Of Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Tears and Politics

In December of 2004, in the aftermath of the South-East Asian tsunami, I wrote a piece on the fact that every day, tens of thousands of people die from hunger and malnutrition; yet we barely spare our constant attention on that. However, when something such as the South-East Asian tsunami strikes, it catches our attention and evokes a quick and substantial response.

Maybe it’s just me, but I really haven’t felt as overwhelming a response to the earthquake in South Asia as the tsunami. A lot of people seem to agree (but I stand to be corrected).

I’m trying to place why this is the case — at least, here in the West, and particularly, Canada. (In the Muslim world, the earthquake happened to strike at the beginning of the month of Ramadhan, and judging simply from the MSA‘s response at UofT, it seems that Muslims are giving heartily. Since I’m not there, I don’t know what the response is like.)

Apparently, this earthquake isn’t as Hollywood, or maybe it’s because not enough Western tourists had their vacations upset, or perhaps it’s not right after Christmas and no one feels as guilty, or maybe people are tired of giving for tsunamis and hurricanes, or maybe no one really cares about the Kashmiris anyway.

I’m also trying to grasp why my own emotional response has been so shallow. Usually I’m deeply affected by human suffering (scroll down and see how much I cry). I’m not sure if I’ve become callous or what, but this earthquake really hasn’t moved me to tears yet — and that scares me.

Moreover, I’ve learned more about the political aspects of human and natural disasters. And I have to revise my statement that “every five days, 120,000 people die from hunger — it doesn’t take American bombs … to do it.”

Imagine if India and Pakistan had invested more in their people, their infrastructure, their buildings, their hospitals, their social services and so on, instead of investing so heavily in armed forces and military research and development: Not only would the magnitude of this disaster be lessened in terms of reaching areas and not having shoddy buildings fall, but the utter poverty that many of these people were already subject to would definitely have been reduced.

This is a classic example of the guns and butter paradigm. Eisenhower said it well:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

Moreover, not all bombs are the type that are dropped from airplanes. The world economy is designed in such a way that it delivers vast profits to the Northern countries (essentially “the West”) by more or less robbing the Southern countries — Africa is a notable example. The causes are complex but rooted in the structure of this world economic order. These policies often lead to the very famines and mass starvations that we see (such as in Niger), and the ones we don’t see. These are not simply “American bombs,” per se, because other wealthy countries participate in this debauchery as well (America certainly leads the charge).

Ultimately the point remains that we don’t do anything about anything. Whether it be bringing about a responsible resolution to the “thousand years” of war that the countries we come from are often set to fight or to the economic policies of the wealthy nations that we have adopted, we do little. We continue to live our lives of complacency, caught up in our busy days and busy ways.

We cannot control natural disasters, but we can prepare for them. We can prevent economic disasters and bring about justice to the way things are done.

We see the news and realize something bad is happening and put some money in a box and hope it will go away. But it never does and it never will. It will keep coming back until we bring about a change to the way things are done and the ways of those who purport to lead us. We have to effect a paradigmatic shift.

… it’s like the elders told me:
No one person can do everything, but everyone can do something.

- “One (Remix),” Immortal Technique

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1 Response so far

  1. 1

    Paul Kou-9 said,

    October 24, 2005 @ 12:57 am

    I think this earthquake isn’t drawinig a media blitz because of two reasons, the first being more important than the last.

    1. Unlike the tsunami, earthquakes are quite commonplace all over the world and rushing to their aid gets rather tiring. The tsunami was unique and novel, and I for one was fascinated by watching the waves hit resorts and buildings–it was like watching a movie, though not as spectacular as that scene of New York being hit by a tidal wave in the film “Deep Impact”.
    2. There isn’t much displayed sympathy because people are still recovering from Katrina, and if you’ve given a tune in to CNN recently, they still religiously cover every single damned issue related to it.

    Agree, no? I think these are valid points. But in the end, can you really blame us for not helping faceless people on the other side of the globe when we have domestic financial issues galore?

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