People in glass houses…
â€œWhere you from” asked the precocious teenager from Jane, a World Bank official I was escorting to a remote hillside community in the middle of Sri Lanka to show a community based micro hydro system. She proudly said, â€œAmerica”. She and I were both shocked at the response that followed; â€œBoo Bush Boo Bush!” accompanied by a thumbs down. Jane had just told me how embarrassed she was to call herself an American after Bush’s tragic unprovoked attack of Iraq soon after 9/11.
We were both amazed at this teenager’s knowledge in this remote corner, yet he knew and he had formed an opinion. Such is the result of a communications revolution that is making the world truly global village. No longer can the west have an advantage over others by hoarding information and knowledge. World is becoming level.
Yet, it amazed me when the likes of Milliband, Koucher and other western nations tried to force Sri Lanka to stop short of militarily destroying the LTTE, when the world knew of its reputation as the most ruthless terrorist organization. Many people in Sri Lanka figured out that, their local Tamil constituencies supporting the LTTE were behind these moves.
On the other hand, indeed many of us in Sri Lanka were concerned about the civilians innocently caught up in the war. Yet, we also know from history the amount of collateral damage any terrible war inflicts. The allied forces and Hitler’s Germany caused each other mayhem bombing cities like Dresden from one side and London on the other killing so many innocent people. Yes, the Nazi’s were brought to book, but were any of the allied forces indicted for killing all those German civilians by bombing so many cities ? Yet, we accept that as a cost of war to stop a criminal like Hitler.
Of course, there are international rules Sri Lanka should have adhered to in conducting the war.Â Many were flouted, from the stories we hear. The Sri Lankan government also took a hard line on any opposition or dissension on its focused war effort.Â Â The government’s line â€œIf you are not with us you are with them” was taken straight from Bush’s war on terrorism. There were many other tactics used with impunity to keep its war effort going. These were the very same the US used in its war on terror, including forced abductions and torture.
Now I draw the line when it comes to these kinds of extra judicial actions that violate our rights. Yet, we do not have an international benchmark anymore to measure against. The moral authority, which the USA and west seemed to have, at least to many of us who did not know any better, had diminished for sure with Bush openly squandering it with his swagger, rhetoric and action.
Sermons of the Cowards
Singaporean author Kishore Mahbubani in his recent article The Sermons of the Cowards highlights the double standards of the west when he states;
The first flaw of western discourse is its inability to practice what it preaches in this respect: to speak truth to power. This is revealed in the reluctance of western governments to discuss the most catastrophic reversal in the field of human rights: the decision by the US government to defend the use of torture.
No longer are we dealing with an ignorant and uneducated world. Not only are people in most countries in the loop through communications technologies and mobility, they are wiser now and make sound judgments of what is happening around them.Â As Mahbubani says, as the west conducts a self-congratulatory conversation on the subject, the rest of the world sees an emperor with no moral clothing.
Revelations from the likes of John Perkins in his brave book, Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, more of the emperor is being bared.Â Some day the USA will have to redeem itself to right the wrongs that were committed in the name of developing and sustaining the lifestyle of the Americans while fighting the communist threat. Who will answer to the deaths of enlightened leaders like Panama’s Omar Torrijos, Ecuador ’s Roldos, Chile’s Allende, and countless others just because they wanted to look after the interests of their own people and not the US government’s and its business interests.
Chevron Texaco ruined Ecuador’s Amazon region and its indigenous people with its oil explorations and extraction.Â In 1954, United Fruit with the CIA overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected people’s President Arbenz who promised his people a fair government and land reform and installed the ruthless right wing dictator, Colonel Carlos Castillo who danced to their tune and hurt his own.
This pattern continues in other parts of the world too. Reading Martin Meredith’s, State of Africa describes appalling stories of western support to African scoundrels who bled their countries of people and money just because they looked after their interests.
France was notorious in its support of the likes of Central African Republic’s Bokkassa, the flamboyant Houphouet-Boigny of Cote d’Ivoire who ran their countries to the ground.
Jean Bedel Â Bokassa’s Â career as a dictator combined not only extreme greed and personal violence but delusion of grandeur.
Bokassa looked upon President De Gaulle as his adoptive father and after him a close friendship with Valery Giscard d’Estang who used the republic as his hunting ground.Â D’Estang has the dubious honor of killing over 50 elephants and many other animals in the 1970s.Â No wonder they had the double standard – the blind spot – as long as their personal and national interests were looked after, while millions of people suffered.
Another African scoundrel, Mobutu of Zaire was deemed the great plunderer with good reason.Â He too amassed a huge fortune, while the country ran dry and people starved.Â Â He was also a nasty man, vindictive and brutally silenced any critic.Â Â Yet the US government provided more than $ 860 million of aid from 1965 to 1988. Not only that, Vice President George Bush senior heaped praise on him, just after he had imprisoned his opposition in 1982;
â€œI have come to appreciate the dynamism that is so characteristic of Zaire and Zairians and to respect your dedication to fairness and reason” said Bush senior and as if that was not enough went onto to say â€œI have come to admire, Mr. President, your personal courage and leadership in Africa”.
In the meantime, fifteen Zairian parliamentarians had published a 51 page indictment in 1980 against Mobutu summarized below;
After fifteen years of the power you have exercised alone, we find ourselves divided into two absolute distinct camps.Â On one side, a few scandalously rich persons.Â On the other, masses of people suffering the darkest misery.
The US government obviously did not have their eyes and ears open or just chose to ignore.
Then there are other glaring double standards every time the US and allies take on countries like Iran, Pakistan and India to task for their nuclear developments as they are not part of the old boys club. Anyway, the notion of possessing nuclear capabilities for security is an oxymoron. Using it even once will lead to the destruction of humanity. So, the US and others sitting on a high horse and pontificating to anyone they think should not have nuclear capability is comical. If at all Japan has the moral authority in today’s context to protest against any nuclear arms development anywhere including the west, as they possess none.
Having studied, Nuclear Energy in my tertiary education I am anti-nuke as I think, the power industry is inevitably linked to the arms industry in many of these countries as nuclear waste’s usefulness gets extended in weapons. A world with evolved human beings should not need nuclear weapons for security. What are we so afraid of ?
But then again, we maybe evolved in technology and other material domains, but not evolved in the mind.
The Buddha saw us humans 2500 years ago as Narcissus, captivated by our own image and reflection, reveling in our own seeming self-sufficiency and ignoring all the reminders of our own precarious and impermanent being and natures. We live in illusion about our own flawed sense of egoistic self and not even conscious about it.
2500 years later, we still live in illusion and fear, hoarding material wealth, technology, wielding power over others, just the same way the west conquered the east with weapons of destruction, it’s just that the modern arms could wipe us all out in seconds.
Wake Up and Presence
So, when will the powerful west wake from this slumber to realize that the whole world, including that boy on the hill, is watching and wondering that there is a huge gap between what they pontificate, ‘espoused theories’ – as Agyris and Schon, the social scientists say – and what they do, their ‘theories in action’. The difference is they are getting angry enough to blow themselves up in frustration.
In our leadership interventions with organizations we play a game called the Winning Game to see how even good people, when they are wronged are willing to lose while taking revenge. Our complex humanity is hanging on a thread, so the west, with all its material wealth and power needs to build its credibility to be a shining example of graciousness to the rest so every human on this earth has a life of dignity. The only way to reach that is to evolve the individual mind through spiritual practices such as meditation, yoga and martial arts, so the collective will transform into a more humane world.Â In the meantime, people in glasshouses should not throw stones at the rest.