder than religion, too.”
“So…you’re telling me they simply can’t let go of the past? And have been killing each other for 1500 years for that and the wealth under the ground?” He gets a nod from Gertruida. “Then, Gertruida, we’re in big trouble.”
“How so, Servaas?”
“Look at us, Gertruida. Look at what’s happening in the country. Poor old Jan van Riebeeck gets blamed for all the problems in the country – much like this chap…what did you call him?…Abu Bakr. And now the fight is on for land reform, just like in Zimbabwe. Or Iraq and Syria, if you like. Here, they change names of towns and streets to reflect only a certain heritage, to emphasise the history of just one portion of society – while over there they destroy statues that are ‘foreign idols’. What’s the difference? It’s the same thing.”
“You’re right, of course. But it’s not ‘them’, or ‘they’…it is the leaders of the organisations that keep on festering hate and intolerance. Do you think the average man in the street wants xenophobia or racism or violence and abuse…in any form? Of course not. Mister Average wants a job, a loving wife and obedient kids. Two out of three isn’t bad. Hell, one out of three will do. But then the so-called leaders; the ones people perceive to be on their side; start considering other issues – like money and status and more wives and grand homes. The foot soldiers get lost in the less important matters of the day while Mister Big thinks out clever things to say to impress voters”
“But why do people bother listening to such leaders, Gertruida? That John fellow didn’t behead people on his own accord – he belongs to a movement and that movement has a leader. Once he was an innocent-looking schoolboy, now he’s turned into a monster. Why did he allow himself to be turned into a despicable being? Surely even the superficial grasp of religion teaches us that all life is sacred, coming from God?”
“Ignorance, Servaas, is the pillow on which the uninformed head rests. Listen to what the Prophet said: ‘O you who acknowledge, one people should not deride another, for it may be that they are better than them; nor should some women deride others, for it may be that they are better than them; and do not insult each other or ridicule each other with nicknames.’ He warns against false leaders: ‘And if you obey most of those in the earth, they will lead you astray from Allah’s way; they follow but conjecture and they do but guess.’ And the Prophet writes: ‘Surely the worst of beasts in God’s sight are those that are deaf and dumb and do not reason.’.
“But, my friend, people have forgotten how to think. They follow blindly and do not listen to all sides of the argument before making up their own minds. They’ve become, just like the Quran says, deaf and blind.”
“And destroying statues help to promote the goals of a few leaders?”
“They’re killing the past, Servaas, in an effort to establish a new future. What they don’t realise is that they’re keeping the wrong past alive by alienating the rest of humanity. Just like the continuous accentuation of the wrongs in any history will keep on dividing people, so the beauty of coexistence will make people want to forget about the atrocities of Huns and the Nazis and all the horrors of the past – every nation’s history is riddled with wrongs, after all. And I don’t mean forgetting like in totally wiping out the memory – we have to learn from history, after all. What I really mean is that we must take note – and not make it the basis of an ongoing, neverending struggle.”
Servaas sighs and sinks back in his chair. “Sometimes – just sometimes – I wish that all the energy going into evil could go into something positive. What a world it’d be! But then I realise how many people rely on the past to justify their present, and then I know: people will use scriptures to promote the most weird ideas. From fighting wars to beheading people – if you want to justify evil, you can quote verses completely out of context – and some fools will believe you. Evil, sadly, is part of everybody. If you feed it, it will grow.”
They fall silent after that – there really isn’t much more to say. Mankind has been created with both evil and good lurking inside every heart – and for some reason, evil will always – like love sometimes – find a way.
That’s why the Wrong Past will continue to spawn Evil next to the hearth of Greed, while love and friendship will huddle outside, shivering in the cold reality of a world where care is just another four-letter word.