Tuesday, September 27, 2005

stories worth a thousand words #41



[This chapter kicks off with the lyrics for the song “Shanghai Lullaby” which I posted yesterday]

Written: November 25, 2004

In June 1995 British television network Channel 4 aired a documentary called “The Dying Rooms”, which referred to the state of orphanages in China that housed the proliferation of abandoned babies resulting from the government’s one-child-per-family policy.

The programme provided evidence that the institutions let the babies die in their cots by neglect to keep the numbers down. Since having a male child was valuable currency at the time, the vast majority of these babies were girls. A common name for the female infants was “Lai-Di” which apparently means “A boy will come”. Considering my 6-month old daughter was asleep upstairs in her crib at the time, this show really had a profound impact on me.

Up to then when I thought about the topic of “human rights”, I would assume it would mostly refer to adults who were being oppressed on the grounds that their beliefs did not match those of the regime in place. The documentary, however, led me to think about what exactly was meant by the term, and indeed what the most fundamental of these actually was. These babies were not merely being deprived of nutrition; they were being denied attention and loving care which they would crave in equal amounts. Although the Chinese government has always refuted Channel 4’s allegations, even the possibility that circumstances could allow events like this to occur in this day and age rocked me to the core.

If the Shanghai situation served as an inspiration for me to be interested in the whole area on civil liberties, the Richard Attenborough film on the life of Mahatma Gandhi did so for me to learn the best ways to achieve them. Somehow he managed to pick up the very thread that ran through an entire nation of mixed cultures, a thread which represented the desire of a populace to pursue its own agenda rather than that of its occupying force, and more importantly to achieve it solely through peaceful means.

A quote which influenced me the most, which I assume was para-phrased from the man himself was: “Where there is injustice, I always believed in fighting. The question is, do we fight to change things or do we fight to punish?” How ironic that the Indian nation took the Irish flag as a model of its own, when we here still have grave difficulties engaging in what we call a “peace process” when in reality we are still involved in a “war process”. Too many people here, I fear, are still fighting to punish.

When I think about what I have learned about oppression over the years, it makes me look at myself in a disparaging light. I am white, male, well-off financially, Christian, meat-eating, from the “Western Civilization”, able-bodied, hetero-sexual, and at what could be considered the prime age of my life; so according to history, I should be an asshole!!! What the hell would I know about human rights; I had practically grown up with a silver spoon compared to most people!!!

It was at this stage of my thinking that my views finally took shape. Looking at representatives from each group, be they feminist, gay rights, black rights or whatever, I wondered what actually lay behind their liberties-based rhetoric. Did their followers and backers really seek equality, or did a number of them actually believe that the time had come for them to have their own day in the sun?

With this in mind I finally felt I was ready to join Amnesty International, and I did so this year. I will make donations to their foundation, attend some of their events, read their magazines, even one day go to some of their meetings. I cannot however see myself sailing on a Greenpeace vessel or allowing myself to be arrested for the sake of any cause. In my view such actions lean too far toward the militancy I abhor in all walks of life.

One of the mistakes I feel the more belligerent civil rights campaigners make is that they seem to insist that radical change happen within their own lifetime; perhaps it could be argued that they themselves want to be associated with the change. Such anarchy more often than not plays right into the hands of oppressors, and only serves to prolong the conflict.

Gandhi did not whip up crowds to a fighting frenzy only to hide behind them; he led by example and even took the odd beating himself to highlight the Raj’s transgressions and thus evoke sympathy from the rest of the world. I seriously doubt my actions could inspire a nation, but hopefully they can at least influence those around me, especially my children.

So as of now I fully intend to carry out my life without getting too heavily involved in Amnesty or any other organization. Call it sitting on the fence, call it cowardice, call it whatever you will. Nevertheless it is my firm conviction that no matter what the conflict, there DOES exist a solution that is both peaceful and equitable, and if it is yet to be found, you either haven’t looked hard enough, or you just don’t want to find it.

This is what I believe, and it is my right as a human to do so.

© JL Pagano 2004


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JG said...

Very well said. Only today in college I read an essay about the 'one child per family policy.'What can I say?

As always I'm uncomfortable with your harsh judgement of those who fought for Irish freedom (people who have been through hell) and the phrase "war process" particularly after yesterday's historic events. However, I respect your opinion.

