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Thursday, January 18, 2007

Children of Lesser Humans

An alleged racist row between contestants on British reality TV programme Big Brother galvanised the British public to make a record number of complaints recently - with even politicians chipping in to have their say. To me, this re-working of the racism debate is a reflection of what racism is in 2007.

Neo-Racism

The beautiful Indian film star at the centre of the Big Brother furore is unaware that she has become the victim of a new type of racism, which has evolved in a tolerant country I have always considered myself very lucky to have grown up in. The violent and blatant racism of the decades before I was born has declined, but instead it has been replaced with the kind of ignorant racism that the reality programme has highlighted.

The contestants on Big Brother have regularly referred to the actress as "the Indian", mocked her accent and joked that there are so many thin people in India because they are sick from eating uncooked chicken. They have been poking fun at her and picking on the characteristics that make her different.

By doing so, they are strengthening the bond between themselves while ostracising and ridiculing their victim. It is a tactic used by school bullies time and time again and all it reveals is that the bullies are insecure and ignorant. They obviously have a certain amount of racist thoughts, though not particularly fierce ones, bubbling beneath the surface which come to the fore when they feel vulnerable and insecure. Yet, if we were to call them up on their actions, they would probably looked shocked and not consider themselves as "racist".

When I take this small scenario and apply it on a larger scale, with the contestants as nations rather than people, this "neo-racism" can indirectly be seen behind the actions of the Allied forces in Iraq and - to a smaller extent - behind the European Union's dealings with Turkey.

War for War's Sake

America became vulnerable and insecure after the 9/11 attacks, and it had a president who was willing to blindly lash out and persuasive enough to have others join him in an unnecessary war.

War mostly, like racism, is the certain sign that we are not moving towards civilisation, but towards barbarism.

Even the obscurest of wars tend to devour the innocent more than the perpetrators themselves. Another sad statistic is that when war breaks out in a region, the children in that region are in greater danger of getting killed or maimed than the soldiers fighting it.

I just cannot comprehend how anyone can see war as a solution to anything. Of course you can argue that there sometimes is no other alternative to war. War was essential in ridding the world of the scourge of fascism and Hitler, wasn't it? As part of the British colonies, Turkish Cypriots fought and died in this war, too. But they also dropped bombs on the innocent in German cities.

You see, there were innocent Germans in the Second World War as well - just because Hitler was German, it didn't make all Nazi-era Germans monsters, did it?

Iraqi children have seen their parents killed before their eyesSimilarly, there are innocent Muslims, innocent Iraqis, innocent humans - women and children - that are still dying now; still dying because powerful people far away see them as "different", somehow less human and so more expendable. But politicians should look into the faces of their own children and try and picture them in the middle of a war - for those dying Iraqi children are not the offspring of lesser humans.

They should understand how it makes people feel so helpless when they see the images of the dying and wounded on TV screens. War has a tremendous negative effect on faith in goodness. It destroys the hope that, somehow, somewhere in the future, the virtuous will be victorious and evil will be overcome. For in war, even when we are careful, good and evil merge.

The Colour of Reality

In the defence of America - a country that I support in its essence - had this war been directed at the Germans once again, would we play the "race" card?

In the case of the Big Brother bullies, too, it is unlikely that their behaviour would have attracted quite so much attention had it been directed at a Scot, Frenchman or American for instance. Would mocking their accents have sparked outrage? Would saying that there are so many fat people in America because they eat burgers have been classed as racist? It isn't much of a defence, but it is a point worth making.

If racism is to become a thing of the past then all racism must be treated as equal. It shouldn't just be a skin-colour issue - and neither is the war in Iraq simply about the death toll of Muslims.

But for change, education is the key. People know they shouldn't be racist and try to suppress their beliefs, but when push comes to shove they can't contain them. The anti-racism message has got across to people in England, but not the reason for it. As with war, people know it is wrong but not why it is wrong. Until people are educated about why racism - and the existence of war - needs to be erased, rather than just told it needs to be stamped out, nothing will change.

Accepting Mistakes

The great thing about America and Britain is that it has the capacity to change. Indeed, the main difference between developed countries and others is neither the notion of democracy nor a more rooted culture - when national security is threatened America has shown itself to be no better than China - but merely that it accepts its mistakes and moves on to better itself.

It is a notion that would help the Turkish government in its goal to become part of the EU if it would remember that a government that accepts past mistakes and atones for it, rather than hiding its errors, is what differentiates good governance from the bad.

For if America comes close to voting in its first woman or black president in the next presidential elections, surely it will be because the traits of George W. Bush will no longer make a politician electable. However much America may protect a president in power, once out of office Mr Bush's actions will be scrutinised for a long time. The world will simply have to hope that America will not forget, as it has seemingly done so by failing to apply the lessons learned in its doomed involvement in Vietnam.

If the Iraq War does not make a better Iraq, at least on the backs of so many dead, we can try and envisage it may make a better America.

The Silence of Peace

Finally, what we need to do is stop the noise of guns and just to become silent; listen to the silence which is peace - and learn from our mistakes.

The silence of peace is filled with power. Not even the roar of warfare can silence the silence of peace. I have faith in that - that our world of the spirit cannot be conquered by an ignorant, cruel world. If every human being can unify his or her intrinsic faith and compassion at a time when pride, chauvinism and greed seem to be dominant, then hope is never lost.

Let that be the message of 2007, also.

Picture courtesy of BBC News.

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