Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Danger of Silence

There is a very famous quote on the Holocaust. The quote's essence is this. If you stay silent, you allow atrocities to occur. That’s why genocides happen.

From Auschwitz to Pol Pot to Rwanda. There is a danger of silence. Sometimes silence is not golden, it is bloody. And when the annihilated die in silence, their remains become lost. They died for nothing. In nihil events of history, the dead are not merely dead. They are erased. This is the danger of silence.

Violence comes in many forms. The concentration camp in modernity does not necessarily have a ten foot fence ringed with barbed wires, landmines and snarling German Shepherds. A simple Foucaldian reading reveals the social arrangements of modern society. A state of surveillance. Watchful eyes, alert ears, whistling tongues. Violence has many layers. There are many ways to Wound, to hurt. To instil obedience.

There is a poet, a Russian poet. Anna Akhmatova. To silence her poetry, the Stalinist regime imprisoned her son and killed those around her.

I’ve things to do today:
I must crush memory down,
I must turn my heart to stone,
I must try living, again.

Violence has many forms. for almost 25 years, she was not allowed to write poetry. But she wrote them still. In her head she wrote. She spoke and her confidant committed each line to memory. So that her poetry could live through the silence.

I learned to know how faces fall apart,
how fear, beneath the eye-lids, seeks,
how strict the cutting blade, the art that suffering etches in the cheeks.
How the black, the ash-blond hair, in an instant turned to silver,
learned how submissive lips fared,
learned terror’s dry racking laughter.
Not only for myself I pray,
but for all who stood there, all,
in bitter cold, or burning July day,
beneath that red, blind prison wall.


There is a danger of silence. With silence there can be no knowledge. There can be no awakening. I look at you in silence. you stare at me wordless. And suspicion gnaws in our brains. What are you thinking? What are you saying in your head? you are an Other. I cannot trust you. And the society of mutes look at each other in silence. Only the speakers are blaring. To speak is danger. There is a danger of discourse. Political discourse.

In Auschwitz, even among the condemned, they looked down on one class of prisoners. They called these prisoners the Muselmann. These were the abject of the abject. They have lost humanity. They have forgotten how to be human. They have been totally desubjectified. The Muselmann could be made to do anything. If the guard told them to eat their faeces, they did it. If they told them to abuse themselves they did it. In silence. When told to go into the gas chambers, they went without a voice.

His senses are dulled and he becomes completely indifferent to everything around him. He can no longer speak of anything ... they spoke only about their memories and food -- how many pieces of potato there were in the soup yesterday, how many mouthfuls of meat ... they dreamt of rummaging through the kitchen trash to find pieces of bread or coffee grind ...

What's worse than a Muselmann?
Does he even have the right to live?
Isn't he there to be stepped on, struck and beaten?
He wanders through the camp like a stray dog.
Everyone chases him away but the crematorium is his deliverance.
The camp infirmary does away with him!
(Bronislaw Grocinski)


There is a danger of silence. When we are shown glitter shadowed by menace. It is easy for us to just focus on the glitter. And we think the menace recedes. But it doesn't. It stays in your head. Despite the glitter. Because you are human.

There is a danger of silence.

Despite what the Minister says.

About the danger of discourse.

Quote of the Day --

"Remembering them always, everywhere,
unforgotten in each new terror’s care,
and if they shut my tormented lips,
shut my mouth where a hundred million people cry,
let them remember me, as well, today,
on the eve of my remembrance day.

And if ever in this my native country
they think to erect a statue to me,
I agree to that ceremonial honour,
but only on one condition – not there
beside the sea-shore, where I was born:
my last ties with it so long outworn,
nor in the Imperial Garden, by that dead tree
where an inconsolable shade looks for me,
but here, where I stood three hundred hours,
where no one ever opened the doors,
lest I forget in death’s blessed oblivion
the Black Maria’s screaming hum,
forget the terrible clang, the gates that hail
like a wounded beast, the old woman’s wail.

And from my eyelids, bronze, unmoving,
may snowflakes fall like tears, melting,
and the prison pigeons coo far from me,
and on the Neva, ships sail silently"

-- Anna Akhmatova, Requiem

6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

1986 Nobel Peace Prize winner (and Holocaust survivor) Eliezer Wiesel:
Indifference is not the beginning of the process, it is the end. If I am indifferent to you I will be indifferent to myself. Anger may be an inspiration. At the moment when you are angry you can organize a movement. If you are indifferent, however, it is finished.

In Singapore we know it as Apathy.

8:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree. When I was doing a temp job in a trade union in my younger days during varsity holidays, I came across a trade unionist who asked me about the student union in NTU, he had been a unionist during the days before the birth of NTUC and was even invited by the then USSR to visit Moscow. He was saddened to learn when I told what what modern student unions were not what they were in his days and most students were totally apolitical and apathetic. We preferred to focussing on getting a degree (and maybe a spouse) and not caring what happens outside of that narrow confines of our world. There is a huge chunk of depoliticised citizenry in Singapore due to the deliberate control of political activity by the ruling regime but we also were partly responsible for allowing the regime to muzzle us so that we could get on with our lives being souless and materialistic and enjoying our plasma tvs watching "The Amazing Race".

1:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The danger of silence far outwiegns that of the danger of discourse.

T.T.

2:44 AM  
Anonymous parkaboy said...

Silence,
Something 'bout silence makes me sick,
Coz silence can be violent,
Sorta like a slit wrist...

And mad boy grips the microphone
With a fistful of steel
Coz I know the power of a question.

11:58 AM  
Anonymous dj pbk said...

how the fuck do we take the power back?

9:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like this article
i like each and every sentence because i know what's the danger of silence.

11:47 PM  

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