must perforce prey on itself,
monsters of the deep
Shakespeare, King Lear
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.
were transfixed by its scale, fumbled for some way to contain the horror,
but we didn’t have any tools.
“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.
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.
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).
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
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.
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.
were forgiven, Governments around the world pledged US$3.7 billion in aid
so far and private groups, corporations and individuals another US$630
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?”
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.
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.”
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.
wanting to stop preying is enough to restore some humanity in our image.
wishing to donate to the tsunami relief fund can do so through: