Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace

Iranian grandfather and his grandson
Iranian grandfather and his grandson

This article titled Noam Chomsky: America is the gravest danger to world peace from Salon is beautifully written and I can’t help but comment.
I think in a world where western countries have in the past used their economic advantage to suppress dissent or force countries which do not agree with them into line, or to punish countries which disagree with them (e.g. Cuba, Zimbabwe), such carefully articulated views must be more widely disseminated in so far as showing who is in the wrong and being unfair.
In my view, it can never be right or fair for some countries to be at mercy of other countries which have an economic oligarchy / monopoly … and greater military power. The average Iranian has never done anything wrong to any American, so why should they suffer as a result of economic sanctions on Iran for the decisions of their leaders? And why should they suffer at all – just because their country’s leaders fundamentally disagree with the Americans?

In the past Americans through doctrines such as Manifest Destiny have pursued imperialist ambitions culminating with their defeat in Vietnam. And when the Shah of Iran, the puppet leader the American leadership installed in Iran was ousted, and the Islamic Revolution took off, it seems some have harboured this unreasonable anger against Iran since then. In my view it is no more than a hegemonic attempt to control other people, to exploit their resources, and suppress dissent that is driving America into conflict, and you don’t need to refer to the hacking of communications of world leaders by the NSA to see this kind of poisonous mindset.

The opposition to this nuclear deal is frankly disgusting, and for me it shows a number of things about some American leaders including:-

  • there are too many warmongering American leaders who still believe it is up to them to police the world, and tell others how they should live their live.
  • the United States is partial and dishonest about nuclear power, as it is about carbon emissions ( do as I say, not as I do)
  • If you are willing to indiscriminately bomb iran, its children, its women, what does that say of how you see the Iranian people? ……………………   Would those same leaders be happy if some country bombed New York or San Francisco?….. It’s people, its women, its children causing deaths of hundreds of thousands of people?…………… Of course not….. So why then is it acceptable or somehow even a consideration for the American airforce to bomb the people of Iran, just as they’ve done in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya – causing untold devastation and suffering, causing deaths of over a million people and leading to the rise of ISIL? Why is it acceptable to bomb a middle eastern country but not acceptable to drop bombs on the people of California? The answer to that question is this: because those hawks and others who think like them, advocating military action or heavy economic sanctions against foreign countries, are racists who do not view Iranians as people in the same way that they view American people; they don’t see Iranians as people deserving peace, happiness, prosperity and security. They see them via a patriarchal lens that categorises people based on their skin colour, where they were born and what they believe in …..
  • If it was possible for some of the leadership to have normal family relations with people of Iranian / Iraqi heritage, say grandparents of a spouse in Iran, or had married Iranian women/ men, and got to visit Iran, and see the ordinary lives of the Iranian people; people who just wanted to be part of the global village, to send their kids to school, to be able to afford groceries, to be able to afford nice holidays, to have safety and security, I think some of them would realise the flaws in their thinking, and begin to see things differently. But as things stand, it’s stunning just how offensive some of the rhetoric is – which I think points to being closed minded.

Such type of divisive conduct is what made dictatorships such as Nazi Germany, and such type of thinking is what was responsible for everything from the holocaust to Colonialism and Slavery; that certain people have more value than others; that certain people deserve to be treated better than others; that certain people should be subservient to others.

I totally reject such type of thinking.

All people are equal and valuable under the sun, before God, irrespective to where they live, their skin colour, their nationality, their sexual orientation, gender or age, irrespective of where they were born, or how much money is in their bank accounts.

You may not agree with the Iranians or the Afghan people or Iraqis over one policy issue or another, but that doesn’t authorise you to bomb their country and bring death and devastation to their lands… what happened to your Christian values – if you claim to have values? Would Jesus Christ – the same Biblical character who courted the poor – authorise the bombing of Iran? Bombing another sovereign country unprovoked, and for no sensible reason only shows you to be a coward akin to a school playground bully. If he can’t get what he wants he fights.

But even if you were not Christian/religious, what about simple and old-fashioned humanity and decency? What about propriety?

I don’t believe Iran is capable of bombing Israel, if anything they are more troubled about the plight of Palestinians, as is every true muslim. Let’s be honest, Palestinians are in a much worse situation than that which black people of Apartheid South Africa ever were, and if I were a muslim I too would be more concerned than I already am.

