Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Why Peace?

 There are many armed conflicts being waged all over the planet in the beginnings of the twenty-first century. The one predominant war that is currently raging is the Russian-Ukrainian War. This conflict has left many thousands of death and has devastated the infrastructure throughout the Ukraine. There are also many civil wars like the ongoing conflicts in Columbia and the Sudan. Others represent territorial conflicts like the battle between Pakistan and India over Kashmir and the long standing conflict between the Palestinians of Arab descent and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. There is also a strong religious component to these conflicts as well. Other conflicts fueled by powerful religious and ethnic differences are exemplified by Lebanon’s civil war in the 1970s due in large part to the enmity between Muslims and Christians. Of course, the horrific and tragic genocide that took place in Rwanda can not be overlooked. This is by no means an exhaustive list of the various trouble spots that exist in the precarious world of humans. Overshadowing all of these calamitous events is an inexorable deterioration of the global environment.



On examining the ferocity of warfare, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that the human species has failed to learn very much over its protracted history. The history of Europe from the Ancient Roman and Greek civilizations to the present, as an example, is replete with the carnage that is the inevitable outcome of innumerable wars. These conflicts helped shape not only the geopolitical contours of modern-day Europe, but also nurtured a sense of cultural superiority that propelled forward the colonial ambitions that so impacted the rest of the world. Many of the contemporary areas of instability and unrest are a direct consequence of the policies and actions of the colonial powers of the past.


Within the individual human psyche, there exists a constant tension between the force and power of the emotions driven by the passions embodied in territory, tribe, and nation, and that of reason. The more reactive emotions stem, in large part, from the evolution of the species in an environment that was essentially hostile and in which the forces of nature that impacted human experience were not understood and the causes of calamity were attributed to the gods, malevolent spirits or a particular enemy.


In the beginnings of the humankind, ignorance was prevalent, and fear and suspicion dominated and shaped human behavior. Although the advancement of science and technology has shed light upon many aspects of the human experience that were once shrouded in mystery, the inherent tendency to strike out violently against that which is feared and poorly understood remains to haunt human societies. What is particularly unique about humanity in the twenty-first century is the inescapable reality that the application of overwhelming force against a perceived enemy is no longer a viable solution especially considering the destructiveness of modern technological weaponry.


Over the thousands of years of human civilization, great empires have risen and eventually fallen. The cycle of empire-building and dissolution has generally followed the same inexorable path. The beginning stage is represented by the rise of a local community of common origin followed by a gradual accretion of power, usually by force. Success at this initial stage leads to an ascendancy through the use of superior military strength that overshadows all opposition and leads to the conquest of local adversaries. As power becomes increasingly concentrated into an overweening empire, there is a tendency to expand and overextend the sphere of influence and domination. This ultimately leads to an exhaustion of resources both material and human. Finally, the empire contracts and ultimately dissolves. The entire process might take place over a thousand years as exemplified by the Roman Empire or hundreds of years as demonstrated by the now defunct British Empire.


In all of human history, these cycles of expansion and contraction were tolerable given the low density of human populations on the planet and the relatively benign effects of the primitive weaponry on the global environment. This model of collective human behavior where economic, political, and social differences and rivalries are settled through violent means is no longer tenable in the modern era.


The essentially tribal nature of human interactions has evolved over the millennia of human civilization into competing national sovereignties. The idea that each nation state is a power unto itself is no longer compatible with the rapidly evolving global character of human endeavor. There is currently too much at stake in maintaining the status quo, especially in regard to the survival of the species. The development of technological weaponry, especially nuclear and chemical weapons, has created a situation in which warfare necessarily leads to horrific consequences. Examples of the disastrous effects of protracted conflict can be seen both locally for the populations involved and globally due to the environmental impact as witnessed in the nuclear attacks against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the use of anti-personnel cluster bombs in Cambodia, the use of Agent Orange in Vietnam, the deployment of land mines in Afghanistan, the use of chemical weaponry during the Syrian Civil War, and the use of Depleted Uranium (DU) hardened ordnance in Iraq.


The daunting issues that face humanity are no longer local but rather global in nature. The remarkable savagery of the First and Second World Wars of the Twentieth Century awakened the idea of a world organization as a forum for international communication so as to foster dialog between nations and forestall the possibility of future wars of such magnitude. The first experiment in a world organization as a vehicle for adjudicating international disputes was the League of Nations that was created at the aftermath of World War I. This international body met with limited success and was eventually disbanded. This experiment in world governance was followed by the creation of the United Nations at the end of World War II. The United Nations is still extant but remains hostage to the dominance of the special interests of the powerful industrial nations that constitute the Security Council.


The will to empire is still very much with us. Apparently, no significant lessons have been learned from the horrid and often repeated mistakes of the past. The absolute necessity for true international cooperation as a means to effectively circumvent a catastrophic future that now seems so inevitable is still not recognized. Many nations remain fixated on the ferocious competition for dominance and supremacy at the expense of those sovereignties that are weaker and more fragile. A poignant present-day example of this is the Chinese annexation of Tibet, a process that is currently going on. This competition has usually been over the natural and human resources required to fuel and sustain national economies. The needs for additional natural resources such as land for expansion of national populations or energy and mineral resources have often been the focus of international aggression. As needed resources such as oil or water become scarce, the competition will, by necessity, grow increasingly explosive.

