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Over the last week or so we have all witnessed the death, destruction and incomprehensible suffering of the people of Haiti. Our response to this has varied from collectively admitting that, as bad as things are here in Ireland, they don’t even begin to compare with what is happening in Haiti to indifference.
Thankfully many of us have been sufficiently moved to make financial contributions to the non-governmental organisations which are operating on the ground there. In most cases we feel that this is the very least we can do and also wish we could do more. Personally, I think we can and it only takes a little bit of effort. Let me explain.
While observing the latest updates regarding the international effort to assist people in Haiti, a rather bizarre thought entered my head. I say rather bizarre because on the face of it it seems to be neither empathetic or justified but if you bear with me, you will hopefully see that the way in which we respond to human suffering appears to be determined by how detached we are from it.
Now, the standard belief is that although we know, for example, that although there are 24,000 children dying every single day in the Third World (see video in sidebar) from preventable diseases and malnutrition, we don’t get too worked up about it because it goes on, always has done and “other people are doing something about it”. At least we hope they are.
Is it possible that we collectivity abdicate some of our responsibility to these children because we are of the belief that those people who are working to prevent this human suffering ,are doing everything that can be done and consequently whatever action we may take would be of little import ?
We have been told repeatedly over the last number of days that any contributions that we can make either personal or financial to help alleviate the suffering in Haiti would be greatly appreciated and would help to save lives. Ireland being such a generous nation has responded tremendously on both counts and our actions will have a very positive effect. For this, we should be applauded.
Unfortunately, it appears to me that it is not that simple. The estimated 140,000 dead and up to 1,000,000 casualties is something of a scale that we simply cannot comprehend. Consequently, our brain searches for the nearest relative event so that we can begin to comprehend and make some sense out of what has happened. The chances are that the event which will spring to your mind is the tsunami which took place in Asia.
By recalling that event, we are somehow able to understand the implications of the earthquake in Haiti. Our thought process goes something like, becoming aware of a large natural disaster, feeling empathy for the people who have died and those who have survived, feeling a deep desire to help ease their suffering, finding how we can do this and consequently taking action.
This is what happened after the earthquake in Pakistan, the tsunami in the Asia, countless other natural disasters and now the earthquake in Haiti. The question that arises is why do we behave in this fashion? It appears on the face of it, to be a ridiculous question. Is it because you’re witnessing suffering that you believe that you can alleviate, in however small a way? Or is it because you believe that as a fellow human being you have an obligation to assist? Or is it because it appears to be what everybody else is doing? Indeed, it could in fact be all three.
The reason I ask these questions is because that this near automatic response from nations and individuals around the world, seems to occur only when catastrophes are caused by nature. These rules do not seem to apply to man-made catastrophes and in particular to war, invasion and economic starvation and repression. Why is it that while the genocide continued in Rwanda (in which 5 million innocent people were murdered), Sarajevo and is presently happening in Sudan do we ignore the innocent slaughterer? Think about that. Why ?
More innocent people have lost their lives and ensured intolerable suffering and destitution as a result of man’s inhumanity to man, motivated by greed or the religious beliefs of one group or nation of people over another, than all natural disasters combined. And these are not man made events that took place hundreds of years ago, these are events that are taking place at this very moment. Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Tibet, Ethiopia are just five regions of this globe in which more people have died as a result of man’s actions than of all the natural disasters put together in the last hundred years.
Why? Why is it that we feel so utterly helpless when it comes to the act of one government against its own people or against those of another nation? Why is it that there is no rallying cry for assistance for these people? Are their innocent lives any less valuable than those unfortunates who are killed or injured by earthquakes, tsunamis or other acts of nature?
The harsh reality is that we really don’t want to get involved in something we don’t understand i.e. a conflict between nations, groups or ideologies. We seem to believe that this is beyond our abilities to understand why the conflict has taken place and consequently we choose not to act to prevent the suffering. Now I am neither a meteorologist, geologist or oceanographer but as a human being I do understand to some degree what suffering is.
What absolutely infuriates me is the relative impunity which which a nation can get away with genocide simply because we, the ordinary people, choose not to get involved. It might help to remember that a year ago this month Israel bombarded what little was left of Palestine and its occupied territories .