So this ridiculous fallacy that Iran is a threat to world peace must be put to bed sooner than later, and Chomsky does a good job at this. Over the course of my life in the UK, I’ve known a few Iranians, and they tell me their country cannot attack Israel or some other country because the military wouldn’t have the support of the people. Army officers would simply refuse to effect any such nonsensical order. The establishment may have gotten away with rigging elections during Ahmadinejad’s tenure, but they would never get away with such an atrocity. The rhetoric of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the former president, was largely because being a volunteer to the Revolutionary Guards – he may have felt obliged to appease his fellow hardliners, the same camp he may have had to return to after serving as president. So, far from his talk being threats, it was just theatrics.

Also how would the world react against Iran if they indeed fired even a single missile into Israel? The Iranian leadership is not stupid not to know that such would be the end of the Islamic Revolution. It’s a disingenuous western lie by an unholy alliance of the right-wing media and dodgy alarmist politicians who are drumming up the hatred against Iran, for some other motive – my guess a financial motive. The same kind of lies that claimed Weapons of Mass Destruction existed in Iraq.

After all the ills of the last 200 or so years, each country should decide what they want to do, and how they want to do things, it should not be up to Europeans or Americans or anyone else! to dictate to the rest of the world how they should live their lives or how they should generate their energy or what kind of policies those countries should adopt. After everything the Americans and Europeans have done in the past, which history can testify to, it sure is high time to get off the high horse.

Cecil Rhodes: He can never be an African hero

The issue of Cecil Rhodes’s statue being pelted with excrement has deeper issues, of the emerging free thinking young Africans who do not want to be influenced by warped views of Westerners who cannot identify with the enlightened African – of whose breed there are no averages. Scouring the many debates of this issue exposes a deep divide between Africans and Westerners on the issue of colonialism and how it should be remembered. The young minds of Africa who are free from biased views of the world from a western context, are beginning to question certain aspects of African history which was mostly written by Westerners.

First of all, it is of no wonder that the students of University of Cape Town have reacted in this way, because for centuries the African life and history has been dictated by Europeans. Today, a spirit of rebelliousness is slowly fermenting in the young minds of Africans who are fed up of western hegemony on public life in Africa. For once, this new breed of Africans want to decide on what is right for their culture and history, without any distortions or sympathy for imperialism and its so-called advantages from anybody.  They want to decide by themselves, and they will decide for themselves – Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!

Scouring the many social media comments on this issue, it is disparaging to hear of the lazy argument that claims that there would be no South Africa without colonialism. The claim is that Africa would not be introduced to the modern pillars of life that is education, technology and democracy if it was not for men like Rhodes. Basically what they are saying is that Africa would not be what it is today without imperialism and somehow Africans need to be grateful despite colonialism’s grave flaws.

What a load of bullshit!

What these arguments seem to forget is that, no one in Africa asked for this so-called intervention by Europeans. Africans had their own interpretation of life before the Europeans came, and it is unintelligible to claim that Africans should be grateful for colonialism.

Kerr Cross for example writing in 1890 had this to say about the social and economic life of Northern Malawi:

Food is everywhere abundant, bananas, sweet potatoes, cassava, yams, Indian Corn, beans, peas, millet and other seeds, wild fruits, honey, milk and beef

And in regards to the social order, a look at the village life provides a good picture:

All weeds, grasses, garbage and things unsightly are swept away by little boys. Each house is built of bamboo, with clay worked by the women into little rounded bricks ….The doorsteps are often painted with designs in red, yellow and other colours, and altogether there is an air of comfort, and plenty

(Cross, D.K., Geographical Notes of the country between lake Nyassa, Rukwa and Tanganyika, in: Scottish Geography Magazine VI (1890) pp. 283-4, quoted in: McCracken,J., op. cit., p.98.)

So life for the Africans living in those days must have been reasonable enough in the African context. In fact innovations used in agriculture, in the military and in industry developed in the Northern parts of Africa, by earlier civilisations in Egypt, and those developed by the Nubians, and by civilisations like that of Great Zimbabwe would later  find their way southwards, to be improved upon. [For a much more indepth description refer to this video by Dr Yosef Ben Jochannan ]

Toyin Falola and Tyler Fleming of the Department of History, University of Texas at Austin, USA, writing in AFRICAN CIVILIZATIONS: FROM THE PRE-COLONIAL TO THE MODERN DAY, says:

Though people have lived in Africa quite some time… Iron tools enhanced weaponry, allowed groups to clear and manage dense forests, plow fields for farming, and basically better everyday lives. Ultimately, iron tools allowed Africans to flourish in every environment, and thus they could live in larger communities which led to the formation of states and kingdoms. With state formation came the formation of modern civilizations with common languages, belief and value systems, art, religion, lifestyle and culture