This particular mindset has become problematic; the species is in desperate need of a completely new paradigm. The model must be based, by necessity, on a spirit of cooperation and giving. The chasm that currently exists between the so-called “haves” and “have-nots” both within and between sovereign states is helping to sustain the extreme level of violence that continues to plague humanity. Fundamental issues of social and economic justice need to be uppermost on the agenda. Such a focus would require a serious implementation of the role of social responsibility and conscience in the behavior of individuals and governments. The idea of belonging wholly to one nation must be superseded by the idea of being a member of the world community. This, of course, represents a huge leap in understanding, tolerance, and compassion; it requires an obligation to act in the best interests of all humanity. At the core of this change in worldview is the incorporation of non-violent behavior in inter-personal relationships.


The first images of the planet taken from space clearly demonstrated, for all human beings that the earth is our only home. This conception has, in my judgment, become such an integral part of human consciousness that the current and obvious threat posed by global warming may offer some impetus for change. The time may be right to open more effective channels of communication between nations with the focus of developing sustainable economies that would help insure a livable planet for future generations of not only the human species but all the magnificent creatures that constitute the living world. Simply moving through life with self-interest as the guiding principle is not enough to forestall a major calamity that only concerted human action can avert.


In my judgment, the human species is facing an impending crisis that may ultimately challenge its ability to survive on this fragile planet. The forward momentum of what is referred to as “human progress” has led human societies to a rapidly changing world where there are cavernous divisions in religious and political beliefs and a grievous imbalance in the distribution of wealth. These differences are intertwined with each other and provide the impetus for unrest and violent behavior. For the first time in human history the convergence of these forces on a world with limited resources and an ever-expanding human population has created a situation in which the future of the species is no longer assured. The question remains as to whether we are collectively smart enough to overcome these difficulties and work together globally in ways that can divert a catastrophic future.


Unfortunately, violence continues to be the essential driving force for resolving serious disputes between nations and peoples. The contemporary rise of what is referred to as terrorism (although the use of this term conveniently bypasses the terror tactics so often employed by nation-states) is indicative of aggressive behavior that knows no clear territorial boundaries. This does not have to be the case. There are many alternative ways to address controversial issues without necessarily employing violent methods. Why is it that raw aggression is so often the method of choice in resolving economic, political, and social disputes?



The leaders of nations often use their positions of power to exploit the fears and emotions of their fellow countrymen to fulfill hidden agendas, often economic in nature, that serve the powerful. It is the young, uneducated, and threatened members of the population who are most susceptible to the propaganda that is used to amplify the fears and uncertainties that are such an integral part of the human experience. From a chauvinistic viewpoint, the adversary is pictured as evil and somehow inimical to civilization. The enemy, so described, is often seen as less than human and, therefore, worthy of elimination. Those who are lured into doing the fighting are subsequently told that they must abandon the normal societal prohibitions that the rest of the society is taught to live by.


In war, civilized behavior is abandoned as young men (and women) are placed in situations where their main function is to kill and avoid being killed by the adversary that they face. For individual soldiers, survival becomes the impetus for their actions. Their behavior is rationalized by the idea that they are fighting for a higher purpose. Without, this set of beliefs, wars would not be possible.


The burden of war and the carnage and devastation that it brings is no longer tenable in the modern world. Technological weaponry has grown too deadly and sophisticated and the global environment, which is already in serious jeopardy, needs humanity’s undivided attention. There is, after all, one common thread that binds us: we are members of the same species depending on our planetary environment to sustain us.


It is imperative that national leaders embrace this reality and work towards finding common ground, especially with those who are perceived as dangerous adversaries. We face a global crisis that requires global solutions. The grinding hunger, poverty, ignorance, and despair that haunts the lives of billions of human beings must be addressed, along with finding ways to avoid the serious impact that unabated global warming will bring to ourselves and most importantly, future generations. There are, of course, many barriers to such a degree of international cooperation, but in reality there is no viable alternative. The world, with all its wonders, is for us to preserve or destroy.


These thoughts do not, by any means, represent new concepts or ideas. Quite to the contrary, throughout human history there have been voices putting forth the idea of peace and suggesting methodologies to achieve this elusive goal.


THE END


Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Hopeful Dream

Truth no longer a whisperbut a flood of clarity,
guns and all weapons of
bad intention or ill feeling
reduced to their base metals
and fashioned into implements of healing,
all who are hungry
are fed,
all who are afraid
are reassured,
all who are pariahs
brought into the human fold,
all who are filled with the bile of hatred
cajoled with sweetness and caring,
all who suffer needlessly
from their own lack of faith in themselves
see the blazing light of true wisdom,
all who have hearts weighted by greed
free themselves from the onerous weight of possessions,
all who love ignorance
witness the rapture and wonder of learning,
all who usurp themselves and others with power,
come to recognize their own impotence,
all who are crippled and torn apart by disease
see their true worth,
artists and lovers of knowledge and thought
are finally appreciated,
all without homes
find shelter in the heart of humanity,
all who are fractured
made whole,
all who are obsessed by race or creed
are freed of their limitations,
all limited and pernicious ideas
fall to oblivion from their own weight,
all who are demagogues
find a life of true service,
all ideas born of avarice and rooted in war
are finally dead,
all embrace all
as members of the human family.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Dr. Paul Farmer

