It has always been easy for the powerful and the general public to look back at crimes against humanity in the deep closet of history and feel appalled. It is easy for politicians to stand before eternal flames bemoaning the Slave Trade or the Holocaust. and feel solidarity and compassion for the victims of some long ago mass murder. What still eludes most of society, though, is the application of that same outrage for similar crimes being perpetrated right at this moment.
There is a simple reason for the elite’s willful ignorance toward today’s atrocities. Apathy is a celebrated virtue among the wealthy; and many, if not most, benefit richly from each and every occupation, oppression and act of ethnic cleansing. In many cases they are even perpetrating these crimes with the use of mercenary armies, proxy states and client dictators.
For the general public it is a bit more nuanced, but not much. In the West we have been meticulously trained to avert our eyes to current injustices. Distraction in the form of vapid entertainment is ubiquitous, selective outrage is a staple of the mainstream media, and nationalistic hypocrisy is exonerated and sponged from the record every day.
Today’s oppressed are no different than yesterday’s. They are just as reviled by the powerful, misrepresented by the press, and ignored by society at large. But their plight is no less worthy of justice. Their suffering does not pack theaters or hackneyed film festivals in Colorado with tear-jerking cinematography and musical scores. And they have no memorials in Washington on which to lay wreaths.
Instead they themselves pack sinking ships in the Mediterranean and Andaman Seas, or open air prisons and Bantustans in Gaza or the West Bank, or atop lumbering trains heading north in Mexico. They grope desperately in the dark for survival on the margins of empire.
Our solidarity with them should not wait for some Hollywood production after all the graves have been dug. And we should never take our cue from the powerful as to when it is appropriate to speak out. Justice is not the dusty, bronze scales that adorn the mantelpieces of the elite. It is not a trophy. It is a verb that refuses to rest; and it is always on the side of the oppressed in what ever page of history they may inhabit.
Kenn Orphan 2015