They go on to say that:

Later European explorers and settlers often argued that territories were unsettled upon their arrival and thus were ripe for the taking, but these assumptions were misguided. Often land had been abandoned due to poor soil quality, infrequent rainfall, or had been claimed for future use

No matter how people frame these spineless arguments that portray pre-colonial Africans as having been in need of a white saviour, Africans had their own way of life which was derived of African innovations. The unfortunate thing is that we shall never know what life in Africa could have been without the slave trade and colonialism. Having said that, pre-colonial communities were never completely isolated,and there was interaction between states and with outsiders including the Middle East, India, the Chinese and Europeans. Thus, there are credible grounds to suggest that exchange of ideas on a purely economic relationship (as opposed to coloniser and colonized), relationships in which African truly benefitted, would have ultimately led to a level of development comparable if not superior to those witnessed in other parts of the world.

It needs to be noted that when colonialists came to Africa, they found a continent that was rich in both resources and culture. Africa was home to kingdoms, chiefdoms and previously had housed some of the most intriguing empires which were built using a sophisticated craftmanship previously unknown to Europeans.

But somewhere along the way theories were cooked up which concluded that Black African lives were inferior to White lives. In the absence of written African accounts (many of which were purposely destroyed) that disproved this thesis, such ideas, peddled about by racists such as Arthur de Gobineau and Georges Vacher de Lapouge then spawned the belief that it was in the best interests of Africans that Westerners erase their way of life, whether they liked it or not because the African could not comprehend what was right or wrong for him/her. According to such supremacist theories – which were driven more by propaganda that needed to find an excuse to use in the dispossession of the African, and were devoid of any truthful and verifiable science –  the African needed ‘help’ from a superior being: the white man.

No matter how anyone tries to frame these argument, the fact remains that when the Europeans first arrived, Africans were not lacking. And while they may not have had certain ‘luxuries’, most parts of Africa were stable, had capable people who were content with their lives.

There were diseases (e.g. malaria and dysentery), just like everywhere with such warm climates, and the usual tribal conflicts, but at no point were Europeans asked for their ‘civilization’ to be transplanted to Africa. Put simply, it was forced upon them.

So, its absurd to suggest that colonialism despite its barbarism, needs to be applauded for it ‘civilised’ the savages of Africa.

What people who push that argument seem to forget is that most of the so-called savagery in Africa at that time was fermented because of the transatlantic slave trade which pitted one African tribe against each other. For example in East Africa, before the Arabs came in search of slave labour, the various tribes that inhabited the area were either subsistence farmers or practicing animal husbandry. Society was orderly, and discipline was observed. (Here i must say that the ‘savagery’ painted on Africans at the time doesn’t come anywhere near to the level of savagery by Europeans in the middle ages – from religious persecution to wars of conquest in which thousands were massacred). 

It is this sense of entitlement on the part of Europeans and Americans that has lived on up to this day, that still fuels western countries to meddle in the domestic affairs of other countries, even when they wouldn’t have others meddle in the internal affairs of their own countries. Because some of them are raised to think they are more important than anybody else; that the world owes them resources, wealth, happiness, and it doesn’t matter what or who is in their way; that others who have better things must be dispossessed; that others cannot enjoy their own resources without interference. Jealousy and Greed. This kind of mindset still remains, as Rhodes said,

I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race.

And that is just so sad.

This imperialist kind of thinking is what explains Western countries aiding dodgy rebels to kill Gaddafi, in a country that was more prosperous than any other country in Africa. It is what causes them to back fascist militia to oust an elected government in Ukraine…

Remember what happened to Morsi?…. how a shady military general who is ex-CIA was entertained into pushing out an elected leader in Egypt…

The Syrian conflict and 200,000 people who have died as a result. Iraq and the over one million people who have died as a result…

Gaddafi, Morsi and others were no saints (and yes Morsi was incompetent), but as I’ve argued on this blog before, Gaddafi’s Libya was a hundredfold better than the current Libya, which is ruled by a thousand different murderous militias, causing mindless carnage that is destroying the last vestiges of African prosperity. Many Libyans today openly regret what has become of their country. And the sad thing is western countries can’t fix the mess they helped create.

So, as an African who lives in a country that was a former colony (to which colonisation deprived access to sea – leading to a perpetual volatile economy, and a never ending high cost of living), I’m deeply offended and find it appalling when some fools still think Cecil Rhodes should have a place in African history. I think that decision is for Southern Africans to make and if they deem him to be a villain not a hero, then it should be so – at which point some of us will gladly applaud.