 



A Tribute to Paul Farmer who died February 21, 2022
Paul Farmer
Doctor Paul Edward Farmer was born in 1959. He was the second of six children; he grew up in the mill town of North Adams, Massachusetts. In 1966, the family moved to Alabama and later relocated to Florida in 1971. They were so poor that they lived in a bus that his father had purchased in auction. There, as a young boy, he picked fruit with Haitian migrant workers and was probably influenced by that experience. The extent of the economic deprivation that he felt growing up helped him understand what it means to be without, and may have inspired him to devote his life’s energy to those in need.
Farmer is widely known for his remarkable and unrelenting service to the people of Haiti, driven by his desire to provide good quality health care and assistance to the impoverished people of that country. In addition, he has been a strong advocate for Haiti in the international arena and has been particularly critical of what he sees as America’s plan for fixing the nation’s enfeebled economy.
In order to have a clearer understanding of the economic and political forces that have come to shape present-day Haiti, it is important to have an historic perspective of this beleaguered country. Hispaniola was colonized by Christopher Columbus’ brother, Bartolomeo, for Spain in 1496. He established the capital at Santo Domingo (Dominican Republic) on the eastern side of the island. In 1697, the Treaty of Ryswick ceded France dominion over the western half of the island – present day Haiti. During the eighteenth century, Haiti operated as a slave colony and a leading port of call for slave ships. By the latter part of that century, nearly one out of every three slaves, who arrived in Haiti, died within a few years of reaching the colony.
In 1791, a revolt began against French domination. This revolt was led by François-Dominique Toussaint L'Ouverture (May 20, 1743 – April 7, 1803). Toussaint led enslaved blacks in a long struggle for independence over the French colonizers; ultimately, his movement abolished slavery, and secured "native" control over the Haitian colony. In 1797, following his victory, L’Ouverture expelled the French commissioner Léger-Félicité Sonthonax, as well as the British army; freed the slaves in neighboring Santo Domingo, and wrote a Constitution naming himself governor-for-life.
Between the years 1800 and 1802, Toussaint L'Ouverture - translated from the French, his name literally means “all saints” or “all souls opening” - tried to rebuild the collapsed economy of Haiti and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. His rule permitted the colony a taste of freedom which, after his death in exile, was gradually undermined during the successive reigns of a series of despots. His last words were to his son in France, "My boy, you will one day go back to St. Domingo; forget that France murdered your father."
In 1804, the independent state of Haiti was formed and it was declared as a safe haven for runaway slaves. It is important to note here that the United States government refused to recognize Haiti’s independence. Sadly, the native population of Haiti is no longer extant; they were eliminated as a result of the Spanish domination that preceded the arrival of the French.
In 1825, King Charles X of France recognized the independence of the country only on condition that an indemnity of 150 million Francs - approximately one-half million dollars - be paid and that an agreement be reached regarding a reduction of import and export taxes placed on French goods; this arrangement was tantamount to extortion. These repayments continued until after World War II. The effect of this agreement was devastating to the Haitian economy in that it represented a mass transfer of wealth from the poor indigenous people of Haiti to wealthy foreigners.
From 1915 through 1934, Haiti was occupied by the U.S. military. The United States occupation of Haiti began on July 28, 1915, when 330 US Marines landed at Port-au-Prince as directed by President Woodrow Wilson. They were dispatched to the island with the express purpose of protecting U.S. corporate interests. It ended on August 1, 1934, during the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt.
Farmer first traveled to Haiti in 1983 while it was under the harsh dictatorship of the Duvalier family. At that time, it was considered to be the poorest country in the western world. Baby Doc Duvalier who was “President for Life” fled the country in 1986. The first attempt at democratic elections was undertaken the following year; the fragile nature of this movement towards democracy was made apparent by the fact that a massacre took place at one of the polling stations.
In 1990, Father Jean-Bertrand Aristide ran for President and on Dec 16, 1990 he won sixty-seven percent of the popular vote. He was a catholic priest who was an avid proponent of liberation theology and believed strongly in the, “preferential option for the poor,” reminiscent of the work and mission of Father Romero of El Salvador. He voiced opposition to the policies of Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, President of the United States. As a consequence, President Bush, who succeeded Reagan, funded Aristide’s opposition and cut off aid. The paramilitary group Front for the Advancement and Progress of Haiti (FRAPH) rose to prominence and staged a coup on September, 1991 that left one thousand dead. Aristide ultimately returned to power in 1994.
Before the devastating effect of the recent earthquake, the Haitian economy was already in terrible shape. By the year 2000, the entire budget for Haiti, with a population of eight million people, was less than the budget of Cambridge, Massachusetts, a city of 100,000 individuals.
Farmer graduated from Harvard Medical School with an ancillary PhD degree in anthropology. He worked in Haiti for eight months out of every year without pay, serving peasants who had lost their land as a result of the construction of a hydroelectric dam. For the remaining four months of each year, he worked in Boston living in a church sanctuary. He was briefly expelled from Haiti during the reign of the military junta, but managed to sneak back into the country by bribing government officials. In 1994, Jimmy Carter was dispatched by President Bill Clinton to try to persuade the junta to abdicate their pernicious rule of the country.
The tireless energy of Farmer on behalf of the people of Haiti has earned him the affectionate title of the, “poor people’s doctor.” In 1999, he also worked at the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston and was the Professor of Medicine and Medical Anthropology at Harvard Medical School.
Farmer’s primary concern and professional interest lies in the realm of the relationship between economic inequality and infectious disease. In his mind, many of the premature deaths that occur throughout the world from uncontrolled infectious diseases are a direct result of the mal-distribution of medical technologies. He is never reluctant to fault the rich countries for their failure to address this issue on a global scale, especially his home country, the United States.
On account of his strong commitment to the service of those in need and his passion to do whatever he can to counter the dire effects of poverty, he has created a remarkable community referred to as Partners in Health (PIH) in Zammi Lasante. This complex includes a woman’s clinic, a general hospital, an Anglican Church, a kitchen that prepares meals for 2,000 people daily and a treatment center for Tuberculosis (TB). This medical center possesses two laboratories and an ambulatory clinic that serves hundreds of people. One million peasant farmers - in a country of eight million -depend upon this facility. The per capita income of the average Haitian is about one dollar per day. Twenty-five percent of Haitians die before the age of 40. Farmer is so committed to the health and well-being of the people of Haiti that no one is turned away. In addition, PIH helps build schools, water systems and manages a vaccination program with the goals of vaccinating all children, reducing malnutrition and decreasing infant mortality.
In 1993, Farmer was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant of $220,000 for his efforts. He donated the entire sum to PIH. The following is an excerpt of his acceptance speech on receiving this grant: “The individuals who are living in dire poverty throughout the world may well exceed one billion in number. The suffering, starvation and premature death that is a consequence of this poverty is unconscionable in a world where the wealthiest nations enjoy an abundance and have ready access to a multiplicity of resources that are denied to so many of their fellow humans. In many regards, the scale of this suffering is due to a lack of access to an adequate food supply, appropriate medical technology, education and basic information.”
Dr. Paul Farmer had dedicated his life to demonstrate that these horrific conditions can be effectively ameliorated, if not entirely eliminated, by making available to everyone what is currently available only to some