JL Pagano said...

Thanks JG for your comments, and I too respect your opinions, and I'm sorry if mine make you feel uncomfortable.

Having said that, what in my essay (which if you will notice was written in November of last year) makes you think my phrase "the war process" is only directed at the Republican side of the fence? Are the Loyalists not also out to punish? Have they not also been through some hell as well? That was kind of my point.

JG said...

Ok, I didnt notice the date. The thing is that the PP is just that; a process. There will be and have been activities that we don't want to see during the process when armed groups were on ceasefires. But could it ever have been any other way?
I get annoyed with people who bleat about this perpetual PP, that it's never ending etc. It was never going to happen overnight and a lot of progress has been made. Maybe this is off the point but there you go.
You could say loyalists have been through some hell but I think their true colours are starting to reveal themselves. Faced with the prospect of engaging with Republicanism and, perish the thought, sharing power, they are retreating. What a shame?

JL Pagano said...

It is off the point, but I'd be happy to discuss it with you.

The Good Friday Agreement is the focal point of the process, and it was voted for in 1998.

Interesting how all these supposed historic moves by the republican terrorists happen AFTER Sinn Fein are snubbed following the crippling blows delivered by the McCabe/McCartney/robbery combo.

A process can be described as a "peace" one in my book when all sides are working together.

Feel free to tell me how either SF or the DUP have contributed to the spirit of working together since '98. I'm all ears.

The way I see it, the Extremist Republicans signed up so they could cherry pick enough out of it to force a United Ireland, while the Extremist Unionists signed up so they could destroy it from within. From these assumptions, I derive my phrase "war process" and continue to stand by it.

To go back to the topic, how are the McCartney and McCabe families enjoying human rights exactly?

JG said...

"Interesting how all these supposed historic moves by the republican terrorists happen AFTER Sinn Fein are snubbed following the crippling blows delivered by the McCabe/McCartney/robbery combo."

Fair point. I think the McCartney killing rushed these historic moves. The robbery didn't as no evidence has been produced to suggest Republican involvement. Similarly the McCabe case has had no impact. These moves would have been made regardless but would have come later, as there were fears of a split. Thankfully it doesn't look like that will happen now which is good for everybody. But make no mistake, these moves were in the post anyway.

Sinn Fein has had their hand held out to Unionism since 1998, they have never refused a meeting, never refused to engaged and have continually lobbied the IRA to make confidence building moves. So they haven't been working together but that's because Unionism refuses to engage.

The DUP invoved themselves only to wreck the process from within. They stated that specifically in 1998 so no arguments there. However to say Sinn Fein are just cherry picking is unfair and doesn't stack up. SF signed up for a number of painful and unpalatable aspects of the GFA. They supported self-determination despite the fact that the illegal statelet was cynically set up to always have a Protestant majority. Articles 2 and 3 of the Republic's constitution were deleted. Gerry Adams supported (and even campaigned) for the release of "loyalist" thugs who had previously attempted to murder him! I could go on.

"To go back to the topic, how are the McCartney and McCabe families enjoying human rights exactly?"

How are the victims of the 1969 pogroms enjoying human rights, or the victims of Bloddy Sunday and the Dublin and Monaghan bombings - a joint British Military and "loyalist" effort? Nobody has a monopoly on suffering. Personally I have no time for those who killed Robert McCartney, I hope there is a conviction. The men who killed McCabe are in prison. My heart goes out to the families of all victims.

JL Pagano said...

"But make no mistake, these moves were in the post anyway."

We will never know for sure will we? That is very easy to say now. Let's say the Loyalist vioence continues and suddenly the DUP expresses a willingness to talk. Would you not say they were forced into it? Would you accept that plans to talk were in the post anyway?

"Sinn Fein has had their hand held out to Unionism since 1998"

What exactly do you mean by "had their hand held out"?

Has their agenda ever been anything but a United Ireland?

Has there ever been any possibility of that not being on the table in such talks?

They offered to talk because they KNEW the Unionists would refuse. This does not make them the good guys.

"My heart goes out to the families of all victims."

Of both the British Empire AND the Povisional Republican movement, I presume? Your views on the McCabe and McCartney situations do not appear to match those of the SF hierarchy.