1000 WORDS ON...HUMAN RIGHTS
[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
NEXT, #42 - 1000 WORDS ON...THE HASH YEARS