Thoughts...on a gloomy day

5 November 2013

“There is something I don’t understand,” a friend observed. “Ever since I was on the ground covering the Libyan crisis, we reported that you could buy a Kalashnikov for US$50, while for US$400 you could get a complete anti-tank missile system.”

This was common knowledge. The different intelligence services in Europe and elsewhere knew exactly what was going on and what the consequences were. So, the big question one could ask oneself is: why did it take so long before anybody reacted to the attacks by armed groups in Mali? It was only on the day that they approached the capital city that something started to happen.

How many times have we been told that Islam is a religion of peace and the vast majority of Muslims only want to lead peaceful lives? This “vast majority” has become irrelevant by its silence. The world of Islam has become dominated by armed religious fanatics. It is these fanatics who take control of mosques. It is the fanatics who place bombs and carry out massacres. It is the fanatics who stone to death homosexuals and women who have been victims of rape. It is fanatics who murder their sisters for “crimes of honour”. The “silent majority” has become our enemy because they do not react. One way or another, their world is doomed. Either the fanatics will take over or the rest of the world will impose its own answer. The silence of inaction is the most dangerous noise in the world.

Why is it so easy to just sit and wait until the fire in your neighbour’s yard goes out by itself? Is it only when you are faced with the possibility that your own house will burn down that you call the fire brigade?

It is worth paraphrasing the words of the Protestant priest Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power:
“First they came for the communists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.
Then they came for the socialists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the homosexuals, but I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a homosexual.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Another strange thing that has happened is that the “chief” Somali pirate who, after almost ten years of pursuing his doubtful career, has suddenly announced his retirement. Have newly discovered oil reserves made him decide to become a “decent” person?

These facts may seem to be independent of each other but, nevertheless, demonstrate one thing: when a country is poor and does not have much to offer, people easily fall prey to temptations of criminal activities and religious fanaticism.

If only we could create wealth for these people and make them aware of the risks they may be facing. Perhaps one should look more to the opportunities, and help them to develop economically before they all confront the same fate as Mali has recently faced.

Economic development and the creation of jobs is the only thing that can prevent this kind of crisis. Perhaps we should rather ask ourselves, would it not be better to do more to help the poor countries develop? Already ninety years ago Fridthof Nansen pointed out that the member states of the League of Nations were trying to defend themselves against political threats by increasing armaments rather than eliminating the problem at its root. He asked that just 10% of the money spent on armaments should be invested in the development of poor countries. Did anyone listen?

During the Cold War just one nuclear submarine was capable of destroying every large city on the planet –– and dozens of these submarines were built at heaven knows what cost. This year will mark twenty-four years since the end of the Cold War, but have military budgets been diverted to the development of poor countries? The cost of one tank or one jet fighter is equivalent to eradicating one of the terrible diseases that affect the poor countries of Africa.

This would be our wish. To see the opportunities that exist, to seize them and help people before the fire strikes. It may take more resources to put out the fire than to prevent it in the first place.

As Albert Einstein once said: “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

John Fox and Marit