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Anna Arnold Hedgeman

 

Anna Arnold Hedgeman

  

Anna Arnold Hedgeman was born in the late 19th century (1899) in the small town of Marshalltown, Iowa.  As a small child, her family moved to Anoka, Minnesota – they were the only black family in their local community.  Her parents, William James Arnold II and Marie Ellen (Parker) Arnold, placed a great deal of value and importance upon education and scholarship.  They were also active in their community, and Hedgeman did not experience any notable discrimination while growing up.  However, she was to feel the full weight of racial prejudice later in her adult life.

 Following her graduation in 1918, Hedgeman continued her education at Hamline University In Saint Paul, Minnesota – a private liberal arts college founded in 1854.  This university places a strong emphasis on experiential learning, service, and active engagement in issues of social justice.

As a student at the university, she attended a lecture given by Dr. W.E.B. DuBois – a famous sociologist and historian (1868 – 1963) - that she found inspirational and helped direct her aspirations towards a career in education.  She graduated from Hamline University in 1922 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English.  She was the first person of color to earn a degree at Hamline University.

One of her first positions post-graduation was a teaching position at Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Rust College is an historic black college founded in 1866 during the brief period of post-war Reconstruction (1865 – 1877). During her stay in Rust College in the heart of the Deep South she suddenly experienced the full impact of Jim Crow (as discussed previously). She was awakened to this reality even before she arrived in Mississippi by train, for she was obliged to sit in the “colored” car behind the locomotive and was denied access to the dining car on account of the color of her skin as soon as the train departed from the Cairo, Illinois train station. This demeaning experience sharpened her awareness of the true nature of racism within the United States.

After two years at Rust College, she moved back to Minnesota to find racial barriers confront her when she tried to find a teaching position. In 1924, she accepted a position as executive director of the black branch of the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) in Springfield, Ohio; she remained in that position until 1938.

For the following ten years she worked at a number of high-level positions including serving as the Assistant Dean of Women at Howard University. By 1948, she turned her attention to a political career and worked for the Harry Truman campaign for President of the United States, and went on to become the first black woman to serve on the cabinet of then New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. In this role, she gained a reputation as a strong advocate for civil rights and was recruited by Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin to plan and coordinate the 1963 March on Washington that was highlighted earlier in this book (see the chapter devoted to John Lewis). Serving as the Coordinator of Special Events for the Commission of Religion and Race of the National Council of Churches, Hedgeman convinced some 40,000 Protestants to participate in this march on August 28, 1963, that brought hundreds of thousands of individuals to the nation’s capital.

