Fortunately, I grew up, and grew out of my socialist fantasies.
That conversion happened not because I read about America and how awesome the country is. I rarely read any American fiction back then. I walked away from the left thanks to mostly Russian writers and, of course, George Orwell.
The Soviet Union that Solzhenistyn wrote about, and Orwell's Big Brother deeply worried me. The older and wiser me couldn't understand the violence that the Stalinists and Maoists inflicted upon their own people, leave alone those on the outside. The communist regimes were nothing but killers and anti-democratic rulers; Fidel and Che, it turned out, were no different from the violent and maniacal Stalin.
In the decades since 1917, communism has led to more slaughter and suffering than any other cause in human history. Communist regimes on four continents sent an estimated 100 million men, women, and children to their deaths — not out of misplaced zeal in pursuit of a fundamentally beautiful theory, but out of utopian fanaticism and an unquenchable lust for power.I was, therefore, shocked to find Che as a beloved symbol in the American college campuses. Did people not know about the violent Che?
Later, after the events of the fateful 9/11, Che's use of violence to achieve his version of utopia came across to me as no different from how Osama bin Laden didn't find anything wrong in killing civilians. Yet, while no rational person would walk around wearing an Osama t-shirt, thousands all across the world, including here in the US, think it is cool to wear a Che t-shirt. I suppose Osama, too, would have gladly worn a Che t-shirt if only Che weren't an infidel!
I needed solace after the Orlando shooting. I had to get out of the madness of this world where a country allows military-style assault weapons to be sold to civilians at the neighborhood store. I wanted to understand the insanity behind a human killing dozens of people only because they were dancing and enjoying life.
I hit the books. The summer reading list, that is. I reached out to my trusted authors from the part of the world where suffering was a way of life.
Svetlana Alexievich turns out to be wonderful counselor, even in the introductory pages. She writes:
I recently saw some young men in T-shirts with hammers and sickles and portraits of Lenin on them. Do they know what communism is?I particularly like one line that Svetlana Alexievich has in those first few pages. When writing about what freedom is, she channels this:
it's when you can live without having to think about freedom. Freedom is normal.Thus, with a mass shooting in Florida, the cosmos figured out for me which of the three books I will read first.
Choosing the first book was my biggest problem, which means that I have a darn good life. Especially, when I project this against the backdrop of the tragedy in Orlando, where no amount of books and talk can ever replace the lives that were lost and the lives that have been traumatized.
Some day, soon I hope, we humans will understand violence for what it is and work towards peace on earth.