Our Century

Let's learn the lessons

Roshan Doug, one the West Midland's best known Asian poets, was born in 1963 and, like many thousands of Commonwealth citizens, has made his home in this region. Here, he looks back on the 20th century with mixed feelings and hopes for a new millennium when tolerance will triumph over bigotry and wisdom over superstition.

Two events of the 20th century remain firmly in my mind. They both concern the concept of freedom.

The first is the Chinese students' demonstration in Tienanmen Square in 1989: a student standing alone in front of a tank, courageously defying the authorities of the Chinese militia.

Tiannemen Square
Defiance - a lone student faces the tanks at Tiananmen

For me it was an unsettling reminder of the thin line between social freedom and social captivity, between choice and subjugation.

Throughout history people have been ruling us through their personal ideology, which is more often than not, tainted with a dwarfed, blinkered perception of reality.

HitlerHitler comes to mind. So do Mussolini, Napoleon, General Haig, and Alexander the Great.

My other image is from the same year and relates to the Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses controversy when thousands of Muslims burned his book as a protest against his presentation of Islam.

Salman RushdieAs a writer and an educationalist, I am concerned about people burning books and demanding the death of an author on the grounds that he has written something with which they do not agree. This is absolutely astounding!

We must not fear knowledge. Not only do we need to allow freedom of expression, but we must do our best to encourage it by creating an environment of social, religious and political tolerance.

Now, let us learn from the lessons of all our yesterdays.

Let's turn our backs towards superstition and fear, and hail freedom, tolerance and knowledge, for today and tomorrow and every day.

2000... and beyond
We humans are sometimes better than we give ourselves credit for.
Message of hope
Message of hope that thunders through the century . . . Life today is immeasurably richer than it was 100 years ago. And yet we must never forget that ten years of Our Century were spent in world wars which killed 60 million and left countless millions maimed or homeless.

However, if there is one message which thunders from the hundreds of memories recorded in Our Century, it is that hope springs eternal. Even in the depths of conflict and deprivation, the human spirit survives.

We humans are sometimes better than we give ourselves credit for. Our species which so eagerly raced towards self-destruction in 1914 and 1939 has, by and large, learned its lesson.

Today, nations live at peace in a way that seemed impossible 100 years ago. There is every reason to believe that the next 100 years will be good years.

So let us look on the bright side. Let us draw a line under Our Century and enter a new century with the optimism, and the sentiments, that have never been out of fashion:

Pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile . . .

Peter Rhodes