Sunday, April 30, 2006

We are all White South Africans now

I’ve been puzzling over what it is in my life that makes me so convinced that a peaceful global confederacy will eventually emerge on our sad little planet, and I suspect I’ve got it. I hope it clarifies it for the rest of you as well. One can only hope:-)Lots of personal history here, so bear with me or tune out, now.

I was born in ireland in the 60’s, and grew up there in the 70’s when the "troubles" in the North threatened to spill over into the South (there were bombings in Dublin in the 70’s). The British reacted badly to the initial civil rights demonstrations. There was a seminal event called "Bloody Sunday" in which 13 or so unarmed civilians where killed by British security forces. This unleashed a wave of attacks in Britain, and there was the possibility of irrational action on both sides. In the late 60’s Ireland nearly invaded the North, because of abuse of the catholic minority!!

However, cooler heads prevailed in the both the republic and the UK, and these doomsday scenarios never materialised. The UK eventually recognised the grievances of the catholic minority in the north, and has made moderate efforts to address them in the intervening 30 years. That experience gave me an idea of what it feels like to live in a small, weak country menaced by a large, powerful country.

Happily the large country did the right thing for (almost) everybody, despite extreme national provocation, and both the UK and Ireland are doing well, and even the North is finally finding it’s feet too.

Then when I was about 12, I moved to South Africa. I was pitched from being a minority on the receiving end of bad behaviour, to a minority dishing it out. Of course I had no idea about this stuff at the time, and was blissfully unaware of a problem until my late teens. Nonetheless, I was conscripted (willingly) into the South African Defense Force to fight communism, and the henchmen of the convicted terrorist guy, Nelson Mandela.

I spent an uneventful two years in the SADF, and was pretty relieved to get out. After a year in the private sector, I left South Africa in 1987.So I had two weird alternate experiences, first as the "oppressed" class, and later as the "oppressor" class. So I have (I think) a unique ability to see the situation from both sides.

In both cases, cooler heads prevailed, and what could have been dreadful bloodbaths, have with occasional faltering missteps, progressed forward. Lets face it, the white minority in South Africa had very little compelling reasons to share power. It was a courageous, moral and radical move, and at a time when there was hardly a single example of a successful democracy in the whole of Africa. However, it would have come to bloodshed in the long term if they had not, because 20% of the population cannot keep 80% suppressed indefinitely.

So when Al-Quaida (or Osama) says america is the great Satan, and the epitome of evil, I know it’s bull. I’m inoculated by my Irish experience. When Bush talks about the evildoers and how they hate freedom. I know that is bull too, because I’m inoculated by my South African experience. When people claim that the idea of a fairer world, where disputes are negotiated, is a utopian pipe dream, I can point to both the South African and the Irish experience. Neither is perfect, but both are demonstrably fairer societies against all the odds.

Not to the mention the process that every nation state in the world has been through on the road to national unity. Plus, finally, we have the example of the EU. Vilified from within, and without, and yet no one has ever left, and many countries are actively implementing EU legislation, for a shot at joining!

While the US is blowing up stuff in Iraq, and threatening to blow stuff up in Iran, what has the EU been doing? Mediating the Cyprus dispute, reintegrating the Balkans into a stable political framework, resolving terrorists disputes like the IRA and Basque in Spain. Forcing Turkey to threat their kurds with dignity and ensure freedom of speech and an independent judiciary. Convincing the Germans and the French to accelerate the deadline for letting the Poles and other eastern europeans work in the rest of the EU. Arguing with the Austrians, and winning the argument, to ensure they would not spike the accession talks with Turkey. This stuff takes time and it’s very, very hard, but it beats the hell out of war.

So I feel I kind of dejavu about this situation. On the one side, the forces of "good" protecting us from an insidious and evil conspiracy. On the other an oppressed underclass of 5 billion or so. Living on 1 dollar a day, and suffering significant daily injustice.

A society where such radical disparity exists is out of whack, however unlike South Africa, I can’t simply bail this time because I don’t like it. Unless I move to mars:-) So I come down on the moderate side, negotiate, with risk, until negotation is completely exhausted. The underlying reasons for injustice must be addressed to eliminate terrorism.

Bush is embarking on an Israeli solution, as opposed to a British solution, and we are all getting sucked along in his wake. Ireland could have become another Palestine, but it didn’t because the extremists where not allowed to monopolise the dialogue.There are extremists, moderates and could-care-less’s on both sides, the trick is not to let the extremists monopolise the dialogue. This is exactly what Bush (himself an extremist) has done. Only this time it’s global, and the current meme has the potential to become horribly self fulfilling.

Free Hit Counter
Lemon Law