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Category: International Date: 09 Jan 05


Humanity must perforce prey on itself,

Like monsters of the deep


William Shakespeare, King Lear


After the Boxing Day tsunami disaster that brutally and casually tossed more than 150,000 corpses across 13 countries and traumatised thousands of relatives of the foreign tourists from 40 countries who are dead or missing, we can never be the same again.


Or can we?


We were transfixed by its scale, fumbled for some way to contain the horror, but we didn’t have any tools.


By “we” I mean the minority of the world that lives with middle-class expectations of food, shelter, access to healthcare, sanitation, law, peace, opportunity, material success.


We didn’t know what to do. We began 2005 with silence for a minute or two before the party continued at midnight. We still didn’t know how to feel when we lay down watching the numbers of the dead swell from the safety of our homes on our clean beds sated with our evening meal, our children safely playing and studying nearby, our friends and family a call away.


To the rest of the world, the tsunami was, well, just life. Currently there are 15 major wars under way, with at least 20 “lesser” conflicts ongoing in countries in Africa, regions in India, Iraq, Russia, China, Indonesia, the Middle East. There are several genocides (Darfur, Rwanda, Sudan). There is severe famine (Somalia, Zimbabwe). There is disease spreading like wildfire, mainly HIV (Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso).


For decades “they” have been the forgotten people. The ones who wave flies away in front of their emaciated babies, and watch their children dying from the single biggest killer in the world today—a simple illness of diarrhoea caused by poor sanitation. They who are used to being bombed for oil, land and religion live with their own tsunami every day. They barely look up.


The body bags rolled in, the images bloated, of chaotic mass burials, of women screaming for their husbands, brothers, fathers, children; of 50,000 wandering orphaned children looking for food and water, of disbelieving fathers poised over mass graves holding their dead sons before throwing them over; of a warning that double the numbers could be dead from disease—unimaginable, the horror so huge we couldn’t grasp it.


The Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, even while appealing to the world for US$977 million to cover basic humanitarian needs for an estimated five million people in the next six months, even while he called it an unprecedented global catastrophe, hoped it was a nightmare from which he will wake up.


Debts were forgiven, Governments around the world pledged US$3.7 billion in aid so far and private groups, corporations and individuals another US$630 million.


It was the only way. How else could we justify our comforts, our lives, assuage our conscience? But this epic tragedy unfolding before us is the largest magnifying mirror of humanity—of ourselves—we will ever see. We are seeing generosity. We are saying, “It’s great to see Americans flexing their muscles to help, rather than bomb. Perhaps they can help other dying people?”


But we are also seeing how predatory we are. Paedophile rings are already preying on orphans. I have very little faith that all the money pledged by people logging on to dozens of tsunami relief Web sites worldwide will get to them. At least half or more will be siphoned off.


So that’s what we are, circling corbeaux, bleeding hearts who reach out, indifferent people who just want to get on with our lives, the suffering “them” who think, “We suffer but don’t get attention,” those who remember worse in history (the holocaust, Hiroshima) and say, “Humans forget, they don’t learn.”


We are all of that. But ultimately we are only bearable to ourselves if can conquer our strong instinct to prey on the bereft in this time like the monsters of the deep we are.


Even wanting to stop preying is enough to restore some humanity in our image.


Readers wishing to donate to the tsunami relief fund can do so through:

https://www.redcross.org/donate/ donation-form.asp


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur