One of my favorite poems is the one written by Kahlil Gibran called, “On Children.” It goes like this:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
In the midst of the carnage going on in the Middle East, I heard a news report from an European reporter like no other. The reporter delicately told the story of one of the children killed by an Israeli bomb. He told it from the perspective of the child’s friends who survived the midnight bombing. The dead child’s friends told of how their late friend loved football, followed Manchester United and how he believed that Loinel Messi was the greatest footballer alive. The friends recalled how they all watched the 2014 World Cup together and the dreams of their friend of becoming a movie star like Tom Cruise. The story of this child reminded me that the children being killed in this conflict and in all other conflicts like this across the world are like the children we have at home.
These children do not belong to Hamas. And they do not belong to Israel, either. They may come from them, live with them but they do not belong to them. “Their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow.” The house of tomorrow belongs to the world. So it is that the children belong to the world and the world needs to stand up for them. If the world stands up for them, we may be able to recast the story and the priority and shake up our stale thinking and sticky alliances that have gotten us all stuck in the mud of destruction.
Each of these children being killed mercilessly has a potential to contribute to the world. Amongst the dead were future footballers, actors, doctors, lawyers, novelists, scientists, inventors etc. Their knowledge and contribution to life would have benefited mankind. The inventions of this world have not been restricted to the nation where the inventors were born. People across the world who use GPS, Computers, Internet and telephone do not mind where they were invented. All of us, members of the human family lose when we allow the continuous killing of children in conflict zones around the world.
By now you must have heard it all from both sides- Israel and Palestine. The arguments. The charges. The conclusions. If you are an independent observer without any tribal loyalty and religious sentiments, each side makes some sense in its arguments. Each is even convincing until you listen to the other side. The bottom line is that any set of arguments that guarantees a stalemate which hurt children cannot be right.
There has to be another way of reframing the history, the problem and the prognosis. And one way that has not been explored is looking at the conflict from the heart of the children. Their souls, Kahlil Gibran wrote, “dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.” That we cannot visit the place their souls dwell or even dream of it should humble us, caution us, and make us rethink why and how we are engaged in the conflicts of this world and for whom?
During this crisis, I even encountered the most disturbing quote that I ever heard. It was said by the former Israeli Prime Minister, Golda Meir, in a news conference in London in 1968. For some reason, it was regurgitated as an excuse to kill today’s children. She said, “We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children. We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
I did not know that humanity has come to a point when we can acknowledge killing children without shame. Where did we dig up an excuse for crushing “life longing for itself’? Where did we find the audacity? In what criminal justice system can an excuse like Golda Meir’s be acceptable for killing children? Forgiving those who ‘forced us to kill’ children should be the least of our worries. Even God’s hands will be tied when it comes to what to do to us for killing his children. His wrath and indignation cannot be quelled even when we are sorry. Killing of children should be so intolerable that instead of being forced to kill children, we should allow ourselves to be forced to kill the spirit of intransigence.
Religions are not people. We don’t need to bow to them, especially when they lead us into the temptation of committing abominations against humanity. Those who trade in dead children, those who flourish in the sympathy which corpses of tomorrow people bring, are morally depraved. Those who forget the Geneva Convention, those who say to hell with it are simply forgetting the hell that brought the Convention into being. When the hell returns, they may not be the might that is right. They may then be the weak that inherits woe.
Kahlil Gilbran admonished us not to seek to make the children be like us. But that is exactly what we do when we turn them into pawns, human shield, collateral damages, to be killed and battered with the ultimate goal of turning them into adults that will also aspire to kill and batter the children of tomorrow. That is why life goes back to yesterday in most of the world where perpetual memory is periodically watered with the blood of children – our children.
Every child of Biafra knew what it meant to be a refugee in your own home; to be bombed in the shelter, in the marketplace, in the church, in the UN refugee camp. Every child of Biafra knew how dreadful it was for fighter jets to illuminate the night sky and pound the bedrooms with bombs, the smell of sulfur, the crater in the playground, the quick burial of parents, the land, sea and air blockade, the bunkers, want of fresh air, the hunger, the suffocating stench of fear and death.
Every child of Biafra knew what it felt like to lose a playmate to kwashiorkor, to landmines, to furious bullets, to shrapnel, to heartbreak, in a war they were not consulted on. They knew the school days that were lost, homes destroyed, makeshift coffins, dreams ruined, sport cards lost, cherished pictures buried in rubbles, pets eaten as meals and vultures chased away from the bodies of their dead.
No child of Biafra knew where the fighter jets were bought, who were rented to fly the planes, where the peace talks took place, what accords were abandoned and what ceasefire were impugned, who unilaterally withdrew, who remained in the bunker, who the actors were, what personal animosities were fueling their drives to war. They knew not the narrative arc, from the Bible or the Quran, the geography or the history. They only felt a total collapse of moral outrage.
The children of Gaza, the children of Israel, the children of Libya, the children of Syria, the children of South Sudan, the children of Ukraine, the children of Afghanistan, the children of Boko Haram territories are all our children. They did not choose where in the world to be born. They deserve better from us. If the table is full of options, we need to select better options. If the table is dearth of options, they need to invent new options.
We need to reclaim the children, all of our children- all of God’s children. Maybe by doing so, we can begin to reclaim our humanity. There can be no dignity in a humanity that kills its children. With children-centered premise, our arguments will get its right foundation. Without children-centered premise, it will have a wrong proposition. And as Peter Obi said, “when the premise of an argument is wrong, the conclusion will also be wrong.”