A Global Perspective
Somewhere amidst the terror and outrage of the attack on NY and Washington, D.C., I remembered German anti-Nazi activist, Pastor Martin Niemöller's famous statement, and thought, "This time they came for us."
Up to now, most citizens of the USA have been incredibly lucky. Even the poorest and most unfortunate live better than a large portion of the world's population, and have more freedom and higher hopes. To those who have in the past criticized one branch or another of our government, (and I've done so myself on many occasions) I've usually told them in the end, "Sure, it's a lousy system. It's the worst system in the world, except for all the others.", a statement attributed to Winston Churchill when speaking about democracy.
The worst part is, in general, that we are able to push these thoughts about other's misery to the back of our minds. A relative (who will remain nameless) was stuck in mid-Mexico during an airline strike some years ago and had to make his way home by bus, and not Greyhound either; double-deckers carrying Mexicans, a few fellow tourists, plus chickens, pigs, goats and produce bound for the nearest market. He complained: "They had meat for sale hanging right out in open air-markets, crawling with flies. Why the hell don't they buy refrigerators?" No clue there as to the real state of most of the world.
My daughter Cathy took part in a summer semester as an exchange student in Tlaxcala. Not only were many of our students fearful and grossed out over conditions, but the next summer when the Mexican students came to attend Miami-Dade Jr. College, many of the exchange families here either treated them badly or refused to accept them. One kept a lock on the refrigerator. Another wouldn't let the student use the family bathroom (germs, you know!). We ended up by semester's end with wall to wall Mexican students sleeping on the floor and eating in relays.
When that terrible hurricane stayed over Central America for days a few years ago, causing horrible devastation, I was so upset I decided to make a tour of our neighborhood, collecting food and money for my husband to take to the Miami Herald where he works part time, as the newspaper was arranging for aid shipments and Red Cross donations to the affected countries. I hit perhaps 20 to 30 homes of people I know, put a large sign with a basket on our front fence, and included post cards in maybe 75 orders we delivered for Fuller Brush, Tupperware® and Watkins Products.
Are you ready for this? One of our poorest reps gave us a check for $5, and one neighbor donated some ready-made gelatin dessert (just put it in the refrigerator for 3 hours) and some packets of chocolate mix to add to hot milk, because "her kids wouldn't eat them".
Our local grocer was asked to put out a collection basket for customer to donate (I offered to make a sign) but he didn't want to. He said he'd have his stock boys look for dented cans, but I never got any.
I was shocked.
I was shocked at the carnage in Africa, when the Tutus were massacred. Thousands of bodies contaminated the rivers and thousands more lay unburied in "ethnic cleansing". But it wasn't us.
I am shocked at the horrid discrimination, maltreatment and accepted physical mutilation of women in Mid-Eastern and North African countries. Why is their agony and slavery any less horrifying than apartheid in South Africa was? But it isn't us.
I'm shocked at the massacres of white landowners by black Africans, trying to reclaim their ancestral land. But it's not us.
I'm shocked at the ongoing fight over Ireland. But that's not us.
I'm shocked at the endless loss of life and livelihood in the Balkans - with no end in sight and only an uneasy lid on that boiling pot by outsiders. But that's not us, either, just some old countries most of us can't even pronounce the names of.
I'm shocked at the decades of sabotage and retribution in the Mid-East, with no end in sight. But most of us weren't affected until now.
I'm shocked at the horrific percentage of Africans with AIDS, facing certain death, and at the discrimination they face, and the continuing failure of their governments to even address the causes or educate their population. But we're much more lightly touched in the USA.
I jokingly mentioned to my husband a couple of weeks ago that perhaps the United Nations could gain maybe two to five years of relative peace by rounding up the Jews and taking them to Ireland (although the Arabs seem to be the primary aggressors, there's too many of them to round up), and then round up the Irish Nationals (Catholics) and settle them in Israel. It might take at least that long for them to figure out what to do with-- and to-- each other. Where's John Wayne when we need him?
We just hadn't realized how lucky we were.
Most of the nations of the world (except the USA) use religion as a club, not a crutch.
Almost every county in the world (except the USA) condones slavery of some kind; women, children, a minority, foreigners, minor offenders..... or has done so in recent memory.
The average American family throws out enough food to feed the average family in most third world countries.
The majority of people in the world (except the USA) wash their clothes by hand and hang them on fences, rocks, trees or bushes to dry.
Most people in the world (except the USA) sleep on mats or blankets on the floor, or on narrow hard cots.
Most people in the world (except the USA) walk where they want to go, or sometimes ride a bicycle, donkey or ox, or if they're lucky, on dangerous, crowded and uncomfortable vans, buses and trains, often on horribly substandard roads and in danger of robbery by highwaymen and thugs.
Many of us in the USA wear clothes for a season or two, then throw them in the garbage, something so unthinkable in most of the world as to be unbelievable.
A large portion of the world 's citizens go to bed hungry, while in the USA so much food is consumed that almost everyone is (or will be) obese, paying fees for "special diets", buying exercise equipment or enrolling in gyms or spas to make up for lack of physical activity.
In a large part of the world, whole families live in a "home" maybe the size of the average American kitchen.
We protest the loss of jobs and importation of goods made by companies that moved their manufacturing to poor countries, but we still demand lower prices. We give little thought to the poverty of those foreign workers, their brutal working conditions, their uncompensated injuries, or the damage to their environment. That's why it's so cheap to "ship the raw material out and the goods back in".
The rest of the world, for the most part, is envious of the USA. Envy, desperation for a better life, and the drive for power are natural to human beings. So is xenophobia, the fear of others not like oneself. These traits, which I believe are inborn, weren't so often aimed directly at us until television and the internet let almost everyone in the world see what they're missing (even though the actual conditions are highly exaggerated on TV - "streets paved with gold" syndrome). Now they've seen it with their own eyes, and either want it for themselves - or want us not to have it either.
That's a dangerous position for us to be in. And it took a horror like the Twin Towers incident to bring most of the world to our side, at least temporarily. It may take an Armageddon to eradicate terrorism, but now's the time if we're ever going to do it. And not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. We MUST extend the incredible generosity of spirit among ourselves this past week to include the oppressed, the hungry and the suffering people all over the world. We MUST maintain this spirit and this dedication for eradicating terrorist that kill and main the innocent and strike fear into the hearts of millions every day. We ARE one world. And we need to make it safe for everyone... of any gender, any race or any religious belief, and not just take shotgun revenge.
I believe we are just now beginning to realize how lucky we have been for a long time. This unspeakable tragedy has brought out the best in all of us. It's brought pride in our country and fellow-citizens, and steely determination to strike back at the perpetrators. We won't take this lying down.
They have now come for us... but it's not yet too late.
Joan Baez, where are you..... are you still watching and listening? Don't pass the torch quite yet.