In my ongoing, often futile, attempt to avoid Trump and Brexit, I miss important news. Last week I discovered that I'd missed news that the Iraqi human rights activist, the incredibly brave Nadia Murad, had been awarded the Nobel peace prize for her efforts to end the use of rape as a weapon of war. Only, I didn't miss this hugely significant news item: it was barely reported anywhere on mainstream media. I was alerted to it a few days ago via a friend on Facebook. Since then, I have conducted a search and found that the Guardian, Independent and the National did
write about this extraordinary woman and her and other women's harrowing experience at the hands of Islamic State. But I missed them.
Nadia Murad was a sabaya – a sex slave. She was kidnapped with other Yazidi women in 2014, when their home village of Kocho was attacked by Isis. Captured alongside her sisters, she lost six brothers and her mother. 'Rape has been used throughout history as a weapon of war,' she says, 'I never thought I would have something in common with women in Rwanda – before all this, I didn't know that a country called Rwanda existed – and now I am linked to them in the worst possible way, as a victim of a war crime that is so hard to talk about that no-one in the world was prosecuted for committing it until just 16 years before Isis came to Sinjar.'
The details of Nadia's experience as a sabaya, before she eventually escaped her captor, is so harrowing, that I couldn't read her book 'Last Girl: My Story of Captivity and My Fight Against the Islamic State.' Then it struck me: moral cowardice such as mine contributes to the lack of news coverage. Nadia was awarded the 2018 Nobel peace prize with Congalese gynaecologist Denis Mukwege, who has cared for tens of thousands of women who suffered sexual assault in Democratic Republic of Congo. These two heroes are the best of humanity – a humanity we hear less and less of in these troubled times. But to celebrate them, we need to face up to the horror they have battled to bring to our attention. To think it was even mooted that Kim Jong-un and Trump were among the favourites to win, is a travesty.
I'd like to pay tribute to another remarkable young woman – much closer to home – my niece, Danielle. She isn't my niece strictly speaking, but the daughter of my cousin. But the Reids are a close-knit family, so I'm Danielle's Auntie Eileen, and an immensely proud auntie at that. Earlier this summer, on 30 July, Danielle and her husband John lost a baby. It wasn't the first time, but this time, she was at home and the experience was both heart-breaking and traumatic. At the time the wider family circled around, gleaning as much information as possible, but saying little, because in truth, it is difficult to find consoling words at such a loss. There has long been a taboo of miscarriage and baby loss, yet it affects so many families. There is still too much silence and not always enough support for grieving parents who need it.
In my niece's case, I muttered quietly to family in the usual euphemisms, not quite sure what to say to her directly. But brave Danielle sorted it. She spoke up clearly about her and her husband's loss. Their baby boy was called Jack. When discharged from hospital, not only was she sent home with the usual leaflets and medication, but also a beautiful memory box provided by a charity. Inside were lovely hand-knitted items and keepsakes along with their little boy's hand and footprints, candles, charms, photographs of them as a family of three, cards and poems filled with comforting words. These were precious gifts for the bereaved family.
With characteristic determination, Danielle intended to turn a negative silence into a positive, opening up about this painful experience. It was her birthday last week and she launched a fundraiser for 'SiMBA, Simpson's memory box appeal,' the charity that gave her and John precious comfort and the chance to grieve properly for their loss. She hoped to raise £150, but instead raised £3,685. In doing so, she created a space for us all to talk openly of her loss, raising awareness, breaking the taboo, and allowing us to mourn her loss, together. I couldn't be prouder of my niece. RIP little Jack.
If things weren't dispiriting enough last week, with Brexit shenanigans, Merkel resigning, the fringe far-right Bolsonaro's meteoric rise to become Brazil's president, we witnessed the worst attack on the Jewish community on American soil in American history. I find anti-Semitism incomprehensible, probably because I had to study the Holocaust as part of my PhD thesis – part of which was about the role of evil in political thought. Going back centuries, anti-Semitism worsened in the 19th century when the political Left and Right made common cause against the Liberal centre – long associated with democrats, merchants, bankers, and, of course, Jews – which culminated in the Holocaust. This disgusting animus is a form of racism, and like all racisms, it seems to have no rationale.
Much as I fervently want to blame Trump, Bannon, and their like, for the horrifying attack in Pittsburgh, it would be misplaced. Trump is an abomination, but he's a symptom, not a cause. And he's not the only one contributing to the poisoning of public discourse. Hillary Clinton herself said last week that 'civility' is not to be accorded to Republicans or their supporters. What hope have we if we can't even take mere civility to be a goal to be achieved any more? Nor can we blame Israel. Whatever one thinks about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it provides no justification for killing 11 people in a synagogue during a bris.
It must be frightening to be a Jew in these disturbing times. Even in the so-called tolerant UK, anti-Semitism seems to be, again, on the march. And if we thought Scotland was immune, then last week's attack on a Jewish trade union activist by a blogger, whilst citing Hitler, was a worrying juxtaposition, to say the least. I'm left with the very sombre thought that haunted Augustine, Hobbes, and De Maistre. Human beings have a capacity for evil that will never be expunged. It just waits until the conditions are right to rear its head. A bit like cholera. And Hegel was right: we learn from history that we never learn from history.