The words rot

Khalil Rabah, Hidden Geographies, 2018


The words are empty, they evoke but do not replace the bodies piled up in Gaza, rotting in Gaza

The most heartbreaking human suffering is not nameable, describable, much less measurable. It goes beyond the limits of language and any measure. Its nature is incommensurability. Therefore, when caused, this suffering, due to avoidable actions of others, cannot be justified, it does not fit into any morally motivated sequence of acts.

Thousands of mutilated children, limbs amputated without anesthesia, broken spirits, their family worlds ruined, their space devastated, the things that surround them shattered and calcined. These words are empty, they evoke but do not replace the bodies piled up in Gaza, rotting in Gaza: words also rot.

No extreme suffering is comparable to any other, because it cannot be broken down into units, weighed, delimited, accounted for, apprehended outside of oneself, given to others as a gift, returned for its price in common currency, the currency that is exchanged between skillful hands. The excruciating suffering of the child in agony is one, an ocean and a desert, without beginning or end: the endless story of the inside out of what we would like to call human.

The panicked child, agonizing in Gaza, is the same panicked child agonizing in the Nazi concentration camp. The two agonies are not comparable because they are one and the same agony. None of us, no witness has the measure to distinguish, rank and compare. None of us have the right to suggest that we know what it is that we are talking about to cover up.

But we have a duty to stand as guardians of the inaccessibility of extreme suffering, its incomparability, its incommensurability, its irreducibility to language and any form of neutralization. And we also have the duty to name the butchers.

The agents of the carnage, the Israeli government and the Nazis, committed crimes against humanity and must answer to history. Their crimes are not comparable. They are one.

* Luiz Eduardo Soares is an anthropologist, political scientist and writer. Former national secretary of public security. Author, among other books, of Demilitarize: public security and human rights (boitempo) []

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