Filipino anti-war protesters light candles around a peace sign during a rally at the U.S. embassy in Manila on March 18, 2003
Dissent has so far been a matter between a people and their government. Not any more, because what governments do now effect the rest of the world. Millions of protestors took to the streets recently the world over, from Cape Town to Karachi, Sydney to Sophia and South Korea to South Africa with a single slogan of 'NO WAR'. People march in streets only when something troubles them deeply and they find no other recourse. Even then one in a hundred ventures to that option, which implies that a hundred thousand in a rally actually represents the view of a million. When they are as diverse and even opposed to each other spiritually, politically, ethnically, and geographically as they were on this occasion, their cry becomes all the more significant. The recent phenomenon demonstrating a public outrage against the imminent invasion on Iraq in cold blood may very well signify a paradigm shift of people's concern from the regional to the global context and rightly so. Perhaps the institution of state has gone out of synch with the collective wisdom of people and crossed the line of their innate morality. May be a global consciousness is being born as a predatory American leadership hastens to wage a war to win 'peace' -- before the weather gets too hot for the comfort of their soldiers and before the next campaign for their re-election commences.
Something has indeed gone wrong with the world, the way it is behaving today. We, in the South, know it only too well by experience. There are signs that people of the West are also waking up to new realities, although the same cannot be said about the mighty USA? Americans are the most powerful nation today. They can conquer any other country of the world. They produce and consume excessive surpluses of food and luxuries and deplete and pollute the earth in the process, and no one can stop them. Does it absolve them of having a deeper look at themselves in the larger perspective of humanity and life on earth? One question they may ask themselves is, if the power and capacity of conquering, rejoicing, eating and drinking is the yardstick of ultimate success of a state and the true purpose of life of its inhabitants?
If the answer were in the affirmative, the brutal forces of Tartars and Huns who could defeat any one and every one, would still be ruling the world. If consumption was the virtue of life, the mighty dinosaurs eating more than their share would have dominated the earth forever. If serving oneself was the secret of life, the white-ants eating up their own environment would be the most admired society amongst the living organism.
Mercifully the answer is in the negative. The ruthless barbarians ended up dissolving their identities into the gentler cultures that cared for others. The mammoths ate themselves out of existence leaving the world to the smaller and the apparently weaker living beings. The white ants never made it to the glory of a model society. What survived was a culture of sharing and caring:-- - the religion and the logic of doing to others what one would have done to himself, the birds that ate the berries but spread the seed to grow more of them, the bees that collected the nectar but fertilized the flowers so that more may bloom. A civilization of mankind and nature prevailed to sustain life on earth, albeit with fits and starts and interregnums of disorder and chaos.
Alas that civilization is now threatened. The fruits of the conquest of nature, that humanity nurtured for millenniums, were stolen by the West and converted into weapons to perpetrate their power of domination and to prevent others from joining the march of progress. The reason and belief of giving and sharing with others has all but gone and the lust for possession and profit made a virtue to replace it. The society has taken a full circle and is back to where it started. The plundering barbarians are back although in a different garb, the dinosaurs have returned in human form and the message of the birds and bees is about to be lost in the din of catastrophe. America, the enfant terrible of the West is out to grab the plum of human achievements and exclude others to satisfy its own limitless hunger for material. If any body can check the acquisitive rapacity of American leadership from becoming a global plague, it is the people of America, who must remove the state-imposed blinkers from their eyes and face the threat squarely. They do not have to go far and can learn the home truths from the undisputed but renowned thinkers of the West, whose writings George Bush conveniently left behind unread, to collect dust in the library of Yale:
"Man has become a superman... but has not risen to superhuman reason. The more his power grows, he becomes more and more a poor man. It must shake up our conscience that we become all the more inhuman..." said Albert Schweitzer while receiving Nobel Prize at Oslo fifty years ago.
Erich Fromm, a social philosopher in the USA could see what was wrong with the West and raised an alarm as long as 25 years ago. His credibility is strengthened by his prescience that should be sufficient to open the eyes of any people and any leadership intoxicated with power:
"The gap between the rich and the poor nations must be closed. There is little doubt that the continuation and further deepening of that will lead to catastrophe. The poor nations have ceased to accept the economic exploitation of the industrial world as a God-given fact. The increase in the oil prices was the beginning -- and a symbol -- of the colonial people's demand to end the system that requires them to sell raw material cheap and buy industrial products dear. In the same way the Vietnam War was a symbol of the beginning of the end of colonial peoples' political and military domination by the West.