In the same manner that most Africans accept that Adolf Hitler was a murderer, a pillager and conqueror, is the same way the Europeans should accept the view of some Africans on Cecil Rhodes. Having a statue of Rhodes at UCT is abhorrent in all types of rationality, because it was only about 110 years ago that an infestation of men like him masqueraded as angels across the African landscape when in fact they were on a mission of exploitation and pillage. Plundering Africans and their natural wealth: a theft that has clearly benefited the West up until the present time, and whose negative effects are there on African soil, visible for all to see.

I therefore believe that the towering statue of Cecil Rhodes should be pulled down at UCT because it is a constant reminder of colonialism and white superiority. Unlike the pulling down of Saddam Hussein’s statue in 2003… or unlike the pulling down of Lenin’s statues in former soviet republics after the fall of the USSR ( the fall of whose reigns were fingered by foreigners) I think it is time that Africans get to decide on what pages of history they want to write for themselves, and to remember – whether such is accompanied by ‘faeces flinging’ or not, without any foreign interference. And I’ll tell you why: because for years we have been brainwashed with the ‘heroic’ deeds of such charlatans who did nothing for us of any real value. If anything, accepting Cecil Rhodes as a hero is accepting and validating white superiority which once thought African cultures had no place in the world. It’s a bit like trying to convince Iraqis to erect a statue in honour of George Bush and Tony Blair, the two politicians who in recent years have done the most to destroy any hope of peace, security, prosperity and normality for ordinary Iraqis. Glorifying Cecil Rhodes and people like him is tantamount to accepting Slavery and Apartheid.

Slavery…dishonors labor; it introduces idleness into society, and with idleness, ignorance and pride, luxury and distress. It enervates the powers of the mind and benumbs the activity of man. – Alexis de Tocqueville

For the enlightened African, Cecil Rhodes is a pillager, murderer  and a bigot who may have made wealth for some countries in Europe, but is partly responsible for the poverty, sickness, corruption, hegemony and human suffering that we see across Africa today. He has no place in our societies that are striving for love, equality, peace and prosperity for all (irrespective of gender, colour, nationality or race).

So then…Kwa wenyewe! Ngokwabo! Pawokha! Nipa ara wọn! Da kansu!

Edited: S Nkhwazi

The arrogance of Netanyahu

Obama-Netanyahu

The current wrangle between Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, and President Barack Obama’s administration is another clear sign of the kind of arrogance that Israel has displayed in security matters across the middle east. Netanyahu who has travelled to the United States to address Congress, bypassed all formal protocol with the white house when he accepted the invitation from the Republican Party’s John Boehner – who is speaker of the House of Representatives, even when all sensible reason advised against such a move. Despite wide condemnation of the visit, Benjamin Netanyahu who faces an election in which his popularity is uncertain, barely 2 weeks from now gave a speech attacking Tehran and its nuclear ambitions in which he not only fiercely criticises the US led negotiations in Switzerland, but left no doubt of his contempt for the US government – the very same hand that feeds, arms, protects, and even tolerates Israel’s aggression.

But what’s behind Netanyahu’s public intervention in the domestic politics of the US, so much that he is willing to sidestep Obama’s administration?

It seems like yesterday when an annoyed Bill Clinton, emerging from his first meeting with Netanyahu remarked: “Who’s the fucking superpower here?” (Others quoted Clinton to have said “he thinks he is the superpower and we are here to do whatever he requires.” )

That was 1996. This time, the attrition is between Netanyahu and Obama over Iran which has been building nuclear reactors for purported peaceful purposes. The US and other nations believe that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb, and numerous governments have made exhaustive efforts to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Iran says its nuclear programme is for peaceful purposes. Obama is of the view that the crisis should be handled through talks where concessions can be made, to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear technology. Israel believes that whatever deal that is to be reached from the talks, will still leave Iran with the expertise and materials to build a nuclear weapon. So, according to Prime minister Netanyahu, Iran should be stripped of its centrifuges and nuclear infrastructure, a move which is unlikely to deter Iran, and which the Obama administration has called ‘unrealistic’ and unattainable.

First and foremost, President Barack Obama as the supreme commander of the United States of America has the ultimate authority to shape America’s foreign policy whichever way he sees fit. The Republican Party is in opposition and despite America being a federalist state where presidential powers can be checked, it is president Obama who is in control, a fact which many Republicans don’t sit comfortably with. It is state-protocol that any head of state travelling to country A notifies the office of the president in country A. It is also not constructive that any head of state opts to travel to country A only to meet the opposition party because he/she does not agree with country A’s foreign policy. Heads of states cannot be seen to take sides in domestic politics especially when there are fresh disagreements regarding policies hovering about.

