TW: description of war crimes and violence
Over the last few weeks, I’ve been reposting a lot about Palestine on Instgram. I feel close to it because it is much like how the Tamils suffer under Sinhalese rule. The second day when #SaveSheikhJarrah posts started to blow up, I started seeing much of the content being censored as “sensitive” which made me angry at Instagram’s bias but it also made me think a lot about privilege, both mine and those around me. Sort of thriver’s or survivor’s guilt.
When I was younger, my uncle had this daily ritual of logging on to dial-up internet and reading the latest happening in Sri Lanka on a website that I can’t remember the name of — but it’s the likes of on the ground videos we see today on Instagram/Twitter. These are unfiltered accounts of what’s really happening, not the BS you see on TV news.
I used to roll-up my office chair next to him and read the articles with him because war stories were interesting to me; because my parents always made their war experiences sound thrilling, masking all the real pain and trauma they felt and experienced.
The articles are usually about the number of attacks, death toll, areas affected, types of attack — shelling, bombing, air strikes etc. or any attempt at peace talks.
As a child, I always perceived it to be a two-side Sinhalese- Tamil war, with innocent people being killed; until this one day when I realised it was more than just “a war” — it was racism, ethnic cleansing and hate.
I was probably 10 or 11 and unlike the usual, it was a report on the cruelty of the Sri Lankan army on a Tamil family. The army had tied up the father and a 11-year old child and gang-raped the mum in front of them. Then killed them all, and pulled their intestines out. Psychotic behaviour really. Much like the stories that are being “censored” or “removed” about Israeli defence force’s brutality against Palestinians.
There were vivid photographs of the three corpses with their intestines out and close-ups of wounds showing signs of rape. It was probably the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen, probably till today. My uncle didn’t mean for me to read or see that content, it just happened to be the day’s news and I just happened to be there. He closed the window immediately and asked me to go play.
I was probably too young to understand rape, violence and war crimes. But I logged on later, went to re-read it and saved those pictures and I still have them in my hard drive in a folder titled massacre. I don’t know why I did that or why I still have it. I still remember every picture vividly even though I’ve not looked at it in years. I could’ve been that 11-year old if my parents never fled. It bugged me and it affected me deeply and shaped my opinion and view on the ongoing oppression and brutality against Tamils in my country.
I saw something that most of my Singaporean friends and classmates would never have seen because they don’t know a site with on-the-ground news on cruelty against Tamils existed; they didn’t need or know to care because they didn’t even know these things were happening because it wasn’t happening in Singapore. And, there was no social media. What a privilege to be unaware.
My uncle was able to close the tab for me then. But these children in Sri Lanka and in Palestine have no filters. They don’t have the luxury and privilege of a choice to not see their families tortured, brutalised, killed and their homes burnt, demolished, gone. They grow up with the trauma. And if it’s anything like what’s going on in Palestine, they live through it again as adults. It’s been a 73-year fight. What a privilege to be able to choose to NOT see “sensitive” content.
When Instagram labels content as “sensitive”, people skip through, very few of us click “view anyway”. And as much as I respect peoples’ triggers when I hear people say they can’t see these stories and videos because it is too sad, it is too horrifying, I cringe. What a privilege to have trigger warnings on everything we read.
In a twisted way, my parents were older when they lived through the war. Yet, my mum told me, when I was much older, about how she used to hide under the bed when she heard aeroplanes when she first arrived in Singapore — because she thought it was an airstrike. Imagine the children living in Gaza and Palestine. What a privilege to hear and see passenger planes flying and military planes training without having to think if you will live or die today.
And what bothers me most is the privilege I have and most of us have, to be able to read and repost these stories and forget about it, even for a second.
I’ve known about Israel-Palestine “conflict” for as long as I’ve lived. Just as much as I’ve known about Sinhalese-Tamil “conflict”. These aren’t conflicts. It’s genocide, ethnic cleansing, abuse, and every other new vocabulary Instagram has been teaching us. And it has been happening for YEARS.
It may not be in everyday news but these people have lived and continue to live under oppression and violence. News channels will stop covering stories once active violence with grenades, bombs and airstrikes “stop”. We forget after we scroll through, like and share. But these people will continue to live under oppression, in fear, without their loved ones while the rest of us have the privilege of forgetting it ever happened.
And months or years later when these same children, these same people seek refuge in our countries as asylum seekers and refugees, we forget their trauma, we forget their resilience. We treat them as third-class citizens, we continue to belittle them, we continue to deny them the opportunity to grow — because they are not as good with computer skills; they don’t speak English; they don’t have a degree. But how could they when they were busy fighting for their lives, when they have gone through extreme trauma of losing their families and homes that continues to terrorise their thoughts, when they live in a country where the system is designed to suppress their economic growth. We oppress them AGAIN. What a privilege to access education, basic amenities and mental health support.
The world isn’t fair. The world doesn’t give everyone equal footing on life. Some of us have it way better than others. The least we can do is be aware of our privilege and be aware of the privilege the people among us may not have.
Educate yourself about the oppression people go through that you don’t have to.
Use your privilege to support them in any little way — even if it as simple as smiling at them and being kind or as big as protesting or demanding more from your governments. What a privilege to have a choice on how to help