Who really knows what's best? An examination of the effect the West's arrogance and condescension has on the less-heard voices of the global community.
In 1846, American abolitionist Adin Ballou wrote: “But now, instead of discussion and argument, brute force rises up to the rescue of discomfited error, and crushes truth and right into the dust. ‘Might makes right,’ and hoary folly totters on in her mad career escorted by armies and navies.” Indeed, Ballou’s words ring true, and especially today. Yet today, this concept of ‘might makes right’ does not end with military domination and violence; today, it has morphed into a new form of abuse: the condescending attitude that develops when powerful nations believe they know what’s best for the rest of the world, and the brutality with which they enforce their assertions.
Of course, the most severe and widespread example of this condescension is the Western view of Africa. It is an all-encompassing stereotype of a continent in distress: war-ravaged and poverty-stricken with orphans abundant and AIDS rampant. Indeed, the problems of Africa are extremely complex; yet the West’s arrogant approach to the continent’s issues has contributed more to the misunderstanding than to the solution. Foreign aid to African nations is never altruistic; rarely are the African people consulted in the search for a solution, nor are they invited to voice their concerns about their own nations. Their stories are told through the blue eyes of Western TV pundits, and aid is glorified through the likes of such glamorous events as “Live 8” and “Idol Gives Back.” Little is done to empower the so-called “victims” and much is done to keep them in a position of victimization; hand-outs keep sick and impoverished people at the mercy of their alleged saviors and band-aids are applied while the crying need for a cure is placed on a back burner somewhere.
The Western coverage of the Zimbabwean elections is a prime example of the Western media’s ability to sway public opinion in the direction in which they wish African nations to be viewed. Regardless of Mugabe’s ability to lead the country, the valid debates and pressing issues have been ignored as the election results have been pre-determined; if Mugabe loses, the people have spoken; if he wins, the elections were “rigged.” Meanwhile, Western-aided corruption continues across the continent while the media turns a blind eye in the opposite direction.
Of course, the crisis in the Middle East is yet another situation in which the condescension of the West has taken on unparalleled audacity. As if the illegal invasion and the pitiful clean-up operation weren’t bad enough, the US has emphatically ordered the neighboring countries of the conflict not to get involved! The governments of surrounding nations, most notably Jordan and Syria, have been humbly absorbing the damage the war has caused, particularly in the past two years when the refugee situation has risen to a crisis level. Yet the US government has told the respective governments not to “get involved,” despite their vested interest in the well-being of Iraq’s refugees and their undeniable cause for concern as the closest neighbors of this war-ravaged nation.
Since 2003, an estimated 1 million refugees have flooded the Jordanian borders, driving up costs in food, housing, and basic services for the citizens of Jordan. The government has yet to complain, and has done much to provide Iraqi refugees with as many basic services as possible; this, of course, has put a great stress on the economy. Meanwhile, Syria has taken in more than 1.5 million Iraqi refugees, and expenses in food, housing, education, and medical care for Iraqi refugees has cost the Syrian government more than $1.6 billion per year to date. The governments of Syria and Jordan are in desperate need of assistance in this great financial burden. Yet despite recent urgings from Amnesty International for the US, European Union, and wealthy nations to "urgently start providing financial, technical, and in-kind assistance to the governments of Syria and Jordan," US and European aid has been scarce, at best. Last year, the US admitted only 1,608 Iraqi refugees into the US for permanent relocation, and of those, only 242 came from Syria.
In typical “keeping up appearances” fashion, the US has made claim that conditions in Iraq are improving, and that Iraqi refugees are now returning home because the situation is now safer. Yet speak to the Iraqis themselves, and they will quickly inform you that this is not the case. In a 2007 e-mail to Seattle PI journalist Larry Johnson, an Iraqi doctor who is now a refugee in Syria and wishes to keep his name anonymous for reasons of safety, wrote:
“Some of the refugees are going back now because the new visa regulations won't allow them to stay. I would love to go back, but my kids won't let me. They say if I go back, they will. I can't go through the agony of the kidnapping and getting terrified every single day whenever each of them go to school or out of the house.
“Also, what is safe or unsafe? I think drinking water polluted with cholera and other deadly waterborne diseases is more dangerous than a bullet when you don't have decent access to hospitals; or when you have electricity only for two hours a day; or in an oil-rich country you can't get gasoline or cooking gas.
“We have been living like animals in a cage for a long while. We wake up in the morning to the sound of explosions of the raiding forces when they bomb the doors to reduce the troops' losses because somebody decided to fight back during a raid. The kids keep shaking because of the yelling and screaming, the pushing against the walls and the shoving, the cursing and hitting of the parents and older brothers and sisters in front of them.
If all this is considered safe, I will agree that it is safer in Iraq now.”
Yet Western nations have deaf ears in the face of such testimonies. With all of this in mind, how can the Western media substantiate telling the world that Iraq is safe? With the sacrifices being made by the governments of Syria and Jordan to put out the fires the US invasion has started, where is the justification behind the US government’s decree to these nations not to get involved? As if the invasion, the civilian deaths, the destruction, the massive human suffering, and the shoddy clean-up operation weren’t bad enough, the US has added insult to injury by telling neighboring and actively involved nations, essentially, to “butt out.” Acting as if the situation is under control, as if the US knows what’s best for everyone, they have taken on a dual role as a condescending parent and brutal dictator in the heart of one of the world’s most pressing current human rights atrocities. The bottom line is that, even if the US was doing a fantastic clean-up job in Iraq, their unwillingness to consult with the people and nations this conflict affects is, in and of itself, a violation. Add to it the horrific outcomes of the US’s arrogant decision-making process, and we have an absolute catastrophe on our hands.
The importance of consultation in providing effective foreign aid is an absolute essential ingredient which Western nations almost always overlook. An arrogant approach looks down upon those in need, and disempowers them, leaving them at the mercy of their abusers and captors. All too often, the West arrogantly dictates what other nations require, rather than stopping to ask, “What do you need and how can we help?” Even the most well-meaning desire to help fails in the face of this approach. As John Quincy Adams once wrote: “Power always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all his laws.”
1st May 2008