The cycle of violence needs extreme love to break it.
- Sarah Macdonald
The December Murders
On December 7, 1982, fifteen outspoken journalists, university lecturers, lawyers, union leaders, community activists, and military service men from the capital of my native Suriname, a small country above Brazil, were picked up for questioning. Among these courageous beacons of hope and truth were my best friend's uncle, a popular radio host with Robin Williams-like wit and appeal, a relative of an in-law, a gregarious friend of a close family friend, a schoolmate's concerned father - common household names that passed most parents' lips when talking politics. Three days later, every single one of these men had been tortured and killed. I was thirteen years old at the time.
The murdered victims were suspected of organizing a counter-coup against sergeant major Desi Bouterse, who'd jumpstarted his dictatorship a few years prior by bombing the police headquarters in the capital. Bouterse was fed up with how long it was taking 5 year old, independent Suriname to fully wean off the financial aid provided by Holland, a colonizer that had over a period of three centuries graduated from ruthless slave driver, torturer, and serial killer to post-colonial, meddling parent. If rejecting Holland's patronizing, token gifts of restitution and growing up could be sped up by tough love, 7 pm curfews, threats, kidnappings, arson, “accidental” deaths, and increasing violence and terror, so be it. Bouterse was confident that he had the most balls and brains, even if they were still stuck in puberty, to do this and fight for our freedom and independence.
During these years of terror that were dolled up as our collective struggle for emancipation, I watched young soldiers who looked like they were playing with toy rifles patrol up and down our street in their rickety jeeps, heard about the bullets that were shot through the windows of my father's and his neighboring offices, and felt my mother's heart sink when she, the principal of a junior high school, was forced by a soldier armed with an automatic rifle to end all instruction for the day and send her students to the Onafhankelijksheid Plein, (Independence Square), to rally on behalf of Bouterse's cause.
Ironically, because of Bouterse's violent and twisted decolonization regimen and the abrupt stop of Dutch developmental aid, thousands of families fled to Holland in a mass exodus of nearly 250,000 people, about half of the population. The December massacre was the last blow for many, including my family. With just our clothes, my mother's favorite China, my dad's favorite architecture books, dozens of photoalbums, and a few prized possessions and furniture that my parents had either made, collected during their travels, or received from loved ones, we started our lives all over again in Miami, FL.
For the past thirty five years, Bouterse has continued to pull the strings, either from behind the scenes, or currently, from front and center stage as the elected President of Suriname. The many licenses for illegal activity that this official title has provided him include passing a law in 2012 that pardoned and disassembled all previously ignored indictments for the killings.
Needless to say, to this day, corruption, abuse of power, and injustice are still blatantly rubbed in the faces of Surinamese people all over the world and under his thumb, even though the violent killings and disappearances have long stopped. By now, hatred, rage, fear, and powerlessness have deeply metastasized, easily contaminating new blood that's initiated into the deranged reality of this sociopathic murderer, himself the mutant carrier of a disease that each one of his African, indigenous, and European ancestors were exposed to at one time or another.
They lived in times when thousands upon thousands of similarly or more deranged men, guilty of slave trafficking, exploitation, torture, and mass murder of millions of indigenous native people and Africans, were also never held accountable or charged for these heinous crimes. Clearly, darkness and injustice don't get buried nor decompose with dead corpses. Their seeds get passed along and reemerge in future generations.
Even though my family waded through huge material and non-material loss, lived under spoken and implied threats of terror, and struggled economically for years, even after moving to the US, we were able to flee from Bouterse's tyrannical manipulation when at its peak. Most importantly, we and many Surinamese people were spared from what I consider to be the most incapacitating and degrading damage that could be done to the human spirit.
We were not subjected to the bigotry, hatred, and violence that many of our ancestors endured generations ago as slaves in Suriname, one of the most notorious slave colonies in the world. We were not consistently and specifically targeted because of our race and the color of our skin (or ethnic background, sexual orientation, gender, religion, or any other group trait that has been despised and actively terrorized for centuries) as still occurs in many parts of the world.