The Israeli defence forces were clearly in breach of the Geneva Convention in relation to the armaments used to murder innocent men, women and children i.e. ‘white phosphorus’. Yet when I go down to my local supermarket I continuously see Israeli farm produce, in particular herbs, for sale. What’s that about?
It is not possible to grow flat leaf parsley anywhere in an area from the borders of eastern Europe to Portugal or the toe of Italy to Sweden? How can it possibly pay the Israelis to ship it here by air but not our own farmers who a but a short journey away? Could it be that we are subsidising Israel through the European Union and the ‘Special Trading Status’ which they are afforded? I’ll let you answer that one.
Israel is in blatant contravention of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 (which was adopted unanimously on Nov 22 1967) that they leave the occupied territories of Palestine. From that day to this, Israel continues to build settlements in the occupied territories the primary purpose of which is to provide subsidised housing for Jewish fundamentalists. This ruling by the United Nations took place in 1967! Israel has effectively given two fingers to the rest of the world since then and yet we allow them to benefit from a special trading relationship with the European Union. Why is this? Where is the incentive for Israel to find a peaceful settlement with the people of Palestine?
They can go about their business, sell the goods and services abroad, and anybody who disagrees with what they have done and are continuing to do in Palestine, is deemed to be anti-Semitic. Israel has ignored all the nations of the world which, with the exception of the United States, has demanded that they retreat to the Palestinian borders as they where in 1967. The suffering that has occurred since then is not a natural disaster, it has been man-made and it has been maintained because of our inaction.
This report from the Guardian in London will provide you with unbiased insight into the the proposed United Nations investigation into alleged war crimes during the invasion of Gaza last year.
[flv width=”600″ height=”480″]http://www.eamonnblaney.com/wp-content/uploads/Video/The%20Guardian-Israel_Palestine.flv[/flv]
If you would like to read more and see another video regarding the background to the conflict please Click Here. This will bring you to the video section of this site.
Iraq is another example. In the 13 years between the first and second invasion of Iraq by the United States and its allies, two million innocent people died,including 567,000 Iraqi children, of malnutrition, lack of medical care or disease. This was the result of sanctions (i.e. the prevention of trade) targeted against Iraq in the belief that this would help topple Saddam Hussein. It didn’t.
When former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright went on Sixty Minutes in 1996 presenter Lesley Stahl asked her about the deaths of those 567,000 Iraqi children she said, and I quote, ‘I think this is a very hard choice, but the price–we think the price is worth it.’ The rationale implicit in that statement is that it’s worth sacrificing hundreds of thousands of innocent, civilian lives in order to achieve one’s political ends.
But, isn’t that the same rationale employed by the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11th? How any person, let alone the representative of the most powerful nation on this earth, could justify the preventable death, of two million innocent human beings, is beyond my comprehension.
You see, we can do an awful lot more than we do at present to alleviate suffering throughout the world but it will require that you personally take responsibility for educating yourself and making others aware of what is really going on and why. It is far easier to bury yourself in East Enders or the X factor or to talk about the latest soccer or for a horse-racing results, particularly when most people have simply no interest whatsoever in current affairs either locally, nationally or internationally. But the reality is that their problems are your problems or least they should be.
You don’t have to put your hand in your pocket every time a war breaks out but you could pick up the phone and call a radio station, e-mail a newspaper, boycott goods from that Country or just talk to other people about it. Remember those courageous women from Dunne Stores who went on strike, rather than handle oranges from South Africa? at the time, many people criticised them for their actions but they were a group of women motivated by conscience and they were never going to back down. Lest we ever forget, it was their actions which was one of the first nails in the coffin that was apartheid.
Clearly, given that our own government is incompetent in so many areas, this does not mean that we the people are incapable of being devoid of compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. Instead of a government pussyfooting around and trying not to ruffle any feathers on the international stage of diplomacy it is time that they called it like it is. Where they see blatant injustice they should say so. Where they see blatant abuses of human rights they should say so.