Netanyahu’s camaraderie relationship with the Republicans undermines Obama’s administration as being incompetent in the face of a nuclear Iran. In a recent interview, Susan Rice, President Obama’s national security adviser criticised Netanyahu when she said:

Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to travel to Washington to deliver the speech two weeks before the Israeli elections has injected a degree of partisanship, which is not only unfortunate, I think it’s destructive of the fabric of the relationship

The White house agrees with Ms. Rice’s depiction of Netanyahu’s visit and President Obama has refused to meet him. Vice President Joe Biden who is president of the senate is supposed to be present for Netanyahu’s speech, but he has said he will be travelling abroad. Secretary of State John Kerry also said he will be in Switzerland negotiating with the Iranians. The Israeli prime minister was however invited for a meeting by Democratic senators, but he declined. Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat said,

We offered the prime minister an opportunity to balance the politically divisive invitation from Speaker Boehner with a private meeting with Democrats who are committed to keeping the bipartisan support of Israel strong. His refusal to meet is disappointing to those of us who have stood by Israel for decades”.

Even J Street, the influential pro-israel advocacy group criticised the visit accusing Netanyahu of using Congress as “a prop” for his election campaign, putting out a campaign to distance itself from Netanyahu.

After the speech, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said she was

“saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States . . . and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation.”

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), one of nine Jewish senators criticized what she called “circular reasoning” in Netanyahu’s speech which she said proposed a better deal, but yet claimed Iran could never be trusted. How then can you have a deal when you can’t trust the other party?

“I don’t know what he’s saying: Should we work for a better deal or should we cut off any negotiations at this time? . . . It was not helpful at this point to criticize a deal that hasn’t even been completed.”

In a week where leaked cables revealed that Netanyahu’s Iran bomb claim was contradicted by Mossad, one would have thought that Mr Netanyahu’s speech would have taken a conciliatory or at least mild tone. Especially after last summer’s Gaza incursion, which left over 2140 Gazans dead including 513 children. Yet the speech was anything but mild.

The Israeli prime minister vehemently attacked international talks with Iran on its nuclear ambitions despite the rift that might be caused. Whether this was a move to infuriate Obama or some publicity stunt designed to portray Netanyahu as a strongman, with a view to drum up political support back home prior to the elections is anyone’s guess? However, what the speech did not do is make it easier for Netanyahu to have his way. From the kind of reactions the speech has received, it is clear that it’s not won him much mainstream support.

Previously, Mr Netanyahu said,

Therefore I will go to Washington to address the American Congress, because the American Congress is likely to be the final brake before the agreement between the major powers and Iran

Iran_is_a_THREAT_to_peace_by_Latuff2

Mr Netanyahu’s efforts to stop diplomatic talks with Iran must be viewed with scepticism if not suspicion. Especially after the unreliable things he has said in the past – as reported by Haaretz, Israel’s oldest newspaper here. In a volatile time in the Middle-East, the most mature thing to do is to negotiate with the Iranians over their nuclear infrastructure. In any case, unlike Saudi Arabia and others who have offered only verbal support, Iran is infact fighting ISIS, and is suffering casualties and fatalities (including losing a high profile general). What Mr Netanyahu wants is to destroy Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, and according to him, the only way to do that is through military action. Any talk of negotiations and whether the Iranians are entitled to a nuclear propgramme of sorts is irrelevant according to him. Obviously, there is no way Iran would consent to such demands, because Iran as a sovereign state also wants nuclear capability as achieved by every powerful nation in the world, including the likes of Pakistan and India.

Mr Netanyahu’s arrogance echoes of the Republican Party’s foreign policy of pre-emptive strike during the administration of George Bush. The Iraq War is the epitome of Bush’s policy where the whole campaign ended disastrously for America’s image and the Middle-East. Currently, with an unstable Syria and Iraq, it would be negligent for the world powers to engage Iran in any other way outside of diplomatic talks. It is therefore possible that Netanyahu’s siding with the Republicans is because he believes that that the Democrats are treating the Iran situation with “kid gloves”. So he probably thinks that going through the Republicans, who have a majority in both houses will halt the deal between the US and Iran.

