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Gerry Caplan's blog

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Gerald Caplan has an MA in Canadian history and a Ph.D. in African history from the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London. He is an author, teacher, media commentator, and social and political activist with a lifelong commitment to African development. He is preoccupied with genocide and genocide prevention, particularly the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, about which he has frequently written. He has been a consultant on African development issues to many United Nations agencies as well as to the African Union. His latest book is called The Betrayal of Africa. He writes a weekly online column for the Globe and Mail.

Lumps of coal to the world this year

| December 24, 2012
Photo: star5112/Flickr

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Whoever or whatever is responsible for the human condition is delivering the usual abundant lumps of coal to the world this year. Humanity is yet again awash in injustice and oppression, much of which, as always, we are helpless to end or can't be bothered trying.

It is said, for example, that with the increasingly likely passing of Nelson Mandela, the world and South Africa will lose their guiding light. It is true that Mr. Mandela is the symbol of the best that humanity can achieve. But not even he has been able to save his country from its betrayal by his former "comrades". Who would have dreamed that a South Africa run by former freedom fighters would replace race-based apartheid with class-based apartheid?

In any number of places where death and destruction thrive, we have little choice but to recognize our helplessness to intervene, such as in Syria, with its dangerously fractured anti-government opposition.

Pakistan and Afghanistan remain countries barely in control of themselves, with no prospect for greater stability in sight. The first is by any measure the most dangerous country in the world, while the second seems doomed to eternal civil war, with or without outside collusion.

No one knows how to stop Iran's demented anti-Semitism and existential threats to Israel (both shared too widely in the Muslim world), which makes its otherwise understandable quest for a nuclear capability so menacing. Yet the prospect of a preemptive Israeli attack on Iran is chilling beyond words, while no issue of security remotely justifies Israel's oppression and humiliation of the Palestinian people. Few can influence Israel's course of action, and those few will not.

The horror story that is the Democratic Republic of the Congo will not soon be ended. To blame the government of Rwanda for all the woes of the Congo is foolishly myopic. For three decades, the U.S. actively enabled a dictator who, before the eyes of the world, disemboweled his vast country. Even if Rwanda withdrew entirely from the Congo, the country will remain a failed state cursed with superabundant riches under the control of no one but brutal Congolese soldiers, genocidaires, local militias and gangs almost beyond number. No one, but no one, has the faintest realistic idea how to proceed.

In every one of these countries, despite the efforts of so many people, the plight of girls and women continues to be perfectly Hobbesian -- short, nasty and brutish. The list hardly stops with them, as recent news from India and the Republican Party of America shows. Progress in the never-ending struggle for women's equality comes slowly, if at all.

We are incapable of protecting children, even from our own friends. American drones have killed 176 children in Pakistan, according to best estimates. U.S. Sgt. Robert Bales massacred 16 Afghan civilians on March 11 this year, nine of them children. 35 Palestinian children were killed in Gaza by Israel in its eight-day war with Hamas. Who knows their names?

Still, it is Sandy Hook that is top of mind for many of us, not least given the virtual certainty that the only question is when, not if, the next slaughter of the helpless will occur. Everyone knows why: the enormous power of the gun lobby, the crazy proliferation of 300 million weapons that will never be surrendered, America's creepy love affair with violence, whether in show biz, sports or guns themselves. Republicans, who know no shame, are already rejecting whatever modest initiatives President Obama puts forward.

Newtown itself, of all places, foretells the ominous future. Who knew that below the bucolic charm of picture-postcard small-town America thrived Dodge City? For my money, the most revelatory and shocking single article about the tragedy appeared in The Globe this week, with the arresting headline "Local officer laments Newtown's ongoing love of guns". If you want to understand the reality of America's gun culture, you must read this piece. If Newtown, USA, why not Anytown, USA?

This litany has no logical end. There seems little will to save our children and grandchildren from the consequences of global warming. Or to seriously confront ever-increasing inequality. Or in Canada to stop the murder and disappearance of aboriginal women.

But let me end with a thought for the Roma people of the world, wherever they are, including Canada, as they maintain their tragic role as the people everyone else hates. Somehow, it's okay to utter the most viciously racist slurs about the Roma that would be wholly unacceptable if said about any other group on earth. Ezra Levant of the Sun News Network demonstrated as much recently with an astonishing hatemongering attack on the entire Roma people.

Although the network apologized, Levant did not, nicely paving the way for Immigration Minister Jason Kenney. Abuse of the Roma throughout Europe is commonplace, a fact known to all, it seems, but Mr. Kenney, who insists they are safe almost everywhere. So Roma seeking refuge in Canada will be summarily returned to countries that will certainly persecute them. A lump of coal for them this Christmas, but if you're Roma, most of your life ends up being a lump of coal.

Like so many injustices and so much oppression, it seems there's nothing we can do, or at least nothing we choose to do, about that either.

This article was first published in the Globe and Mail.

Photo: star5112/Flickr

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