Talk isn’t as cheap as we once believed

by Sharon Leach

Sunday, October 21, 2012    

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Sometimes it's hard not to become jaded in these modern times. It seems nothing is real, that true emotions no longer exist, and the technology often helps to advance that notion. Take, for example, something like Facebook with its artificial construct of friendship. Never have there been so many people with so many "friends" - why does one need 3,000 friends, I wonder - and yet, this generation has got to be some of the loneliest, emptiest, most vapid people to ever exist. And I'm including the cavemen here. Seriously, how many of these so-called friends can be called upon for succour in the time of trouble? Back in the day, we had another name for most of these people: acquaintances. Let's not get hung up on

that, though Facebook friends, I suppose, allow us to feel as though we're successful, important people making strides

in our lives. Even when we're not.

But I digress.

Nowadays, though, something happens and, while not completely restoring my faith in humanity, causes me to feel hopeful about the future of the species.

Recently there was a big hue and cry about ugly, shameful incidents of violence in our country: the inevitable fist-shaking marches, irate letters to newspaper editors, and of course a rehashing, on call-in programmes, of the perennial pro-death sentence (even pro-castration) arguments for dealing with heinous crimes. The subsequent hand-wringing is a pain in the neck - let's face it, we have always had a history of violence. The Jamaica Observer has been chronicling, for many Sundays now, in two separate series, the hideous crimes we've always been capable of committing and they run the gamut. There have always been machete and gun crimes. Incest was the ugly little secret nobody liked to speak about. The sexual abuse, especially of innocent schoolchildren, isn't a new and strange phenomenon. I remember the feeling of fear I experienced as a little girl in the early 1970s, while in my father's car on the way to school one morning, and hearing the seven o'clock news that told of the murder of Leo Henry. It was sensational because of who he was - a prominent Kingston furniture manufacturer - and it was the first time I became conscious about something called murder, which is probably why I remember it so vividly today. But I realise it's the same feeling I get, all these years later, when I hear news about the random murder of any of the Jamaicans who lose the battle with life in this country every day. I also remember the sensation of utter revulsion, among other things, I experienced, as a sixth-former in 1983, at news of the rape and murder of Immaculate High second-former Diane Smith. Same revulsion I felt at the recent rape of four women and an eight-year-old girl in Montego Bay.

Senseless crimes have long been occurring on this piece of rock.

What's different about the current state of affairs is, I guess, a heightened consciousness on the part of the public about the importance of speaking out on these things. Which is perhaps why it seems as though these types of crimes are on the increase. I don't believe that the statistics will necessarily bear out the popular opinion of, say, jungle justice being on the increase. I believe that we simply have a lot of news outlets, with their 24-hour instant alerts for our mobile devices, at our disposal now so everybody can become aware of these occurrences as soon as they happen. Everything is blogged and tweeted about and posted on Facebook these days.

Still, for good or bad, the talk is raising awareness. No longer can our need for comforting small-island chimeras about living in Paradise extend only to non-threatening ablutions and resigned shoulder shrugs. It's at least facilitating the crushing and (hopefully) the eventual de-stigmatising of certain crimes. Like the abuse - sexual and otherwise - of children. Listen, like any well-thinking person, violence against children is something I especially abhor. And although I'm sure CISOCA would never say that everything is all hunky-dory in terms of the reporting of child abuse, it would be hard-pressed however to deny that as a society we're not as in denial about what happens to so many of our children under the veil of darkness, and that we are much more willing than we were before to report suspected child abuse. The days of a rural community whispering about a 14-year-old girl they know to be pregnant with her father's child, for example, are today largely in our rear-view mirror. This, of course, is still not enough. Not by a long stretch. But we must crawl before we take off on a canter, right?

Besides, to paraphrase the old saying: all that's needed for evil to prevail is that good men say and do nothing. Part of breaking the back of crime must entail, among other things, exposing it for what it really is. Which is why, although things seem grim today, especially as it pertains to crime against children, I absolutely believe it won't always be like this.

(This from somebody

who can on no day of the week be considered a dewy-eyed optimist.)

All this brings to mind another abused child. Fourteen-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousufzai, who recently made international headlines when she was shot in the head by the Taliban in an organised attack for, according to them, "promoting secularism". Their attack on her, they claim, was justified because, among other things, she had the temerity to advocate for education for girls and publicly praise US President Barack Obama. Malala, this so-called "spy of the West", was rushed to Britain last week where, thank God, she successfully underwent surgery to remove the bullet lodged near her spinal cord. Some are calling her the Rosa Parks of Pakistan, that this incident could very well be the tipping point against the Taliban since it has united the country in outrage.

Here's the thing: it may or may not be. The Taliban, too, has had a long history of violence that may not change in our lifetime. But it must change one day. Our response, meanwhile, is that we never stop calling out these bullies, these abusers who prey on the vulnerable. The Taliban, by attempting to silence Malala (Thanks, Taliban, for being so terrifyingly transparent, by the way), understands something that many of us have yet to: real change can only begin when we refuse to be muzzled.





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