Friday, April 01, 2005

Opinion: On the blue planet...

Our beautiful little planet seems to have been facing a great deal of strife lately. And this both in terms of massive casualties - the Tsunami, the Congo war, the Iraq mess, etc - and on the global public arena.

Recent events have prompted me to talk about the second aspect of that strife. This past few months, we have seen the beginning of a new era. Several poliical leaders, public figures and newsmakers have been... passing the torch. And I am not only talking about such people as Tim Brokaw, and Dan Rather - and now Ted Koppel in December, on the American TV scene, who have simply moved to different aspects of their lives.

I am talking of course of such figures as Yasser Arafat of Palestine, who's passing - while tragic and sad - might have been the ultimate sacrifice needed, for the advent of his cherished Palestinian State, and the dignity of his people. Yasser Arafat was a great leader, a patriot, and he genuinely had a heartfelt love for his people - despite his other flaws, and a personalized aparatus that may have hindered his ability to be efficient. Fairly unprecedented - and frankly unexpected - events have been taking place since his demise, including fair Presidential elections, which some countries seem to be trying to take undue credit for.

Similarly, the demise of former Lebanese PM, Rafik Al-Hariri has triggered the bi-polar "Cedar Revolution", allowing various elements of the Lebanese society to voice their opinions - pro or against the presence of Syrian troops in Lebanon, on the public arena (another development some countries seem to want to take excessive credit for). Also a man with deep love for his country, I venture Mr Hariri would have been proud to see that his people had learned to disagree peacefully, after the decades of ethnic/religious civil war that he helped them come out of. The unfortunate demise of these two leaders allowed a new era to emerge in the Middle East; what remains to be seen, is how that new era fares, with the continued anger of many towards the illegal - and I mean that literally - US occupation of Iraq, and the perception of its aim to control all Middle Eastern Oil...

Here in the United States, three figured passed away recently, that left a certain emptiness that will also generate a new era. First, night time talk show host Johnny Carson, who hosted NBC's "The Tonight Show" for 30+ years, and who will forever live his print on the way late night talk shows... ARE. There is also - very recently - star lawyer Johnnie Cochran, who became famous for defending Actor/American Footbal star O.J. Simpson, and winning his acquital for his wife's murder. Finally, this thursday, there was Terri Schiavo, the 41-year-old brain-damaged lady whose demise ends a bitter "right-to-life" vs. "right-to-die" battle in Florida... or so people would like to think. It seems as though it is only a beginning, however. Republican House majority leader Tom Delay gave a hint at what was to come, by indexing the "arogant and unaccountable judiciary, who thumbed their nose at the Congress"... it seems the Schiavo case has reignited the Conservatives fire to have President Bush appoint conservative judges on the benches, to bring back "fairness and justice to the judiciary" - code words, IMHO, for "subordination to conservative values"...

But above all these unfortunate - yet truly influential - deaths, there are even more powerful sources of sadness and potential change. Two ailing leaders in Europe would truly mark the entrance to unchartered territories on the public scene. The first one is Prince Rainier III of Monaco, whose duties have now passed down to Prince Albert, as he was declared unable to fulfill his duties. The Monarch, with the the second-longest reign on the planet, has weathered the pains of paparazzis, while single-handedly transforming a small 'hill of a country', into a world leading financial heaven.

The Second, of course, is Pope John Paul II, whose health conditions have worsened today, and who was already given the last rites (second time in his lifetime). The leader of a billion people strong church, a World leader of his own right, and the pope that has been aging on the TV screens, will leave a church that is very different indeed from the one he took over in the 70's. He will also leave a legacy of ecumenism that is unmatched in history. It is sad, however, that the strains of religiou doctrine have not allowd him to retire, to rest in peace, and that the church have submitted the faithful to the tremendous pain of constantly seing the ailing leader deteriorate almost beyond the respect owed to his humanity. The church seems to have orchestrated a voyeuristic ritual, to reaffirm the notions of the goodness of pain, when it is in the service of "The Lord". It is unfortunate.

People come, and people go, on this blue little rock of ours, but some people among us do not go without leaving us with valuable lessons to be learned. These people here have taught us, I believe, that there is no limitations both to human depravity, and to human goodness; they have taught us - in their own way, on both sides of the political spectrum, that "life is like a box of chocolate", that it is up to us to have the ultimate serenity to choose the right battles to be faught, the just causes to be defended, and that ultimately, with a bit of effort, and sometimes a little pain, Justice, Humanity, and Laughter, always will prevail.


Brian said...

Malau, Regarding your comment about FGM, you might be surprised to know that I agree wholeheartedly with you. (I couldn't tell from your note who you interpreted my post)

FGM, like most social mores, can only be changed from the inside not the outside. If a 23 year old white woman goes to a venerable elder and lectures him on what she knows is best and tells him what he ought to decree, it's obviously not going to go down very well. No one, anywhere in the world, likes to be lectured to by outsiders. Outsiders can help spur the initial phase of change, by getting people talking about it. But utlimately the decisions and the commitment have to come from inside a society. Things like anti-FGM and AIDS awareness have only succeeded in places where people from inside the societies have chosen to make the causes their own. That's why I pointed out an article that highlighted an anti-FGM activist in Sierra Leone who was not American or European, but Sierra Leonian.

When I was training for the Peace Corps, one of our Senegalese trainers told us a story. He said he was opposed to FGM personally but his wife vigorously supported it. He could say don't do it, but the wife was going to do it anyways. The wife felt that not having it done would make her unable to find a husband. Whether it was true or not (and maybe there was some truth to it, I don't know), that's what the wife believed and she was going to have it done to the daughter anyway. So the husband, against his own personal wishes, decided to facilitate the process. That way, he could at least make sure the procedure was done in a safe environment (as much as possible) with clean instruments and so forth. It surely wasn't a pleasant choice to make but it demonstrates the abiguity of a situation that defies easy answers.

Brian said...

"another development some countries seem to want to take excessive credit for"

Correction: some presidents and their apologists.

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