On account of her wide-ranging experience and professional career especially in regard to her inexhaustible advocacy in the area of equal rights for African-Americans, Hedgeman became a sought-after lecturer at black colleges and universities throughout the United States. She authored a number of books that highlighted her efforts including, The Trumpet Sounds (1964) and The Gift of Chaos (1977). Hedgeman died on January 7, 1990.

As an African-American woman, Hedgeman came to understand the deleterious impact of racism on the lives of people of color within the United States and dedicated herself to help make substantive changes in this cultural dynamic that remains a persistent aspect of the national landscape.

Excerpted from Comments and Reflections Regarding Life's Journey

             I seem to be in the midst of struggling with the prospect of ageing that dominates the horizon of my remaining years.  It is no easy matter to find accommodation with the ineluctable reality that body is no longer as capable of doing the complete bidding of my wishes and desires.  In regard to my intrinsic abilities I can no longer trust them as completely as I used to.  Of course, this comes as no great surprise, and to resist this reality is, of course, futile.

To me the only sensible course is acceptance.  Furthermore, a recognition of individual mortality has an additional benefit.  That benefit resides within an increased and more acute awareness of the wondrous qualities and subtleties and intrinsic beauty that imbues every passing moment.  The world presents me with a remarkable array of details and perspectives present in the simplest of experiences if I choose to open myself to them. 

In my mind, if I allow myself to be caught up within the intricate fabric of distractions produced and sustained by the modern world the unfortunate consequence is that the precious moments are lost within the crazy-quilt miasma of contrived existence.  It is, after all, an inventive and intricate shadow world that envelops the modern human world that constantly demands our complete attention.  Much of this shadow world is wrapped in the comforting domain of the pursuit of material possessions.  The potpourri of images and manifestations of objects that are continually fed into the sensory apparatus of the thinking brain are presented to us as palpable vehicles designed to enhance our chances for individual happiness whether it be a shiny new car, an ensemble of fabulous clothes that would improve our sexual appeal, all manner of so-called “hygiene products” that have become our necessary companions in the social world, labor-saving devices that are guaranteed to free up our time and bring us even more happiness, and on and on – the list is seemingly without end.

Moments lost to these distractions cannot be regained.  Life cannot be rewound.  Life proceeds moment to moment through a continuum of choices.  Modern living demands heightened unquestioned passivity to the multi-faceted norms that have been carefully constructed for mass consumption.  This intricate structure is indeed a reality of a kind, but it is not representative of the natural world and by its nature is impermanent and can readily implode upon itself.  Many examples exist of such an internal collapse have been reported through the course of history of human civilizations.

 

We are representatives of a sentient species – our home is planet earth.  We are by no means the sole inhabitants on Spaceship Earth, although we often behave as we should be and possess a seeming determination to make it so.  What we will accomplish, however, if we do not awaken from our collective stupor, is to craft an environment that will ultimately be unable to sustain us.  This is the height of stupidity, for we seem to relish the idea of killing each other over issues that are more contrived than real, undermine our collective future by our continued raping of the natural world, and endanger our future rather than embrace peace, harmony, and real and substantial social justice.

Without the presence of Homo sapiens, the earth will continue to spin on its axis, revolve around its sun and move through time within a vast and wondrous cosmos.  Our continued existence as a species is not required and is certainly not a necessary component of the working universe. 

As products of our collective imagination, the panoply of gods, ethereal beings, spirits, demons, apparitions, etc. will all vanish when humans are no longer extant.  They have no substance outside the realm of the human brain.  The universe, however, is real, time is substantial and each moment is transient.  Within this fabulous matrix our individual selves are created and move on time’s ineluctable trajectory until our individual brains cease to function and the molecular organization that sustains us unravels joining us once again to the chaos and ferment of creation.  We may pretend that this is not reality; we may put our faith in fabulous ideas of other-worldliness, but it is not matter for it changes nothing.  Self-delusion may provide comfort but it changes nothing.  We may choose to embrace death with the belief that there is something more, but it changes nothing.  Reality has no need of either our acquiescence or resistance, for when the brain ceases to function, as individuals we are no longer.  It is that simple. 

 

In my thinking, if I choose delusion over reality, I choose to engage the pretend version of existence and fail to appreciate the vivid reality that surrounds me.  What I do know is that while I continue to have a conscious existence it is my responsibility to fully appreciate that I am a living witness to the wonders around me no matter how brief my sojourn.  I am, after all, grounded to this Earth, lungs filled with the air that sustains me, a body that moves me through life and the marvelous organ of the human brain that is me.

If I can embrace myself so thoroughly and completely than I can embrace everything.  Once stripped of the array of filters that distort existence in order to fit into prescribed limits, it is then that I can truly see and understand what it is to be human.  There is an inseparable bond between the ability to see with clarity and love, compassion and understanding.  We are all, in fact, flawed creatures, imperfect on account of the evolutionary path of our species, mortal by design, contained within the architecture of our brains, yet we are collectively capable of so much more than the disastrous and unsettling choices we have made to date.

