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No letup in the inhumanity

by Kevin Rafferty

Special To The Japan Times

Man’s inhumanity to man, and especially to women, children and the elderly, knows no bounds or boundaries, as has become evident recently.

It is not merely the sudden downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, travelling from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur and ending up with the bodies of the 298 passengers and crew splattered in and around a cornfield in rebel-held eastern Ukraine, although that disaster exemplifies some of the problems.

There is also Hamas bombarding Israel with rockets and Israel responding with such excessive force and killings that even President Barack Obama chided Benjamin Netanyahu.

There are continuing atrocities in Syria and Iraq; the edict that Christians in Mosul must convert to Islam, pay a fine or face “death by the sword”; killings daily in Afghanistan and Pakistan; too many terrible tragedies in too many places in Africa, small wars and kidnappings that hit the headlines when the major Western media have nothing better to do but which go on out of sight daily; endless struggles to keep poverty, hunger and death at bay in remote parts even in rising prosperous countries like China, India and the United States.

The disaster of MH17 exemplifies some of the problems: a mixed group of people including families returning home, officials going to an AIDS conference in Australia, happy holidaymakers, all brought together by the disaster of being blown apart, pawns in a so-called power game, euphemistically called.

The world’s media, especially of the Western countries from which the victims came, is giving wall-to-wall coverage, which generates more heat than light. Is there anything in the terrible suggestions made in radical sections of the Western press that a tragedy like this was too obvious a gift for Western countries wanting to put pressure on Vladimir Putin during the summer months before Russian gas supplies via Ukraine are needed to warm Europe?

If it was a case of mistaken identity — that the pro-Russian hoodlum separatists with or without the help of their Russian suppliers thought they were shooting a Ukrainian military aircraft — then Putin has miscalculated. It would have been far better to admit a terrible mistake, immediately open the crash site to investigators, allow the families a proper chance to grieve and use the disaster to try to find an opportunity to end the destructive fighting.

The world’s fickle media will soon be itching for something else to catch their attention. The fighting in Gaza has distracted battle-hardened foreign correspondents, though it is merely a new page in an endless replay of mad destruction, whereby Israel is determined to teach Hamas a bloody lesson but sows a deeper hatred via deaths and destruction for the next round of violence.

Surely Ariel Ilan Roth is correct in writing in foreign affairs that Israel will be able to claim a tactical victory out of the Gaza bloodshed but will suffer a strategic defeat.

The deaths of the 298 passengers and crew of MH17 diminish the world and our supposed civilization, not least because the dead got sucked into a fight of which they had no knowledge.

Their demise will achieve nothing, or not unless all the parties to the Ukrainian conflict come to their senses and understand that violence begets more violence. Ditto with even more forcefulness for the bloodshed in all parts of the Middle East.

Even with their networks of extended families and colleagues and friends, the victims of MH17 are fewer than the 30,000 who die each year in motor vehicle accidents in the U.S., or similar numbers of suicides in Japan, or the 625,000 people who die of malaria, or 428,000 from smoking cigarettes, or the 3.1 million children who die from malnutrition each year. There are too many pointless deaths in too many places.

Cynics may say that you will die of something some day — that’s life, it ends in death. But the tragedy is that people should not die before their time, before they have had a chance to develop and show their talents.

Ordinary people have rarely counted for much, except in religious literature, such as the Bible, where the all-seeing God listens and heeds the prayer of the downtrodden widow or lifts a peasant to be a wise king. Or in the brave philosophy of democracy or in the writings of Rabindranath Tagore or Khalil Gibran or Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who saw the individual life as something precious to be cherished and inspired to a greater goal of freedom.

The world is truly becoming more and more global. You see this in the growth of problems concerning the global commons, meaning the air that we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat.

Centuries ago, perhaps even decades ago in remote places like parts of Papua New Guinea, members of a tribe could go through life without meeting another tribe living less than 50 km away. Now it is really true that a butterfly flapping its wings in the remote Amazonian jungle may set off a chain of events that can trigger a hurricane in the U.S.

While this is happening, politics is becoming more insular and parochial, something that can be seen in too many places in the world, including the U.S., United Kingdom, the European Union. Even countries in Asia, which have benefited greatly from greater trade that globalization has brought, are showing signs of trying to put up national drawbridges.

Politicians play to parochial galleries and are becoming more ruthless in their pursuit and maintenance of power. You can see this in the tussle between the EU and Russia involving Ukraine. Common sense — especially given the dependence of Europe on Russian gas through pipelines across Ukraine — should have prompted leaders to discuss and find a way of solving their problems.

There is little sign that the deaths on MH17 have brought them to their senses. Putin is digging in as the West waves ultimatums. Business leaders try to protect their sales of instruments of death.

In China and Japan and South Korea, instead of realizing and building on the benefits that have come from postwar peace, leaders are digging in and picking at old sores and animosities, even trying to celebrate them.

It is happening even more viciously in the Middle East where the great civilizing achievements of Islam are being forgotten in the rush for hardline hatred of anything except narrow dogma.

Where are the peacemakers hiding?

When I first went to Japan, I thought that as the victim of the atomic bombs and as essentially a small country on the edge of a great continent, Japan would see the wisdom of trying to heal the old wounds of war and not wish to be a new “normal” country with a proper military able to profit from selling weapons.

I had hoped that my native U.S., an offshore island that contributed and gained enormously from both European civilization and global trade, would understand the importance of an open attitude and helping to keep Europe open to the world. But both countries retreat into their misty insular pretensions.

Pope Francis seems to be following in the peacemaking footsteps of his namesake from Assisi, but he has big problems converting his own church.

Can the ancient civilization of India, which once spread a powerful influence through Asia and has helped diversify large areas of the West, teach China and Japan and the world that there is a better way than threats and armaments?

It is too early to tell, but new Prime Minister Narendra Modi certainly seems to enjoy hobnobbing with other powerful world leaders. You can see it in the pictures of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit. Will he influence them or allow them to bring their destructive ways to India?

Kevin Rafferty, a professor at Osaka University, was executive editor of the Indian Express newspaper group.