Transformational Change from Tragedy

Kevin P Clements

There are some things we can change and others we cannot. There was nothing that we could have done about the earthquake in Nepal, although, in retrospect , it would have been good to have had a few more stringent building regulations in place before the cataclysm. In Indonesia, having exhausted all appeals there was nothing that Australia, Brazil or France could do to prevent 8 drug smugglers being executed by a defective and deeply flawed Indonesian legal and political system . In the face of yet another American police murder there was nothing that Maryland or Federal authorities could do to prevent rioting and looting in Baltimore. All of these things were beyond our control. We are reduced to being relatively mute bystanders watching these tragedies unfold and mourning those who suffer , those who are killed and those who are so desperate that they destroy their own city.

I just heard this morning that my old friend and colleague, Koichi Nakano in Japan, has been identified by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a dangerous and an unworthy commentator on the Comfort Women issue and other matters on the Japanese domestic political agenda. We can do something about this. We can protest to the Japanese Foreign Ministry about its attempts to muzzle an important critic of the Japanese Government. We can provide him with academic and political support as he continues to speak truth to power and we lend our voices to him and his causes.

On the other issues we can’t turn back the clock but we can learn from the mistakes of the past and work with locals to transform the political systems that continue to generate such suffering and unhappiness.

In relation to Nepal, , for example, we need to exercise love and compassion right now and do what we can to meet the overwhelming emergency needs for shelter, food, and security . There are 8 million people directly affected by this disaster and over 5000 confirmed dead –with the numbers jumping every day.

Having worked in Nepal for the past 6 years though it is vital that this earthquake is not used by corrupt politicians for selfish purposes. It is absolutely vital that the world community not legitimate local political leaders reinforcing an unfair and unjust distribution of emergency relief and long term development assistance. It is particularly important that sectional interests don’t prevail over national ones. We need to make sure that this emergency does not result in people compounding harm by trying to do good. In particular it is critical that emergency relief and longer term development assistance be used for the long term common good and unfinished social healing after the bitter Civil War . At a fairly basic level it is vital that Nepal takes advantage of this disaster to establish better construction regulations that will have some chance of guaranteeing the safety of all future generations should nature decide to wreck further havoc on an already stressed nation.

Capital punishment is an abomination wherever it still persists. The stage managed execution of drug smugglers in Indonesia will not deter future smugglers, nor will it result in higher levels of legitimacy for the legal and judicial system in Indonesia. This system is notoriously corrupt, arbitrary and beholden to political interests. This too we can change. We need to work with Amnesty International , Human Rights watch and other organisations to abolish the death penalty wherever it is practiced. This includes Indonesia, China, Saud Arabia, Iran, Japan and the USA alongside 44 other nations that still wish to retain the right of life and death over citizens. No country can claim to be civilised which still retains the death penalty. This is something that has been changed in a large number of countries. In all countries where the death penalty was abolished crime rates went down and respect for the judicial system went up. For abolition to be effective , however, it is vital that there be un-corrupt and independent judiciaries that command the trust of the people. This does not exist in Indonesia so we need to work with Indonesian colleagues to abolish the death penalty and reform the legal system and judiciary. If this is the legacy of today’s barbaric execution some good will come out of tragedy.

The riots in Baltimore point to a deep malaise in the United States as well. There is an urgent need for people of good will to work with authorities in the United States to ensure that police brutality is ended, to work for a legal and judicial system that is genuinely colour blind. But there is an even more pressing need to deal with the harmful and negative consequences of American and global capitalism which generates inequality, poverty, marginalisation and systematic exclusion . This too we can change.

We won’t be able to do any of these things though unless we have an independent and robust Fourth estate . Koichi Nakano’s experience in japan is being repeated all over the world as corporate and political power manufactures hegemonic consent; marginalises and destroys the reputations of powerful critics and seeks to dumb down visual, print and social media. This is happening in New Zealand with the threatened closure of one our more radical and critical TV news programmes. But it is happening even more subtly as national and global media seek to anaesthetise the citizenry with entertainment programmes masquerading as news and critical commentary. It is also occurring as all media seek to turn us into passive audience instead of engaged and radical actors. So positive transformation and social change requires resistance to the new opiate of the people- a supine , passive and uncritical media.

If out of these disasters we can generate a mood for positive political change in Nepal; an end to the death penalty globally; an effective challenge to a legal and judicial system that defends power and privilege and dominates the poor and people of colour they will have been catalytic rather than tragic…. So lets do it lets work to ensure that alternative messages reach their target; lets work to ensure that passive citizens are replaced by active engaged and radicalised citizens. Lets make sure that we become active co creators of a new gentler, more compassionate , inclusive politics and planet.