Friday, July 6, 2012

I'm not that bad.

When I was in class 9, I participated in a Model UN event at school. It wasn’t very elaborate. It wasn’t the anthropomorphism of OTT grandeur that was soon to become an intricate part of MUNs in the years to come. It was a small bunch of students together, sitting in a classroom that suddenly grew to become the Security Council. I was designated the representative of Israel. I remember vaguely, the speech I’d prepared for my opening remarks. I remember vaguely arguing in a childish tone, that Israel’s occupation of Palestine was not illegal, and fully justified. Just sitting in the room, speaking, debating, deliberating, fighting, and making a case – it had me hooked. My points were shot down, though, because the bunch of gregarious, acne-ridden, boisterous and enthusiastic 14 year olds that comprised the International “Community” did not appreciate Israel’s settlement expansions. A while later I learned that Israel was actually on the wrong side of the law.

But the experience had already entrapped me. I wanted to be a change-maker, I wanted to be the person capable of making a difference. I wanted to be the catalyst for someone’s freedom, someone’s emancipation, for someone’s life to be a happier spot under the sun. I wanted to walk a mile in difficult shoes, wear those shoes, bear those shoes, and then save other feet from those shoes.

In six words, I wanted to join the UN.

I headed to Law School, people were sure I’d join my father’s firm. But I was dead-set on the UN. My internships and paper-publications were veered towards the UN – I buried myself in international law, in human rights, in international relations and in peace and conflict. I spent hours reading, hours watching, and hours, just learning. There was a fire in my stomach that was refusing to be quelled until the goal was reached. On the way, I met a friend who had as much drive as I did for the same goal, and we worked together. Somewhere down the line, when we saw rich acquaintances make it further in life because of reams of green paper from their pockets, we marvelled at the perks that working at the UN might give us: Travel, but not at our immense expense. Heretofore, we travelled in our reading, in our movies and in our dreams.

Law School ended, and I found my quickest way into the UN by becoming a UN Volunteer. I worked with other grass-root organizations, too. I learned that the whole shebang of one person making a big difference is almost next to impossible. I learned that the difference you made to the one starfish you threw back into the water would never be enough because there were too many struggling starfish that could never go back into the water. Or even if they did, it would never be the same for them, for the few minutes spent gasping without air would traumatize them for life. But I tried, nevertheless. I worked hard at everything I was given. Sometimes, I saw results. Most times, I didn’t. And it happened with every place – UN, or non-UN, non-profit or for-profit, – that I worked with.

Just a little while after I began – say about six, or eight months? – I saw the Whistleblower. It was a powerful story, a film that showed all the chinks in the UN armour. The equally-driven-friend told me that she couldn’t sleep at night, and I wouldn’t either, if I watched the film. I laughed it off, jocularly throwing back those myopic words that we would travel, but not at our immense expense if we joined the UN. A few weeks after, another friend I had the chance to work with, in a Grass-Root for DR Congo, mentioned in a blog post that she hated the UN for all the atrocities it had indulged in on field. I neither condone the ill-behaviour of the UN, nor deny the assertions the movie and my friends had made. I do not discredit my friends for their opinions – they are entitled to it and more, after having seen events up close. I do not say that the Whistleblower got it wrong at all, in fact, I’m only too glad to have been taught the existence of such a dark underbelly. But all of this got me thinking. Do I want to work with a global organization that has so many discredits to its name?

In truth, ambivalence still colours my thinking. I think I do want to work for the UN, but not for the myopic reasons of travel (though I love the idea of travel!) and not owing to turning a blind eye to reality while pursuing hierarchy. And before you think that it is because I am turning a blind eye to the atrocities that DO transpire, please read on.

Yes indeed, the UN comprises many appendages that it can do well to sever. Yes indeed, the UN is far from being perfect. But isn’t that the case with everything else in the world?

Take example one. The USA is the world’s biggest war-mongering state, is terribly myopic about its support to Israel in its cudgels against Palestine, is responsible for a horrific human rights black-hole in the name of Guantanamo Bay, and indulges in flagrant violations of sovereign rights of other countries. And yet here we are, the people of the world, beatifying the country as a global super power. We love its sitcoms, we love Hollywood. We love its writers and actors. We love its FMCGs and embrace McDonalds and GAP with fervour. We want a bite of the Big Apple. We adopt its language as ours. Why? Because we do.

Example two. Kony 2012. The whole world went berserk with its antagonism to Invisible Children’s documentary on Joseph Kony’s recruitment and conscription of children into his ranks as soldiers. But did it consider that the documentary was shot in 2003, but released a good 8 years later, that peace had already begun prevailing in Uganda? How many people realized that the movie had an ulterior motive – that of having a law passed in the United States, to militarize Uganda? But instead, we sat back and cried for the little children, who in reality, are not being conscripted right now. Instead, we campaign on the streets and put up status messages on Facebook about stopping war in Uganda, which is already done. Why? Because we do.
So, yes. There are two sides to every coin. If you must beatify the good, also remember to bastardize the wrong.

To say that working with the UN or wanting to work with the UN makes a person inherently bad or complicit with crime, is stretching logic a little too far. I am a lawyer. If I’d chosen to be a practitioner, who can guarantee that a client I might represent may not be on the wrong side of the law? Does representing such a client make me bad, by extension? Well, not really. It is an occupational hazard, this stigmatization. Had I a bad client, my duty would be to represent him to the extent that his case allows me to – but my greater duty, would be to serve a bigger purpose – that of assisting in exposing the truth. And that would be the true victory, even if my client be slighted in the process.

I count on working with the UN on these lines. Yes, there are wrongs to be righted. Yes, there are crimes on field that the UN is found to be “complicit” with. But how can truth be actionable if one doesn’t find the truth? How can one hope to be the change he wants to see, if he leaves before it happens? I want to be a part of a system that can use my efforts, consolidate it with those of others, and channelize it to benefit someone – anyone, it doesn’t matter if it is a faceless, nameless one. I know that I will do my best. I know that my upbringing and my experiences have taught me to answer to my conscience, and to keep it clean. And I know that I won’t let my values down. I want to try being the change I want to see in the world. I want to try playing a role where I could make all truth in my knowledge actionable, and for that, I want to uncover those truths. And until then, the fire in my stomach will continue to burn.

Idealistic, much?

That’s alright. Idealism didn’t kill anyone.