Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Looking Forward, Looking Back

December brings with it many different celebrations and the most universal of all is New Year's Eve. Regardless of what corner of the world one comes from, the anticipation of the dawn of a new year brings joy and celebration.

Across the globe and in so many languages the anthem for the new year is sung. In Times Square, New York tens of thousands gather to count down the dropping ball. In Sydney, Australia fireworks begin to light the night skies, elaborate and beautiful. The world comes together in a celebration which transcends language, custom, race and nationality for the same purpose.

Messages of hope for the future stream across the airwaves from leaders of countries and faiths. Privately many make their resolutions that are unlikely to be kept. Regardless, most look back on the passing year and look forward to the virginal new days with some degree of hope. In the end each of us holds the steering wheel of destiny for our own future.

As we look at the year that has passed each individual will find some event which had left a scar that they would not want to repeat. For most it is a time to look forward, believing that the future holds greater promise. Yet we cannot deny that our past impacts our future, and although the path or direction is not preset by the past, its journey becomes more laborious.

Collectively, humanity has achieved immense progress. It has shown that maturity and knowledge are keys to developing a future with optimism. For all of us, whether as individuals or as nations, our past is a foundation on which to build on. There have been massive strides forward in science, technology and medicine. We have come to a realisation that we must nurture our planet, its air, soil and waters for a sustainable future for the coming generations. Even the way we govern our communities has led to an exchange of ideas and thoughts without fear of persecution and reprisal.

Still, humanity's most basic trait has not been subdued and violence has torn us apart. Looking back at 2014 one is left with a chilling view; not one of hope but of despair. The roll call of violence in 2014 touches every continent and scars every month of the year.

It is not possible to start with one incident as a spark which set humanity on fire. Decades of hate and atrocities between Israel and Palestine exploded again after nine months of peace talks that broke down in April. After the breakdown, the world saw a new horror in this ugly war where teenagers became the targets and pawns for death merchants. The first were two Palestinian teenagers killed in the West Bank on May 15th, then followed by three Israeli teenagers abducted and killed on June 12th, and a reprisal by Israelis on July 2nd as a Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death. Finally July 8th saw Israel launch a military campaign against Hamas; the war lasted 50 days and killed more than 2100 Palestinians against 72 Israeli. Most of the Palestinians were civilians.

Across the globe Russia's Vladimir Putin decided that peace and prosperity should be remnants of the past with the annexation of Crimea and military intervention in eastern Ukraine. International law meant little to Putin and his actions brought condemnation from around the world and eventually serious economic sanctions which have crippled Russia's economy.

Africa has had its share of violence struggling with poverty, hunger and political unrest for decades. This time it was Nigeria that woke to the sound of gunfire and screams of pain. A new demon rose by the name of Boko Haram, wishing to install its own vision of prosperity without education, based solely in fear and a rebirth of the dark ages. Boko Haram stands by a belief that girls should not attend schools and that boys should only be given an Islamic education. With that insanity in mind their terror campaign led to the abduction of some 275 school girls in Chibok, Nigeria, of which 219 are still missing. Following this attack, in April a suicide bomber believed to be part of the terrorist group Boko Haram killed 46 students in Potiskum, Nigeria.

Islamic terrorists found themselves at the forefront of news reports again in Peshwar, Pakistan later in the year. This time it was Pakistani Taliban murderers who attacked a school, killing 132 children and 9 staff, making this the bloodiest school siege worldwide in nearly a decade.

Religion has been used by humanity as a banner behind which monstrous atrocities had been committed for centuries. Whether in the hands of Christians waving the symbol of the red cross throughout the Crusades, or the Jews singing the chorus of “never again” as their tanks and rockets level houses, tearing apart innocent civilian flesh, all in the name of faith. Today our headlines are too often faced with followers of Islam who seem to think that the butchery of innocents truly is the yellow brick road to their salvation.

Was it the dream of eternal salvation that drove Man Haron Manis in Sydney, Australia, or simply an insane nightmare? This was a man who had committed a number of crimes yet found himself still with the luxury of freedom as he took hostages in the Lindt Cafe. In the end his life was ended by police, and two innocent human beings who had not known him or his religion paid with their lives. Their family and friends left with anguish and pain in a world gone mad.

The Islamic States of Iraq and Syria found that Al Qaeda was to give birth to a new madness under the title of ISIS. ISIS found world attention with the kidnapping of journalist James Foley and his public execution on television. More kidnappings and beheadings of innocent civilians brought recognition to this group of terrorists by the CIA and a world united to its eradication.

Politics and economics have followed religion as great motivators of the human spirit. In the past we have seen revolutions in France and Russia, the rise of madman Adolf Hitler and the longevity of an equal in Josef Stalin. In April, Venezuela found its people taking to the streets in protest to a broken economy, an uncontrolled crime rate and political repression. Violence spilled across the Venezuelan capital with the country's leader ordering arrests and torture.

Torture as a tool of terrorists has been refined over the ages to a fine art. In the US, a country seen by the world over as a leader in democracy and equality, the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the CIA's use of brutal torture of detainees in Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of pages detailing man's inhumanity to man had been made public. At the end of it all the most chilling response came from Dick Cheney, the former Vice President under George Bush Jr. In interviews Cheney said, “All the techniques that were authorised by the president were in effect, blessed by the Justice Department.” Here the mere title of Justice Department can only be seen as an abomination of language, especially as Cheney continued with, “we were very careful to stop short of torture.” Rectal feeding was not considered as torture by former US Vice President Dick Cheney, and when he said “I'd do it again in a minute” he brought the world to a momentary standstill.

America not only picked up the baton of the ancient crusaders singing a chorus of “never again,” it also found world attention in its torture of the American soul. Ferguson, Missouri on August 9th became a centre of repression of freedom and a right to life, with the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer.

Long ago the words of Martin Luther King reached out to all who believe in a basic concept of equality in humanity. Martin Luther King had a dream where an individual was to be judged upon his or her attributes, not the colour of their skin. Sadly this dream has been turned into a nightmare with continuing racial hatred that time and time again explodes into public attention as with the shooting of Michael Brown and the death of Eric Garner in New York.

Race was not an issue, nor was political unrest, when reservist Corp. Nathan Cirillo's life came to an end at the hands of a madman. Corp. Cirillo stood honourary guard at the National War Memorial in Ottawa, Canada; a single father with dreams for his future. Just another innocent caught in the sights of madness that had gripped the front pages across the world.

Humanity's propensity for violence has provided disturbing headlines month after month, and little else. There are those like Valerie Amos, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, at the United Nation's Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), who comes to the aid of hundreds of thousands of victims displaced by war and natural disasters. Valerie Amos said in CERF's annual report, “In my four years as Emergency Relief Coordinator, I have seen the impact that CERF funding has had for some of the world's most vulnerable people from Sudan to Mali, from Afghanistan to Haiti.” CERF throughout 2014 have allocated and used $450 million US dollars in 44 countries. Relief such as that offered by CERF is important but it always comes after an event. Our very future rests not on scientific discovery or conservation of the world's resources, it depends on change. Yet how do we achieve this change when our very history is built on violent struggle?

The most chilling statement came from Pro-life Congressman Steve Stockman of the Republican Party when he said, “If babies had guns they wouldn't be aborted.” Our babies in fact are being weaned on the acceptance of violence, believing that events in Africa, Palestine or Ukraine do not impact their lives.

It is time to celebrate. It is time to look towards the dawn of a new year. Each of us has our dreams and goals which cannot be forgotten or put aside through pessimistic lament. True 2014 has not been the best of years but humanity has survived a great deal and together we can find a way forward.

Happy New Year to all!

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