Watu Wote (All of Us)


In the excellent 2018 Oscar-nominated short Watu Wote (All of Us), a bus carrying some Christian and some Muslim passengers is stopped by a group of armed Muslims on the Kenya-Somalia border. The attackers demand that the Christians on the bus be identified so that, presumably, they can kill them. Why? Because, according to one of them who yells back at a Muslim teacher from the bus trying to make peace, “they kill our children and rape our women.” Yet the Muslim school teacher on the bus persists in trying to appeal to the enraged attackers to calm down, as all the bus-riders refuse to identify the Christians. There is a moment of doubt as it appears “all of us” gathered in that remote spot might simply relax and recognize each other’s humanity. Yet, this does not happen and in a moment of panic, the teacher is tragically killed.

Why could the attackers not simply face the innocent passengers, realize the passengers’ plain and simple innocence, and let down their rage? Because of the terror of their own vulnerability that would subject them to the risk of re-experiencing their past humiliation, which through past trauma has been frozen in place, triggered by the very appeal to peace, to letting down their guard. For more on this phenomenon of inflated “outer” group identity serving as a futile attempt at warding off the fear of humiliation, please see chapter 3 and 4 of my new book The Desire for Mutual Recognition.

Peter Gabel