 

Think of the world we could craft if all humans were to fully incorporate the truth that we are all (the eight billion of us) members of the same human family rather than continuing to pursue the current idea that we are somehow intrinsically separate based upon contrived differences in race, belief systems, political ideology, sexual preference etc.  Think of the world we could craft if we finally stopped killing each other for no good or apparently justifiable reasons.  Think of the world we could craft if we seriously began to be responsible stewards of our earthly home rather than actively undermining the natural world that sustains us.  Think of the world we could inhabit if we finally took full responsibility for our collective fate rather than allow ourselves to move about in a delusional reality of our own making that presumes that a super-human being(s) is “watching over us.”  If we were to bring about our own self-destruction tomorrow, the cosmos would be completely unaffected and the movement of time would be unimpaired.  The human species is not a required component for the running of the universe machine.

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Dame Cicely Saunders

 




Cicely Mary Strode Saunders, was the founder of the modern conception of hospice and, also established the discipline and rigor associated with palliative care – a type of care with the primary goal of relieving pain and distress in patients with severe and often terminal illnesses. By definition, a hospice is a home for the severely or terminally ill patient.

Cicely Mary Strode Saunders was born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, England in 1918. She was the eldest of three children. Saunders’ family was financially well-situated; however, the household environment was deeply affected by a controlling father and a remote and withdrawn mother. The family lived in in a large house with spacious grounds.

When Saunders was just one years old, she was cared for by her Aunt Daisy. This arrangement was soon abruptly ended and she was subsequently returned to her home and sent to Roedean School when she was 10 years-old. At school, Saunders was taller than the other girls. This difference made her feel awkward and separate from her peers. she felt that this aspect of her growing up made her come to appreciate those who were considered different. As a child Saunders suffered from scoliosis – defined as a sideways curvature of the spine - severe enough that she was made to lie flat on the floor for 40 minutes a day.

These experiences as a child may have contributed to her desire to be of service to others and become a nurse. Her father did not approve of this choice of possible careers. As a result, she went to St. Anne’s College in Oxford where she pursued the study of politics, philosophy, and economics with the goal of eventually working in government.

However, the outbreak of World War II that began when Germany - under the aegis of Adolph Hitler - invaded Poland (1939), disrupted this career path, and, defying her father’s wishes, she enrolled as a student at The Nightingale Training School to become a Red Cross war nurse. During her training, she had rotations at several mental hospitals and worked at the Park Prewett Hospital in London. Physically, the work was very stressful, and placed an additional burden on her back. As a result, she returned to Oxford for a year and gained a "war degree." She was trained at the Royal Cancer Hospital that qualified her as a social worker (almoner), in 1947.

It was in the following year that a life-changing experience altered the course of her professional career. While working at Archway hospital in London, she cared for a Polish émigré, David Tasma, who was dying. In the course of her caregiving, Saunders and Tasma became intensely involved with each other. In their conversations, the idea occurred to them of founding a home in which people who were dying could find some solace and peace in their final days. On his death, he left her 500 pounds as seed money to realize this dream.

Saunders was advised by professional colleagues that if she truly wished to realize her dream, she should obtain a degree in medicine as a doctor. It was reasoned that with this credential she would be more readily listened to. In 1957, she became a physician graduating from St. Thomas’ Medical School in London. She broadened her knowledge in pharmacology so that she could better understand how to alleviate pain in terminally ill patients. With this knew knowledge, she became a powerful advocate for the regular administration of pain medications to such patients rather than supplying them on demand.

In 1958, shortly after she qualified, she wrote an article concerning a new approach to the end of life. In it she stated that, "It appears that many patients feel deserted by their doctors at the end. Ideally the doctor should remain the centre of a team who work together to relieve where they cannot heal, to keep the patient’s own struggle within his compass and to bring hope and consolation to the end."

During this time, Saunders began to formulate her vision for a facility devoted to the care of terminally-ill patents. She envisioned a facility that would provide emotional and spiritual support in addition to the traditional focus on medicine. She also appreciated the value of providing a comforting and homelike environment to those at the end of life. Saunders also kept in mind the need to offer support to the families of patients as well, recognizing the stressful aspects of end-of-life issues.

By 1959, she had drawn up a detailed proposal for the hospice she had in mind. After an intense period of negotiation, construction began in 1965 – it was to be called St. Christopher’s Hospice located in South London. It was opened in 1967. It has since become a prime model for hospice care to this date, that is emulated throughout the world.

Saunders spent her final days at St. Christopher’s along with her husband, Marian Bohusz-Szyszko. He passed away in 1995 and she continued working until the end of her life in 2005.

The extent of the contribution Saunder’s has made to the caring of the terminally ill might best be expressed in her own words taken as an excerpt from her acceptance address of the Templeton Prize given on May 12, 1981.

“For over 1,000 years hospice was a resting place for pilgrims, giving them a welcome that lasted till they were ready to go on. For a few, the sick and wounded, it would have been the last stage. For the past 100 years or so hospice has also meant a foundation, still religious, admitting those with incurable illness when the hospitals would no longer care for them. Founded on both sides of the Atlantic and in Australia around the turn of the century, they were for patients dying of cancer and of tuberculosis and with long term illness when the only alternatives were the Poor Law and similar Institutions. Among this group it was the Irish Sisters of Charity who chose the name Hospice, first in Dublin, later in Hackney and applied it especially to those who were dying.