In this regard, Republicans in the Senate are responding to Netanyahu’s address by fast tracking legislation requiring Congress to review any agreement with Tehran, and to issue more sanctions against Iran which can sabotage the talks. President Obama has made it clear that he will veto any such legislation, and after the speech – which has alienated Democrats, it looks very unlikely that the Republicans will have 13 Democratic votes to override the president.

Whichever way it goes, Mr Netanyahu’s actions are very dangerous to world peace and security. This kind of aggressive behaviour is precisely the very reason why nations seek to build nuclear weapons. So that they can deter hostile situations that arise from rhetoric such as this. Mr Netanyahu’s trip is being seen by others as the beginning of a strained relationship between the US and Israel. Yes, we may all agree that a country whose unpopular and former revolutionary guard leaders have claimed Israel is illegitiate must not come anywhere near nuclear weapons. But it is the manner which Netanyahu has sought to deliver his speech without securing authority from the highest office of the country, that has many people including the Democrats shunning him. If Israeli leaders begin to frustrate political figures from a country that supports them the most, they risk losing their biggest ally. And once the US starts sayng NO, everybody will say NO. It isn’t Iran who is a danger to world peace. In an already volatile region, it is Mr Netanyahu’s belligerence, arrogance and short-sightedness that will cost Israel peace and stability.

What Boris Johnson’s ‘Greed’ speech reveals about the rot in Politics

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are many things which the UK does well on the world stage. Tons! In fact too many raw and commendable achievements to list in one blog post or even to chronicle in a single book, and that is itself a testament to the past leadership, a great people and what a great country Britain has been and still is.

As someone who has been bred within the British system (in almost all good meanings of those words), I have great respect and admiration for the way Britain has done (for itself and the wider humanity), and how Britain continues to do certain things.

However, having said that, there are other things that current British political leaders have not been too good at, and are in fact utterly appalling at.

Before I explore this point further, please allow me to share with you a story that relates not to current political leaders in the UK, but to current political leaders in the US

Last year, I read an article that was commenting over the results of the 2012 US general elections. In October, several months later, the 2013 US government shutdown happened, reminding me about the contents in that article.

In a nutshell, the author of the article opined that  Mitt Romney was not a bad leader. That with a few deliberate but permanent tweaks to his persona, he could make a good president, even a great president. I know that summary in itself sounds somewhat mechanical and dreamy, but I totally agreed with this conclusion, for reasons which you will understand once you’ve finished reading this post.

In the weeks following the US government shutdown (and much recently, the ‘greed’ speech by Boris Johnson) , I found myself viewing these events with similar sentiments. i.e. that if you are someone who has felt the pangs of pain of not having enough, experienced the life of living in a poor family, of struggle, of constantly being sidelined, the want which  ‘the bottom’ 60% maybe 70% experience, in one form or the other, you are more likely than not, to know specifically how to treat or accommodate others (especially those who for whatever reason find themselves in that societal bracket) sensitively and constructively, than if you have lived a relatively comfortable and wealthy life, with little or no deprivation, pain or material want. It sounds apologetic or a bit like a get out of jail card justifying exploitation, but it isn’t.

The issue of how the ruling classes treat the masses is a lot more serious than how some people like to portray it. It transcends even the Marxist theory of inequality and poverty and many other attempts to capture its gravity. And here, we can also reference to the credit crunch, the riotous issue of healthcare insurance in the US, and repossession of personal property. To some people, these are merely transactional issues with little or no personal implications or emotion attached to them. To these lucky few, they still have a roof over their heads – one they own; they have enough food, money; investments, savings, affluent friends and family, they can still afford one or more holidays a year, they can still afford 2 bottles of fine wine a week, the golf club membership is intact, the steaks and gourmet dinners with acquaintances, business partners, or with family; the trips to the movies, they can still attend concerts and the Broadway featured shows, etc …. very little, if at all anything has changed in their lives. Which is totally fine. Whatever works for you.

But to others, those who have actually been affected, lack of health insurance, a repossessed home, or a rise in energy bills is a much more personal and grave issue that will materially and negatively affect them, often for a very long time. A repossession/ foreclosure means losing their home, not having security, their poor credit rating just worsened (making it harder for them to obtain credit in future – exacerbating an already bad situation), it means there is less money for a decent diet – which could affect their health; the impact on their mental health, and on their children (part of it being psychological), the societal stigma, the personal shame, the resulting hardship, etc…is all immensely difficult to deal with. Often depression follows.

Sadly, you never truly know how difficult such situations are, until you experience them yourself.

