By Rupen Das
On March 2nd 2012 The Guardian Newspaper reported that two French journalists who had been wounded in Homs, Syria had been safely evacuated to Beirut. The article stated in detail their activities in the line of fire and the harrowing escape, but tucked away towards the end of the article was a one-line statement that said that 13 Syrians (activists) had been killed in the rescue attempt. None of them were named.
Two weeks ago as the US Ambassador in Libya and three other American colleagues were killed in tragic circumstances, the media was filled with praise and eulogies for Ambassador Stevens, much of it well deserved for a man who loved the Arab world. Lost in the entire flurry was a statement by the Libyan Government that ten Libyan security personnel were either killed or injured in the first part of the attack while defending the consulate. Also mentioned in passing was the fact that it was Libyans, who recovered the Ambassador from the charred ruins of the building and carried him to a hospital hoping to save his life. None of them were named.
A few days ago, eight Afghan women were mistakenly killed by an airstrike. The major international media barely covered the story, and those who did, focused on President Karzai’s anger. The Coalition forces after having been in the country for 11 years, claimed that they did not know that local women went to the forest in the mornings to collect firewood in order to cook breakfast. None of the women were identified or named.
I have found myself deeply troubled by the fact that we value the lives of Syrians, Afghans and Libyans so cheaply, and those who sacrifice their lives to save foreigners in their midst are ignored and dismissed so crassly. They remain an anonymous byline to the heroic exploits of others. By their radical acts of generosity and compassion, some are in their own ways trying to counter what they feel is wrong with their society. But no one is listening – definitely not the international or Arab media, and neither are we.
Why is it that in our desperate need for heroes that we are unable to acknowledge the contribution of others? In our own huge need for affirmation to believe that we are doing the right thing in a broken world, we seem to ignore the efforts that others are making. At a time when the western media paints the Islamic world with the broad brushstrokes of rage (http://tinyurl.com/dyktzos), we seem to have bought into their caricature of Arabs and Islam. Why is it that we are unable to acknowledge that there are Muslims who care about human life in the midst of the violence and confusion that is engulfing their own lives?
A century ago, at the height of another empire, the British author and poet Rudyard Kipling, who has sometimes been referred to as the “interpreter of how empire was experienced”, wrote about an Indian water bearer in the British army who continually faced physical and racial verbal abuse but always responded without a word to the urgent demands for water from the troops in the sweltering Indian heat, often at the middle of a battle. One day his British officer was severely wounded, and the water bearer carried him to safety and saved his life. In a tragic turn of events, the water bearer at that very moment was shot and killed. Kipling ends his narrative poem with, “Though I have belted you and flayed you, by the livin’ [God] that made you, you’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din!”
Whether this was fiction or reality, Kipling at least acknowledged that this humble water bearer had a name – the uneducated local, the uncivilized native, the lowly national is now honored and immortalized in his poetry.
God speaking to His people says, “I have called you by name; you are mine” (Isa. 43:1 NIV). Later He adds, “I have written your name in the palm of my hands” (Isa. 49:16 NLV). Jesus speaking to His followers says, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20 NIV). His relationship with us is not defined by “Hey you humans” or “Yo! Created being”. Rather His use of our names is an acknowledgement of our uniqueness and incredible value in His eyes. When God called people, he used their names – Abram, Abraham, Samuel, Paul, Joseph son of David, Peter, Mary, Martha, and Zacchaeus.
As a believer in and a follower of Christ, is there an alternative perspective to the one that is fed to us by the media? Is there another way of relating to those who are different than me – who, because of their difference, seem threatening? The Libyans, Syrians and Afghans have names. Their names have stories that go with them. Some are heroic; others seem mundane, as they are caring mothers and hard working fathers; others are children confused and terrified by the violence around them; most are concerned about work, family and their dreams. I wonder how radical it would be if we could acknowledge them by name. If by doing so we affirm their individuality and treat them as human beings, we would have taken the first step in demonstrating that there is a God who loves them and sees them as unique and of incredible value.
 In due acknowledgement to songwriter and balladeer Jim Croce and his song I’ve got a name. (I’m now betraying my age)
 The three Americans killed, Sean Smith, Gen Doherty and Tyrone S. Woods, though named by a few media, were barely mentioned in passing.