“Over the past decade the word has been filled up with new meanings and has come to stand for a world-wide movement identified by attitudes and expertise rather than by bricks and mortar, for many hospice teams have no beds of their own. I would define the modern hospice as a skilled community working to improve the quality of life remaining for patients and their families struggling with mortal and long-term illness. Some also include the frail elderly. Hospice is about a special kind of living and in a sense is still concerned with travelling: patients, families, elderly residents and the staff and volunteers who meet them, find they are drawn into a journey of the spirit.

“However, this new development began with a building when you, Ma’am, opened St. Christopher’s in July 1967, when we took the word Hospice from St. Joseph’s, generous in this as in everything else. Not the first hospice, but the first planned not only to care for a mixed group of patients but also to develop research and teaching.”

It is for these reasons that the name and person of Dame Cicely Saunders has become synonymous with what is regarded as modern hospice care. Without her clear and compassionate vision, the pain and suffering endured by the terminally ill would not have been so effectively curtailed.

Monday, March 14, 2022

Raif Badawi - Saudi Activist & Political Prisoner


 


Raif bin Muhammad Badawi gained notoriety when he was arrested in 2012 at the age of twenty-eight for the following crimes: "setting up a website that undermines general security", "ridiculing Islamic religious figures", and "going beyond the realm of obedience.” He was sentenced to seven years in prison. This sentence was increased to 10 years in 2014.


Badawi is a is a Saudi writer actively engaged in advocating for a more liberal social and political environment in his native Saudi Arabia. To expand his audience, he created a website – Free Saudi Liberals.

Badawi's blog had many members. It quickly became a forum for vigorous debate regarding Saudi politics. For this reason, he was arrested in late 2007. Although he was eventually released, he became the victim of constant harassment that eventually led to his subsequent arrest in 2012.

Raif Badawi was born on January 13, 1984, in Khobar, Saudi Arabia. His parents are Najwa, a Lebanese Christian, and Muhammad Badawi, a Saudi Muslim. At a young age, his Saudi grandmother explained to him that, “Saudi society historically was not as strict and men and women used to work together in the fields.”

Badawi's mother died young at an unknown age. He was raised by his father and grandmother in a household beset by economic difficulties. Badawi attended school until the age of thirteen when his father reported him for parental disobedience, a crime in Saudi Arabia, and spent six months in a teenage detention center.

Saudi Arabia is a theocratic monarchy whose laws and regulations follow the rulings and teaching of Islamic law. The legal system is based on sharia as interpreted by Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. The government is under the leadership of a king and prime minister. Furthermore, the royal family rules by fiat, and there is no Constitution.

Wahhabism is an Islamic revisionist theology that exerts a powerful influence in Saudi Arabian politics. It derived its name from the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhabi. Wahhabism is an extremely stringent and uncompromising from of Islam that insists on a purely literal interpretation of the Koran. Through this highly restrictive interpretation, those who do not practice this form of Islam are considered heathens and are dealt with harshly. In Saudi Arabia apostasy itself is considered a crime worthy of the death penalty.

Badawi was influenced by the writings of progressive Arab author, Abdullah al-Qasemi, and Turki al-Hamad, a noted journalist and thinker. He was particularly inspired by Mohammed Saeed Tayeb, a staunch believer in democracy who was also imprisoned.

Ultimately, he became so concerned about the oppressive and authoritarian nature of Saudi politics that he began to speak out openly in regard to these concerns. For this reason, Badawi’s activities were considered by the government as anathema and explains the severity of the punishment he has been forced to endure. Badawi’s courageous insistence on expressing his views has been regarded as a particular threat, for the government’s autocratic imposition of Islam on the lives of its people is especially vulnerable in the human world of the twenty-first century in which global communication is a predominant aspect of modern life.


He has been reported to be in poor health, and his general condition has noticeably worsened during his imprisonment and torture according to his wife, Ensaf Haidar, currently residing in Canada. She fled her native country convinced that her life would be endangered if she remained in Saudi Arabia.


The following interview with Ensaf Haidar was conducted by Jaafar Abdul Karim at Deutshe Welle (dw.com) in 2017.


Ensaf Haidar: The fact that my husband has been in jail for five years shows that there is no freedom of expression in Saudi Arabia.

Raif expressed his opinion in a friendly and peaceful manner, so there was no reason to be afraid. He had also written for Saudi newspapers, and that shows that he wasn't an enemy of the state. He even had the experience of traveling abroad.


So why are some states so afraid of these independent spirits?

Because of the different opinions. It's us they're afraid of, not the expression of opinion as such.


So they would prefer there to be only one opinion?

This is what their approach suggests. They want everyone to be of the same opinion. They're afraid of a wide range of opinions.


How is your husband doing at the moment?

After five years in captivity separated from his children and the outside world, he's naturally doing poorly physically and psychologically. He has been imprisoned for five years without having committed a crime.


Of course, the Saudi authorities see the situation differently. What do you tell your children? Do they understand what's going on?

They understand it and are proud of their father, though they miss him very much. They need him, especially at this age.


Do you stay in constant contact with Raif?

