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Memories of sad September days

  • Published at 05:30 pm September 12th, 2018
We pray for all those who perished
We pray for all those who perished Photo: REUTERS

We grieve for the dead on these days of autumn

In September, when the trees begin to shed their leaves at the advent of autumn, we remember some of the darkest episodes in modern history. And history comes replete with tragedy. 

There is that darkness about it, that bizarre undertone which envelopes it in its many dimensions and reminds us of the ugliness that some people have always descended to, in their efforts to stymie the voices of other people. 

You tend to feel that Hobbes was right, the lives of men are nasty, brutish, short. No matter how much you idealize men and consider humanity to be a sublime instance of creation, there is something about human behaviour, indeed about human nature, which leaves you questioning the very principle on which life was shaped -- only to be destroyed in bits and pieces, through the sheer malignity of those uncomfortable with the worldview of others. 

Intolerance, then, has, through the rough passages of time, laid humanity low, at the many bends of the river.

Intolerance resting on hate was what destroyed close to 3,000 lives on September 11, 2001 in New York. The fall of the twin towers, the attacks on the Pentagon, and the near attack somewhere in or near Philadelphia was darkly, horrifically symbolic of all that was -- and is -- bad about life. 

Medievalism is not dead. Barbarity has always lurked in the bushes. On that dreadful morning a decade ago, it was villainy spawned by medieval barbarism that went to work. You did not expect it in this day and age. 

After the horrors of the Second World War, after the trauma of Vietnam, after the genocides in Bangladesh and Cambodia, one would have thought that something close to civiliation had come into life the world over. 

And yet there ought to have been little reason for complacency. There was Lockerbie. And al-Qaeda had caused destruction to life and property in Africa. It had outsourced the job of attacking the twin towers to a devoted follower in the early 1990s. 

The towers stayed, did not fall. And remember that other warning of impending trouble, the Taliban. These wild men went looking for beards and veils to clamp people with. And they went forth with pickaxes and shovels to destroy the history encapsulated in the statues at Bamiyan. 

So these premonitions of evil were all around. Not many cared to notice. And thus death came to those bright men and women who had little way of knowing on that gleaming morning that life promised them no new dawn. 

With airliners moulded into fiery missiles, into inconceivable and yet terrible vehicles of murder, these good people rushing through life were not prepared to ward off the sinister claws of death. 

They became dust, even as the penetrating aircraft burned up and left charred remains of intense activity that which seconds earlier had been instances of human engineering ingenuity. 

And so we grieve for the dead on these days of autumn. It is their souls we recall today in much the same way that we recall those who perished on another September 11 -- this one in 1973 -- as bloodthirsty soldiers went after the elected government of Salvador Allende in Chile. 

The world’s first elected Marxist president had promised change of a substantive sort when he took the oath to serve his people three years earlier. It was not he, intoned Allende, who was stepping into the La Moneda presidential palace in Santiago, but the nation of Chile that was marching its corridors with him. For the first time in endless decades, Chileans could reclaim their country. Allende was their own. And they were truly the source of his power.

It was this alliance of president and people that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger were determined to destroy through means foul and ugly. The American president, destined to go down in the scandal of Watergate, hissed that the Chilean economy should be made to scream. 

And Kissinger, today unable to fly freely into the world’s capitals because of threats of arrest warranted by conscientious people everywhere, oversaw the Central Intelligence Agency create the perfect ground for disorder to take over in Allende’s land. 

Lavish funds were expended to promote right-wing protests on the streets of Santiago; transport workers were made happy with plentiful supplies of money to have them bring the country to a standstill, which they did. 

Here, then, was grand conspiracy at work. All that President Allende had achieved in the preceding three years -- land reforms that gave hope to the poor, housing that meant to do away with slums, jobs that capitalism could not take away, nationalization that restored Chile to its citizens -- came under threat. 

On the morning of September 11, 1973, all hell broke loose all across Chile. Soldiers fanned out of the cantonments with tanks and armoured vehicles; and the air force, in a wretched display of shameful power, bombed La Moneda. A brave Salvador Allende refused to surrender, chose death before the infamy of life under a regime of scoundrels. 

Chile passed into the dark ages. 10,000 of its citizens fled abroad. 45,000 were detained and subjected to unspeakable indignity. Bloody treason reigned supreme.

Today, under a different sky, we pray for the dead in America, for those who died and suffered in Chile. 

Syed Badrul Ahsan is a journalist.