Similarly, as much as Bouterse tried to justify and fuel his revolution by tapping anti-Dutch, anti-White, anti-oppression, anti-elitist, anti-intellectual, and anti-colonial sentiments, the Surinamese population had also become too gray, multiracial, complex, integrated, and layered to go for his black-white, good-bad antics. The fifteen murdered men, as well as Bouterse's small following, all had varying degrees of brown skin tones and had diverse racial, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds with complex interconnections. In spite of all the damage and heartache that's Bouterse's festering hatred caused thousands of people, there was a protective tapestry of communal wholeness and goodwill that couldn't be pierced by his hatred, and that was upheld by the support and refuge, as imperfect, controversial, and sad of a solution that was, offered by Holland.
I can't even begin to fathom the magnitude of accumulated devastation, heart-break, and broken-spiritness that must be raging within the hearts and souls of African American people living in South Carolina, in the deep south, and all over the US and world as a result of Dylann Roof's heinous massacre of nine Black beacons of light and hope, cold-bloodedly murdered in their most sacred place of worship with the full intention to desecrate their hard-won dignity, castrate their powerful, positive influence, and wipe out an entire race if he could.
Jon Stewart indeed kept it real when he acknowledged the widespread hatred and gaping black-white racial wounds that sit like pink elephants within our midst. We all know that African Americans in communities like Charleston have needed to put up with confederate flags, street names of Confederate generals, and not-so-subtle bumper stickers, reminding them of the good old days of slavery, that are plastered all around them like “racial wallpaper.” Only now, 150 years after the abolition of slavery, did Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina, agree that it was a good idea to take down the confederate flag that flies high over their state's capitol. And still, this “won't be easy”?
Why then be surprised by everyday police brutality, racial slurs, and institutionalized oppression aimed to psychologically lynch every single Black person still standing? Squash the potential of young people before it even has a chance to sprout? Wednesday's full-blown racist attack with hopes of starting a civil war, aka genocide of African Americans, emerged out of this thick pus that's been festering in plain sight for a long time, in rotten, open wounds for all to see. Jon Stewart is also right that calling this premeditated hate crime a “terrible tragedy” dismissed its gravity and maliciousness. A “terrible tragedy” is a hurricane or tsunami that randomly happened to wipe out a community and did uncontrollable damage that could not be prevented. This has happened far too often in predictable waves, and has been neglected far too much to be called a “terrible tragedy.” It is much more than that.
In today's world, it's nearly impossible not to have been exposed to hatred, abuse, and bigotry. Each of our experiences are different, but not so different that we can't join forces, even if it's just solidarity in spirit and consciousness, for starters. I have discovered over the years in my holistic practice that hatred operates in very predictable and unsophisticated ways if we break it down to the basics. Many Surinamese people used to defiantly mumble under their breath,“divide and conquer,” which was code for “beware, this is another one of Bouterse's divisive moves.” During times of scarcity, we were not only deprived from speaking our truths and robbed of our safety and happiness. We also lacked basic products and had to do without onions, potatoes, sugar, or whatever else on the scarcity list of the week. Nonetheless, many Surinamese people were still able to tap into their deep personal reservoirs of inner and outer wholeness that managed to hold our wedged-apart integrity, families, and communities together.
It is this glue, our soul-filled, inner wisdom, that has become the backbone of my holistic practice that currently serves abuse, war, trauma survivors from our nation's struggling inner cities, marginalized communities, and reservations as well as from well-to-do, but soul-impoverished families, suburbs, and institutions. The happiness and wholeness that they and my first- and second-generation immigrant clients from Mexico, various Asian countries, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East are capable of reclaiming, in spite of being fractured by severe political, mafia, and other kinds of atrocities, have convinced me that there are no “divide and conquer” hate tactics that can beat the healing power of love.
May we all find the spaciousness, resources, and guidance to tap into our deepest reservoirs of love, wholeness, and healing, permit ourselves to have all of our feelings without splitting them off, and find the courage to rebuild our neighborhoods, nation, and global community in ways that truly celebrate our uniqueness and shared humanity.