Yet, isn’t it incredible how the suffering of others somehow solicits critiques from folk who have never gone through it themselves. Barking senseless orders to those affected :

Oh they shouldnt have got a mortgage in the first place (what about those who were issuing the mortgages, don’t they get any blame) ; Shit happens ; It’s the system;  You can’t keep everyone happy;  Not everyone can live comfortably or achieve success in life; Inequality is necessary for competition

Which brings me to Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. In his speech recently he was quoted to have said that greed was a necessary motivator. That inequality was essential to fostering “the spirit of envy“, hailing greed as a “valuable spur to economic activity“.

Now, I think I’ve got a bit of an idea what he may have been trying to say, but I don’t believe his selection of words is particularly helpful in a country that has one of the widest gap between rich and poor in the western world, and whose recent policies have been criticised by even some of its greatest living champions.

Depending on who you choose to listen to (see other accounts here and here), his speech was either brilliant or hopelessly misleading. In my view it represents exactly the type of rotten politician who has been responsible for societal disharmony and global unrest over the last few years. The comments are similar to the contemptible and greed driven  line-up-for-oil-contracts-now-that-Gaddafi-has-died comments made by a UK defence minister after Gaddafi’s death. And that’s coming from someone who didn’t exactly like Gaddafi.

But let’s think a moment about Boris’s comments. Weren’t the same “hedge fund kings” he idolizes part of the devilish and unholy alliance of risk prone bankers, unhinged speculators and others greedy sorts who were largely responsible for the global financial crisis that recently destroyed the global economy? A crisis which in the end, after all the bonuses had been paid – and the rich had gotten richer, had to fall back on state-owned banks, financed by the same poor tax payer (here, the US term ‘tax dollars‘ is particularly appropriate ) virtually being shitted on by this speech, to bail them out?

Never mind his ignorant remarks on IQ (a rebuttal of which deserves its own blog post), how can in this day and age a self-respecting politician stand up, and publicly say that it is futile to attempt to end inequality? Where on earth is this man living? Does he even have a functioning ethical compass? No wonder many young people think politicians are out of touch with reality.

Can one preach at home inequality of races and nations and advocate abroad good-will towards all men?
– Dorothy Thompson 

[Here think about David Cameron’s agenda in his recent Sri Lanka visit]

My attitude to peace is rather based on the Burmese definition of peace – it really means removing all the negative factors that destroy peace in this world. So peace does not mean just putting an end to violence or to war, but to all other factors that threaten peace, such as discrimination, such as inequality, poverty.

Aung San Suu Kyi

Even the Great Nelson Mandela had some wise and thoughtful words of advice on poverty (which is an effect of inequality) via this quote:

BrK0ijM

I don’t have anything personal against Boris Johnson. In fact before he made that speech, I kind of liked him… but after such thoughless statements (which in my view go beyond all the silly but harmless things he’s said in the past), I’m surprised how he can be so insensitive??

But how is Boris Johnson’s speech related to Mitt Romney? Well, Mitt happens to be the fellow who said:

“There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … My job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”  [leaked comments from a fundraiser in May 2012]

a statement which he later regretted, and which solely probably costed him the US presidency. [More Mitt quotes here]

My point with all this?

Shouldn’t Politics be about representing the people, both rich and poor; Leadership – whether in Africa, America,  Europe or elsewhere, should be about creating a functional, healthier, safer, happier, more productive society? How better to do that than by leading by example?

In my view, today’s leaders cannot help the poor or indeed know how severe the situations of low-income earners (or those suffering with sickness, that are unemployed, in debt, etc, ) can be, when they are cushioned from that horrible world by a media obsessed with sanitizing news. Unless they make a serious attempt to experience the common man’s life, they’ll remain blind – and we’ll continue to hear more such stupid comments.

It is vain, immature and wantonly elitist to go around advocating inequality and greed when you have never experienced its less than admirable effects firsthand.

Very few people choose to be poor, so how valid are divisive comments on greed when you don’t know how the victims of inequality live, how they deal with the daily problems they face (the solutions of which you smart-arsly cobble together in your speeches – with no first hand experience) or even how they became affected in the first place?

Boris Johnson’s claim to hardship probably extends no further than the couple of times his wife kicked him out their marital home, after repeatedly cheating on her. That clearly is not hardship.

Which brings me to my next point.

Don’t you think there is a higher probability that society could be more cohesive, stronger across the board, people more responsible towards each other, harmonious and more likely to successfully combat the problems of the day if high income groups were genuinely sensitive to the needs and circumstances of low-income groups, and low-income groups were sensitive to the needs and circumstances of high income groups?

I know it sounds a bit fanciful and rather idealistic, but allow me please to give you an example.