When they see blatant examples of corruption they should say so. And they should say these things in a suitable forum such as the United Nations or the European Parliament or at the European heads of Government meetings. After all, these people are supposed to represent us and there is never a wrong time to say the right thing.
Maybe it’s just as well that they do represent us, because if I was let say what I would like to say to the people to whom I would like to say it, God knows, we might have another war on our hands!
Did You Know ?
An espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee. A cup of drip brewed coffee has about 115 milligrams of caffeine, an espresso (and percolated coffee) about 80mg, while instant coffee has about 65mg of caffeine. Decaffeinated coffee is not totally caffeine free, containing about 3mg of caffeine. A 8oz can of Coca-Cola has about 23mg of caffeine, Pepsi Cola 25mg. Tea has about 40mg of caffeine, while an ounce of chocolate contains about 20mg. The first Espresso machine was introduced in 1822 by the French, but it was the Italians who perfected and distributed it.
Start locally, clean up your own house first ? Total selfishness in my opinion, we are a nation of whingers who have so much and just want more and more. Can you, just for a moment, contemplate any of our cities in ruins after an earthquake and how it would effect you ?
Flooding, roads not iced, burst pipes, cuts in this, taxes on that, we should be grateful for what most of us have in this country, a roof over our heads and food to eat, hospitals to go to if we are ill (albeit badly managed) . Please donate as much as you possibly can afford to help these people, by next week Haiti will be old news but rebuilding the country could take up to 10 years, Do what you can to help .
Great Article Eamonn,
What i wouldnt give for a government that represented my views! All in good time I hope. Think global, act local. Ya got’ta start somewhere.
Well spake Mr Decorator,
Not wishing to detract from the great works being done by aid workers abroad and even the efforts of the odd Scientologist (all going the right direction).
It is of paramount importance to get ones own house in order as well as or before we look too far afield,
Our service systems from health and social to water for gods sake came very close to complete failure with the onset of a 3 week cold snap. Imagine how good old Ireland would be if we suffered a natural disaster such as the Haitians are going through.
We were a third world country in the not too distant past and have become complacent. Enough so to turn a blind eye to our own citizens sidelined by our “affluent” society. Just listen to the radio any day of the week.
I’m not sure too much information is frustrating. It may thicken our skin somewhat but I’m with you on getting it right locally, then nationally and yeah, who knows!
Advertising, Billions of Dollars, Euros, Pounds, Yen etc etc are spent daily on the creation and placement of TV ads. They get shown and people switch them off. What if people agreed to view these ads targeted to them knowing the money wasn’t going to a TV station but to a Global charity? Would you watch max 3 ads a day knowing you are giving of your time and your time is money to a Global charity. Now multiply that by millions of people a day doing that. Isn’t that food (pardon the pun) for thought. I’m living with this thing hanging over me for years, I can make this scenario happen with the right people and about €200,000 is all it’ll take. I know where the technology is, I know who can put it together (two great guys based in Illinois- personal friends)—its not patented so thats why we have to live with this, terrible isn’t it?
“Penny for the black babies”
Back in the day, not much older than a baby myself we heard of a place called Biafra and through the Catholic Church grapevine we gave our pennies to help the warthorn region feed its children. Of course our aid was delivered via the Catholic Church missionaries and a sence of satisfaction in helping the poor unfortunate peoples in far off lands was born. Another indulgence bought, but if you are starving or ill you dont care where the aid comes from wether from Catholic missionaries or flown in by film stars with a scientology leaflet wrapped around your survival biscuit. These days educated/interested people have the worlds media at their finger tips and they can pick any conflict, disaster, despot etc etc and read/learn all about that situation, extract the truth from the propaganda, listen to all the alternative theories, read the histories and form an opinion. Again back in the day the Dunnes workers did exactly that and from further investigation I learned about Nelson Mandela’s plight but these days I think people in general are overdosed with all the global ills so sticking a few bob in a bucket or direct debiting to your well chosen, non religous, NGO seems to absolve the soul and its back to Eastenders or the match. To much knowledge can lead to even more fustration and we all cannot carry the woes of the world on our shoulders.The place to start is locally. Get that right and we can move onto the Nation and then well who Knows!