What will happen if nothing crucial is done to close the gap? Either epidemics will spread into the fortress of the white society or famines will drive the population of the poor nations into such despair that they, perhaps with the help of sympathizers from the industrial world, will commit acts of destruction-- even use small nuclear or biological weapons, that will bring chaos in the white fortress" !!!
His conclusions are based on rational analysis and explain behaviors without any intention of justifying them, which the contemporary analysts are accused of. AIDS could have been detected, restricted and overcome within Africa, had the world not robbed and abandoned that unfortunate land to rot and reek in ignorance and squalor. Desperate youth, starved of freedom and dignity through the manipulations of the superpower, would not have been driven to the extreme of 9/11 to lodge their protest in utter desperation. To call the reaction to injustice 'terrorism' and punishing it, amounts to an attempt snuffing the consequence while promoting the cause, or removing the symptom while feeding the disease.
Reason and morality has been repeatedly invoked by the Western thinkers and church respectively in the face of imminent invasion and destruction in Iraq, but to no avail. Whatever was left of Christianity was crucified in the mushroom clouds of the two nuclear bombs tested on non-combatant civilians, women and children in Japan. It is also manifest in the millions of children dying of hunger and sickness in Africa and in the billions undernourished around the world, while America wallows in gluttony and experiences a national epidemic of obesity.
Erich Fromm doubts if .. "Europe was ever truly Christianized... At most one could speak of a limited conversion to Christianity from the twelfth to sixteenth centuries... : it did not mean a change of heart, i.e.,of character structure, except for numerous genuine Christian movements." After the Industrial Revolution and with the domination of the Big Business over the governments and the media, the society took a turn from a humane to blatantly acquisitive character. A trinity of Wealth, Power and Dominance raised its head to be worshipped as the god of modern age. "Reason began to deteriorate into manipulative intelligence and individualism into selfishness. The short period of Christianization ended and Europe returned to the original paganism"
Fromm goes on further to suggest remedies, "This catastrophic possibility can be averted only if conditions of hunger, starvation and sickness are brought under control -- to do that, the help of the industrial nations is vitally necessary. The methods of such help must be free from all interests in profits and political advantages on the side of the rich countries; this means also that they must be free from the idea that the economic and political principles of capitalism are to be transferred to Africa and Asia." Contrary to the wisdom, we see the rapacity of capitalism spreading its tentacles in the form of World Bank Loans, IMF controls and WTO master plan to further augment the plunder of the destitute.
As if giving up on spirituality of compassion, Fromm builds upon sanity of pragmatism, suggesting that "a sense of solidarity of caring ( not of pity) must emerge, from the industrial nations. Caring means not only caring for our fellow beings on this earth but also for our descendants. Indeed nothing is more telling about our selfishness than that we go on plundering the raw materials of the earth, poisoning the earth and preparing nuclear war...One thing the world should know is that without it, the clash between the poor and the rich nations (read oppressed and oppressors) will become unmanageable."
Despite the warning, the issue remained un-addressed while the gap continued to widen further -- not by accident, but by design. Why cannot the arbiters of human destiny see what a single philosopher proved right by his prediction. If 'terrorism' is responsible for 9/11, whoever is responsible of provoking terrorism is guilty of the whole mischief and the havoc wreaked on Afghanistan and Iraq is but an extension of their agenda.
American people are kept in the dark by their ruling establishment, in complicity with the military-industrial complex and the motivated media, till the reality comes crashing down through their doors. In case of Vietnam it came late after thousands of their near and dear ones had been sacrificed at the altar of greed; the perception-makers who promoted it could not prevent the calamity. People had to take to the streets to stop the madness, but it was after the event. This time the whole world is trying to tell the Americans before the event, what is wrong with their leadership---they just have to listen what the whole world is shouting at the top of their voice.
Information has crossed the barriers of business inspired Press and now flies over the head of state influenced electronic media directly to our doors in its digital freedom. It may present a Babel of opinions but truth stands out to speak for itself. People of the world, including the Americans, have only to click on to know the truth, instead of buying it second hand from the brokers. Trust your fellow human beings whether they are in New York or Nairobi, Paris or Peshawar, London or Lebanon --- after all you share this earth with them and have to make it safer and more livable for your children.
The author is an independent commentator based in Karachi, Pakistan