The Opposite of Love
In memory of Brian Haw
The worst sin toward our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them: that's the essence of inhumanity"— George Bernard Shaw
Love & hate
The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
Hate, in fact, is a form of love, since you cannot hate what you have not previously loved, or which has not hurt or wounded or threatened that which you love. Hate is love bent out of shape. Hate is love which is itself wounded. Hate is love broken or betrayed, tortured or defiled, raped or murdered, molested or mutilated. Hate is love when confronted by injustice, or by violence, or by cruelty or by hate. Hate breeds hate, just as love breeds love. Hate is love grown bitter. It is love roused to anger. It is love forced to witness the destruction of innocence. It is love in shackles. It is love enslaved. It is love deprived of hope or freedom or a say over its future. It is love humiliated, made to crawl, love whose spirit is broken. It is love’s ache at the loss of a loved one. It is love’s rebellion at the corrosion of liberty. It is love’s stand against the darkness of repression.
Hate is love’s wound.
I remember being at a demonstration a few years back. It was a Kurdish demonstration against the Turkish government, then engaged in the wholesale repression of Kurdish culture and Kurdish identity.
There were about 20 or 30 people there. It was outside a government department in Whitehall as the British government were helping the Turkish government at the time by means of financial loans. Most of the people were members of the Kurdish Diaspora, people who had fled the border areas in South Eastern Turkey where the fight for Kurdish independence was taking place. This was back in the 90s.
There was some drumming going on, and some of them were dancing. They had their arms linked in a line and were doing this elaborate stepped dance involving handkerchiefs being waved in the air. I remember it very clearly: the kicking and the dancing and the trills and whoops of excitement. There were a few cars lined up by the side of the road including an old VW van, onto which one of the demonstrators was attaching some posters with information about their cause.
I was there with my friend Paul, who knew some of these people personally. He introduced me to the man who was decorating the VW van. The man smiled and said hello, and shook my hand formally. He had gentle, kind eyes.
Paul said, “show my friend the pictures.”
And the gentle-eyed Kurd opened a folder, and showed me the first picture. He said, “these are photographs taken by Turkish soldiers as trophies. They sell for a lot of money in Istanbul.”
It was an enlarged colour photocopy of an ordinary snapshot. It showed a Turkish soldier in a snowy, mountainous landscape wearing a blue beret. He was kneeling down on one knee, grinning triumphantly, holding up a pair of objects in his hands. It was hard to make out what they were at first. They were about the size of footballs, and, indeed, that’s what I took them to be. But then my eyes focused on the detail, and I saw what they really were. They were severed heads.
The Turkish soldier was holding them up by the hair as trophies. The snow was stained with patches of blood, as blood dripped down from the ripped tendons of the neck, as blood stained the soldier‘s hands. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. The eyes in the two heads were rolled backwards into the skulls. Open-mouthed, they seemed to be screaming some unimaginable blasphemy to the sky. I immediately began to cry. The picture was like a jolt of extreme violence, like something from a nightmare. Ordinary Londoners passed by in motorcars, blissfully unaware.
Paul was looking at me pointedly, while the quiet-eyed Kurd spoke to me in a gentle even voice.
“Yes,” he said, “I have seen 23 of my family killed. My brother was killed. The Turks came to the village and called everyone out of doors. They took ten of them and shot them in the head while the others watched. The people were made to clap. If they didn't clap, they too were shot. My brother was 14 years old.”
There were several more of these photographs, of soldiers holding up severed heads, sometimes one head, sometimes two. Sometimes a number of soldiers would be standing in front of the headless corpse while one of the soldiers held up the head.
Then my Kurdish friend showed me another photograph. This, too, was like a snapshot. It was even arranged like one. It showed a family ranged around in someone‘s living room, on their knees, posed, looking at the camera. There are family trinkets displayed on shelves, and pictures and wall-hangings on the walls. Before them is a dead body. The body is naked, and has long white gashes along the legs. You can see the bone. The family consists of a woman and several children. The woman’s eyes are wild, though her face is held in a taught mask. The children just look towards the camera, eyes as deep and unfathomable as the eternal night.
My friend said, “this is the dead-man’s family. They are being made to pose by the corpse. Those wounds on his legs are where he has been tortured.”
I was utterly speechless. There weren't any words. In the whole universe there wasn’t a single word that meant anything anymore.
I’ve never forgotten that moment. I remember going into a shop soon after to go to the toilet. There were all the products lined up in their various displays, looking shiny and new. But I couldn’t help seeing the blood that seemed to flow from the photographs underlying this conspicuous display of opulence all around me. I couldn’t help thinking of the murder of innocence.
So, now, imagine those children made to sit before the corpse of their beloved father while an enemy soldier takes a photograph. Their faces betray nothing of their feelings. But what will be seething in their hearts? What rage, what anger, will have been born there that day? What hatred? What acts of revenge? What future violence?
Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds hate, but hate is born from love.
Now imagine that on a world scale: in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Yemen, in Syria, in Somalia, in Libya, in Bahrain. All over the world. Everywhere there is a war.
Thousands of corpses. Tens of thousands. Unimaginable numbers. Who knows how many corpses or how many children there are, just like these children, being tortured by the horrors of war? Who knows the scars on the heart of the world or how much blood has been accumulated there? How much sorrow, how much anger, how much violence, how much pain? How much love seeking revenge?
And you wonder why these photographs are not seen by everyone, all of these mutilated corpses in forgotten corners of the world: why they are not allowed on our TV screens. They should be on the front page of every newspaper: the consequences of war. We should see the bodies ripped apart, the innards spilling out of the wounds like the human sweetmeats they are. We should see the Mothers screaming for their dead children. We should see the fear in a Father’s eyes, the fear for their children, whom they cannot protect. We should see the children’s naked fear. We should see the broken bodies in the hospitals, the bloodstained sheets, the body parts. We should see the broken homes and the broken lives. We should be made to feel their pain. We should all be made to feel the consequence of our own indifference.
Because the opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.
“If we really saw war, what war does to young minds and bodies, it would be impossible to embrace the myth of war. If we had to stand over the mangled corpses of schoolchildren killed in Afghanistan and listen to the wails of their parents, we would not be able to repeat clichés we use to justify war. This is why war is carefully sanitized. This is why we are given war's perverse and dark thrill but are spared from seeing war's consequences. The mythic visions of war keep it heroic and entertaining…
The wounded, the crippled, and the dead are, in this great charade, swiftly carted offstage. They are war's refuse. We do not see them. We do not hear them. They are doomed, like wandering spirits, to float around the edges of our consciousness, ignored, even reviled. The message they tell is too painful for us to hear. We prefer to celebrate ourselves and our nation by imbibing the myths of glory, honor, patriotism, and heroism, words that in combat become empty and meaningless.”
― Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class