Vinoth Ramachandra

Archive for July 4th, 2011

It is difficult to decide which was the most depressing piece of news last week: the huge trade deals signed by Britain and Germany with  the Chinese government, the grand reception accorded Omar al- Bashir in Beijing, or the helpless rage of the Greek populace before a corrupt global financial order.

Of course, no decision is necessary; and, in any case, they are all inter-related. Truth and justice have been banished from the global public square. The gods of “ limitless growth” and “consumption” brook no rivals. For all the posturing of Western governments on human rights and human dignity, we know how deeply they have become indebted to repressive political regimes such as the Chinese and how deeply enmeshed they are in exploitative financial systems from which they cannot extricate themselves, even if they wished to. Like the client-kings of Rome, depicted in the Book of Revelation, Western governments have capitulated to the Beast and do his bidding (while pretending to be politically sovereign).

Still, I had hoped that significant numbers of the British and German population, especially Christians who care about freedom of thought and religious worship, would have protested outside their parliaments. For those of us who live under dictatorships and military states, the visible support of the so-called international community is vital. The British government promotes the interests of its business corporations, even its arms industry, over the lives of human beings. India is one of the biggest purchaser of British weapons, which the Indian government uses against its own citizens. And until the recent NATO strikes and the condemnation of Gaddafi as a tyrant and war-criminal, British firms were doing business in Libya with the tyrant’s blessing.

As for the latest Greek tragedy, it simply illustrates what I have been writing about on my Blog ever since the so-called “financial crisis” of 2008. If Greek coffers are empty, it is not because of social benefits given to the sick and the poor; but, rather, the irresponsibility of Greek business corporations who hid their profits in off-shore tax havens. Rich Greeks, with the blessing of their politicians, enjoyed public services while not paying for them. (And the Greek Orthodox Church, owner of vast assets, has also been exempt from taxation). But it is the middle-and working classes who are now being forced to practice “austerity” to rescue Greece from bankruptcy. Moreover,  Greece is being charged interest  higher than the eurozone rate. Like global warming and subprime mortgages, it is the poor who forced to pay for the sins of the rich.

Reforms in the financial sector, whether in the US or Europe, are purely cosmetic. None of the institutions and individuals who were responsible for the foreclosures of peoples’ homes have been brought before courts of law. Banks seem to be exempt from the bankruptcy procedures that apply to ordinary people and small businesses.

All this speaks of political failure. The racists, the corrupt, and the mediocre have taken over parliamentary assemblies. Even highly intelligent and moral leaders like Barack Obama have their wings clipped by financial elites. Politics in Canada and Italy is no different from India or Thailand. Given these failures of governments all over the world, isn’t it time for more of us to be get out on the streets like the courageous  men and women in Athens, Damascus and Bahrain? Direct democracy is when the people themselves directly claim the right to decide the laws and policies that will shape their collective life. Their chosen representatives have betrayed them in favour of unelected business and banking tycoons.

Oh for a summer of public discontent all over the Western world! And for more Church leaders like the Hindu guru who fasted publicly in protest against political corruption in India.  Civil society needs to be renewed and activated all over the world.

I recently came across an account by Richard Hughes, an American college professor, which many of those educated in conservative Christian circles will identify with.  Hughes was an undergraduate student at a church-related institution in the American South between 1961 and 1965. During those years he was living and studying no more than 250 miles from most of the great events of the Freedom Movement/ Civil Rights Movement. In 1963, midway through his undergraduate experience, Martin Luther King led hundreds of children through the streets of Birmingham, protesting racial segregation. The city responded with fire hoses and police dogs.  In 1965, the year Hughes graduated from college, blacks sought to march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge from Selma to Montgomery, but Alabama storm troopers stopped them in their tracks with shockingly brutal force.

Hughes writes:

“Unbelievably, in spite of the fact that one of the greatest moral dramas in the history of the United States was unfolding under my nose, I missed it. I missed it almost entirely. I didn’t fully discover what I had missed until I enrolled as a graduate student at the University of Iowa in 1967. I blame myself, but I also blame that church-related college and its professors, for not one of my teachers said to me, ‘What is going on today is important. Take note.’ Or, better still, ‘Get involved.’”  [Richard T. Hughes, The Vocation of a Christian Scholar: How Christian Faith Can Sustain the Life of the Mind, 2005]


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