A few days ago I saw a video posted on my facebook feed of horrific taunting and beating of a child in the street by a group of aggressive adults, which the by-line told me was an example of abuse of Uighurs. The child is surrounded. Visibly at the furthest edge of fear. He isn’t allowed to escape as he cowers on the floor next to a motorbike. He is kicked. No-one helps.
The boy was terrified and the video disturbed me deeply. For the first time, I felt that it was too horrible to share.
This instinct came firstly, I confess, from believing that not everyone on my friends list who would want to see it, for whom it might be too upsetting. The auto-play function on facebook would deny them the opportunity to protect themselves should they need do. Then there was the desire to protect the child from the voyeurism of us watching what happened to him.
I soon realised the deeper reason why I felt re-posting the video was not appropriate, and that was because the emotions it sparked were so raw it prevented any rational understanding of the situation, it demanded generalisation, activism boiled down to its simplified, understandable narrative. I confess, I did not want to replicate the ‘Muslims as victims’ narrative, and I could not see any other viable reaction to what I saw.
These feeling, along with my inability to verify the details given about the video, stayed my ‘click’. But that decision has been haunting me ever since.
Perhaps wrongly, my response to these moments is to try to dig deep, and to look for the more complicated picture. To respond to this individual child’s pain with a better understanding of the situation and thereby a more effective way to approach a ‘solution’ (if ever there is one) to what I saw. I still ask the question – are the nuances that we miss the reason why progress towards a better world are so slow?
And we do miss the nuance. There are other reports that indicate that the presentation of the situation with the Uighurs might be less about religion than separatism and political power. No surprises there. Presentation of this act of violence as an instance of religious persecution may in fact mask the real issues that need to be addressed to stop this carrying on.
This is not my area of expertise. I don’t know the full story about any of this and of course there is nothing I can do for that child. Of course, my decision to intellectualise my discomfort, and to link to the video here can be read as an attempt to assuage my guilt by ‘doing something’.
I still feel powerless (“Never have we been so free. Never have we felt so powerless.”) but the least of it is the reminder to keep searching for the nuance, even when you feel like doing anything but that.