I watch Secret Millionaire and Undercover Boss, both of which I think are fantastic shows. Sometimes they bring tears to my eyes as I watch hardworking folk struggle with the challenges of life, getting by on very little, a life that I’m accustomed to and know just too well.

And then the millionaire or ‘boss’ steps onto the scene, in disguise, and after making observations over a few weeks, has their outlook transformed as to how others in a different world to themselves live and work. After this ‘eye opener’ the millionaires reveal their identities, and donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to some causes, or in the case of Undercover Boss, donates tens of thousands of dollars to their employees, paying for their medical bills, childcare, education, long overdue holidays, etc., sometimes transforming the employees life beyond their wildest dreams.

I know there are people out there who hand on heart don’t want to mix with those from less fortunate backgrounds, or those from a different religious persuasion, or those who they have been made to believe embody certain negative stereotypes, but how can society be harmonious or progress if people across the board are inflexible to understanding what causes inequality, poverty, hardship, but are only too willing to complacently make preachy damaging statements, from within their comfort zones?

Like Mandela, Gandhi to me represents the near-ideal leader all leaders should aspire or measure themselves against; how he had few possessions and believed in the notion that what you did for others was more honourable and worthy than what you did for yourself is. Or Thomas Sankara, the military leader of Burkina Faso, who being selfless and incorruptible, triumphed women’s causes.

A good leader thinks thus: We’ve created more jobs, even though we are in a recession and have implemented cuts that will affect mostly the poorest, I’ll take a holiday or two abroad this year because my family and I need it, we need a break.

A great leader refuses to take a holiday abroad because there are thousands of citizens who, although hardworking, are failing to get a job and certainly can’t afford a holiday, not even in their own country.

The difference couldn’t be clearer.

In the article I refer to above, the writer opined that Mitt was not a bad person in a Newt-Gingrich (or  Michael Howard )-creepy kind of way. To the contrary, he thought Mitt was quite a likeable person whom you’d probably have a fun night out with. What struck me most was the form the writer said the refining of a statesman would take:-

‘Picture this, say post Bain Capital , family man Mitt left his family, took time out to hit the road.

Spent at least 2 years without the safety net of his wealth (estimated to be $250 million), nor access to the political or business connections. If Mitt effectively took a sabbatical from it all; living rough, or say in $50 a night motels (with a daily budget not exceeding  say $75 a day) studying the political landscape, working with people on the ground, in homeless shelters, interacting with people in soup kitchens, with those who have faced foreclosures, hearing their side of the story, amongst black and latino voters, job seekers, support groups of alcohol and drugs abuse, among illegal immigrants and those without healthcare, keeping a journal, taking photos…across both Democrat and Republican strongholds, through the Swing States, with a backpack… don’t tell me that after such a 2 year-long odyssey, Mitt would be the same person he now is?

True, he’d most likely meet with frowns, and possibly lose artificial friends, colleagues, partners, donors, etc. In the absence of proper communication (and feasible marriage arrangements) his family could be hostile towards him, or even abandon him,  but a real conviction and desire to serve would prompt him to press on.

It is more likely than not that after having seen how a sizeable chunk of  Americans in a different ‘world’ than that in which he’s accustomed to lives,  that he would emerge a changed man,  full of firsthand insights and clear understanding of life in the slow lane, and without the superficial and aloof manner that probably alienated some of the potential voters away from him. Minimally, it would win him deserved commendation, from both rich and poor, that at least he’s experienced a little of what the local man goes through, even if its only for two years, and would immediately dispel any elitist labels. If I were an American, I would seriously consider voting for such a Mitt Romney.’

I can’t argue with that.

DSC_0015

Today we are still talking about Gandhi, 65 years after his death, with the United Nations General Assembly declaring in 2007 that Gandhi’s birthday 2 October will be the International Day of Nonviolence.  2nd October is also a national holiday in India in Gandhis honour.

When it comes to Mandela, we will continue to idolize him for a very long time indeed, and have idolized Abraham Lincoln, another great leader, for over 181 years! [see these Lincoln statues – in the US alone]. There’s even a Lincoln square in Manchester (UK) city centre with a statue of Lincoln.

I can’t help but wonder in what sense, and for how long, humanity will remember the current breed of politicians, many of whom appear to be doing more harm than good to society.

But I’m certain of one thing: unless some kind of miracle occurs, very few of them will be recognised or honoured in the same way that the world has honoured the likes of Lincoln, Gandhi or Mandela. And that alone is an indictment against their leadership.