In the beginning he always called me for brief periods of time, but I haven't heard anything from him in over three weeks.

If we had press freedom, Raif would be free. He's been in jail for five years and he'll be there for five more. Along with that he's also been handed a 10-year travel ban, a fine of one million riyal ($266,654 USD) and 1,000 lashings by cane. Anyone who sees this sentence can decide if we have press freedom here or not.


How important then is freedom of expression?

There are people who say there is already too much division; there's terrorism and there's foreign interference, which undermine a country's sovereignty.

Those who speak peacefully and know the laws have the right to express themselves! That is a basic right of every person, whatever the subject.


Do you speak with your children about freedom of expression?

That is a social issue and not just a legal one. From society as well there is a partial rejection of freedom of expression…

Here in Canada it is, of course, completely different. It's a secular country, where you can express your opinion freely, directly in the press. When I tell my kids about their father, they don't understand what the problem is at all with someone having a blog. It's completely different here.


There is an international solidarity campaign for your husband. How does that make you feel?

I can only be thankful and hope that the initiators continue with it. However, so far it has had a psychological effect. It hasn't impacted the proceedings against Raif so far. But I hope that the solidarity continues nonetheless, because moral support is so important. That gives Raif and me hope and strength.


Do you personally hope that pressure from the campaign will help free Raif? It is now an international campaign.

I hope that the Saudi government one day recognizes that freedom of expression is every man's right. Raif always peacefully expressed himself and loved his country. In this way I hope that he soon comes free.


What is your appeal for World Press Freedom Day?

I hope that the whole world continues to stand by us. I call on the Saudi government to give every citizen a space for freedom of expression.


Badawi is currently represented by The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights that acts as his international legal counsel. The mission statement of this organization is the following as presented on their website (raoulwallenbergcentre.org).


“The Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights is a unique international consortium of parliamentarians, scholars, jurists, human rights defenders, NGOs, and students united in the pursuit of justice, inspired by and anchored in Raoul Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy – how

act can confront evil, prevail, and transform history.

“From mid-May to early July 1944, the Nazis deported 440,000 from Hungary to the Auschwitz Birkenau death camp – one of the most efficient, cruelest, and most horrific mass deportations in the Holocaust. Raoul Wallenberg arrived as a Swedish diplomat in the Swedish legation in Budapest in July 1944 and in six months saved 100,000 Jews.

“The Wallenberg Centre is organized around five pillars of pursuing justice, each of which reflects and represents Wallenberg’s humanitarian legacy. The Honorary Co-Chairs of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights are: Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel (U.S. – in memoriam); the Honorable Justice Rosalie Abella (Supreme Court of Canada); the Honourable Göran Persson (former Prime Minister of Sweden); and the Honourable Elyakim Rubinstein (Former Deputy President of the Israeli Supreme Court). The Centre’s Founder and International Chair is Professor Irwin Cotler and the Co-Chairs from countries of Wallenberg’s Honorary Citizenship include Jared Genser (US); Michael Danby (Australia); and Natan Sharansky (Israel).”


The goal of this organization is to use the global media as well as private diplomatic efforts to help secure Badawi's release from prison.

According to this organization, “Raif Badawi has been languishing in a Saudi prison since his arrest in 2012, and his subsequent sentencing in 2014 to 10 years imprisonment and 1000 lashes, itself constitutive of torture and a standing violation of International Human Rights Law. Badawi's "crime"? Establishing an online forum and exercising his right to freedom of expression. Despite Saudi Arabia expressing an interest in reforming and modernizing, Raif Badawi – an advocate of liberalism and tolerance, and the champion of these changes – remains imprisoned and separated from his wife and three children, now citizens of Canada.”


While his exact location is unknown, it has been reported that Badawi is currently imprisoned in Dhahban Central Prison.


Following the 2012 arrest, Amnesty International designated Badawi a prisoner of conscience. As reported on their website – amnestyusa.org,

“In May 2014, Raif Badawi was sentenced to 10 years behind bars, 1,000 lashes, a 10-year travel ban, and a lifetime ban from appearing in the media. He was convicted of violating Saudi Arabia's draconian information technology law and "insulting Islam." The conviction stems from number of articles Raif wrote and published on his site "Saudi Arabian Liberals," which he founded as a forum for social and political debate. Raif also refused to remove other Saudi writers' articles from the site.

"We want life for those who call for our death, and rationality for those who desire ignorance for us." -Raif Badawi


“The charges against Raif are related to articles he wrote criticizing religious authorities in Saudi Arabia, and pieces penned by others that Raif published on the Saudi Arabian Liberals' site. The prosecution had called for him to be tried for 'apostasy' or abandoning his religion, which carries the death penalty.

“Raif is one of many activists in Saudi Arabia persecuted for openly expressing their views online. Facebook and Twitter are incredibly popular in a country where people can't openly voice their opinions in public. The authorities have responded to this increase in online debate by monitoring social media sites and even trying to ban applications such as Skype and WhatsApp, further stifling free expression.”

Badawi’s unshakeable determination and remarkable courage as an advocate of human freedom and the right to express one’s views openly are of great value to us all, and a reminder of the inherent power of the human spirit.