July 5, 2010

Fear or Apathy, We Are All To Blame

Over the years, I have lambasted the U.S. government, particularly in the area of foreign policy. Wars, copious amounts of taxpayer dollars in aid to an apartheid state, inherent racism and hypocrisy have provided endless fodder for constant criticism.

Has that criticism been aimed at the right place? The motivations behind the aforementioned institutionalized evils are elementary: money, power and greed; however the real problem is much deeper. A government that—at least in principle—is supposed to be “for the people, by the people” must relinquish some of the responsibility for erroneous policy to the people. Whether we feel the need to acquiesce out of fear or out of apathy, we are equally culpable.

The first great enemy to humanity is fear. It is fear that ultimately leads to racism, bigotry, hatred and any number of social ills. Those in power are well aware of this, and will use any means to instill fear in their citizenry in order to manipulate them. Recently, Israeli schoolchildren underwent numerous air raid drills, supposedly in the event of an attack by Hezbollah, or maybe Iran, or just in case the resistance groups in Gaza finally develop a rocket that can hit the broadside of a barn.

Of course, a country which touts itself as a premier tourist destination cannot be under the threat of imminent attacks from Hezbollah, Syria, Iran and Gaza, yet these brainwashed youngsters will—like us—be taught not to question, only to fear and to support their government’s attacks on Palestinian civilians and humanitarian activists under the guise of self-defense.

The tragic absurdity was compounded when Israeli commandos stormed a Gaza-bound humanitarian cargo ship, murdering unarmed activists, only to make outlandish claims that they were ambushed and attacked with knives, pipes and clubs. According to the increasingly preposterous hasbara machine, the Free Gaza movement is tied to Al-Qaeda and hate-filled passengers had prepared themselves for a violent confrontation. Logic dictates that if a group of activists plans a violent confrontation against one of the most advanced and trigger-happy armies in the world, they will carry at least a couple of AK-47s rather than knives and pipes.

However, fear leaves us with the inability to reason, thus it is the most important weapon in the propagandists’ arsenal. Common sense becomes an early casualty. Traveling on internal flights within Ecuador during a recent trip served as a blissful reminder that in other places in the world, travelers do not have to dump their water and liquids in larger-than-three-ounce containers at the door, nor remove their shoes. Yet fear-mongering has convinced us that there is a bomb in every bottle of baby oil and we are poised to submit to even more indignities after the infamous alleged “underwear bomber.” It is truly amazing what people will tolerate.

The Obama administration is poised to give Israel an additional $205 million for a missile defense shield, while the state of California has announced budget cuts eliminating programs such as welfare-to-work and home health care. The vicious cycle continues: give money to Israel, cut program funding for poor and destitute Americans to keep them busy with basic survival so there is no concern for what is going on overseas.

Such apathy, like fear, is equally debilitating. Whether it is the amount of gratuitous violence in news and entertainment, or simply that we are too busy trying to find employment, pay mortgages, maintain health coverage, gas the car and put food on the table, we are losing our uniquely human ability to empathize. Our government’s endless quest for global hegemony has created these conditions—instead of focusing on our own job creation, inner cities, education and health care, foreign wars and entanglements have drained our resources, leaving our citizens to die at hospital doors and our desperate youth to gun down each other in the streets.

I ran into a former coworker at a wedding recently. Sitting together at the reception, three year-old grandson on her lap in his crisp white tuxedo, I showed her pictures of my children while listing the major life changes that had taken place in the eleven years since I had seen her. She spoke of retirement with an air of sadness not usually associated with a comfortable pension after a lifetime of hard work and then informed me quietly that her youngest son—the father of the little boy seated so solemnly in her lap—had been shot and killed in 2007.

After heartfelt yet inadequate and clich├ęd expressions of sympathy, I realized that I had most likely seen reports of his murder on the news, but had given it little attention: it wasn’t in my part of town and I would not have recognized the name. In other words, it didn’t affect me.

Only then did I come to the disturbing realization that I am not immune to the sickness that has infected us all to one degree or another: the apathetic tolerance that we afford such untimely loss of human life. The people in neighborhoods and situations who have to worry about getting gunned down in front of their own homes cannot be bothered with the gross oppression going on in Palestine. More ignorance and apathy allows the government to continue unabated the flow of economic and military aid to the apartheid state of Israel.

To combat these dual forces of fear and apathy, we must remember the words of the 17th Century English poet John Donne: “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less…any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind…” We must afford each priceless human life the reverence it commands and refuse to succumb to the irrational scare tactics used by our government to justify mass murder.