Tuesday, September 06, 2005

No Man is an Island

"All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated...As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."

John Donne (1572 - 1631)

Monday, September 05, 2005

America, America

I have been just once to the USA, the north-eastern corner, but we call the huge country America which it is not! So much confusion about the difference between perspective and reality. And of the last week since Hurricane Katrina ……?

Who am I to comment on the USA, Bush, the people of New Orleans, the black poor, the politics of America, the media? Just an interested and committed observer, appalled by the images of the last few days, of old people dying on camera, of babies dying of thirst, of patient and composed people waiting patiently for their fate, of parents risking their lives for their children, of others giving their lives to the rescue. And what do our TV screens show? White policemen targeting looters while their poor and black brothers and sisters starve. It seems to me that irony is not strength of the local media and politicians. What victory is there in parading a looted television in a city without power? What arrogance to knock stolen food from the hands of a father anxious to feed his family. When the world stops, people have time to reflect, and reflections can be brutal.

The Image is of overwhelmingly black people trapped in this flood … those who could not escape. “Give me your poor” says the Statue of Liberty but the American dream does not liberate; it entraps so many in poverty and repression

The President, were it not so shameful, is a figure of fun and derision at home and abroad. He is naked, with no judgement, poor communication skills, and no instinct for intervention. However, he has a vision of a rebuilt New Orleans at a time when people are drowning in a sea of faeces and corpses. Most of all for a conviction Christian, he does not look for meaning and understanding in this sign from his God.

The Media change their take on the story from day-to-day. First there was the hurricane, then death and damage, then the human stories, followed by political indifference, but thank God, the looters saved the day and allowed us to report “increasing lawlessness and violence”, something that would put the blame for this mess firmly in the poor black communities. Finally, after days of criticism, came the Marines and Fox News reporting so eloquently on the effectiveness and commitment of these cavalry from over the horizon (bring back Reagan and the cowboy films of old)! How easy it is to turn tragedy into success!

The British in our inimitable style have done little except watch and listen. Our greatest ally is in big trouble and there is no national mourning, no great appeal for help. We have not even been encouraged to send donations. What does this tell me? That while the suffering people are to be pitied, their government and country are not. That there is a belief that if the USA is so great, it deserves the opportunity to resolve this situation without outside help. Not our problem, we seem to be saying. As a nation, we may be embarrassed at our own silence, but at least we are asking the question of ourselves about the meaning and relevance of our life.

The End Game! The world will never be the same again. The USA is enfeebled by this tragedy more than by Vietnam and 9/12. Its economy is threatened. The world’s greatest military power has little heart, little compassion for its own, never mind the rest of the world. Is this the death of capitalism? Never. As always, it will present the rise in oil prices, the impoverishment of millions by the catastrophe as an opportunity for individuals to make an impact, to succeed, and to break out of their imprisonment in poverty … the American Dream! Ha!

As for “little government”, the flagstone of Republican politics for a generation, where were you when you were needed? With your rich friends, safe from the winds of change. Big government might have been slow to react, but at least it speaks for all the people.

If liberation is action on behalf of justice, then this blog is nothing, as are the words of all those who pontificate on Katrina and its consequences. Prayer and sentiment may help us as individuals. Who will help the poor of New Orleans?