It is too easy for all countries to become so attentive to the developments in their own country that their attention prevents a full consciousness of the waves of turmoil elsewhere.
The United States, this week, mourned the loss, through racial assassination in a Bible study session of nine members of an historic black church in Charleston South Carolina, followed by an unprecedented and epic eulogy for their pastor by none other than President Barack Obama, on the same day as the Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage "legal" in all fifty states, and in the same week the court gave final approval to Obamacare. Oh, and by the way, one of the prison escapees from a New York state correctional facility, on the run for the past twenty-plus days, was shot by police while his accomplice was pursued through rural areas not far from the prison they escaped.
On Friday, nearly shoved aside from the front pages in the U.S. were several terrorist attacks, clearly co-ordinated in perception if not yet proven to be co-ordinated in a court of law. The Greek government has decided to hold a referendum on proposals to bail out their failing economy with austerity measures many feel are oppressive. The British government is experiencing substantial street protests against their austerity proposals, and word like, "We do not have to pay for the mistakes of the rich!" from the protesters find their way into news clips in North America.
While Obama, in his eulogy pointed to the subtlety of the new racism, 'where we might give Johnny a second interview for a job, we might not call back Jamal,' his government continues to drop missiles on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, demonstrating a fundamental confusion over how to eliminate that demonic force. Of course, 200-plus years of open, hostile and sacred-to-some bigotry against Blacks in the United States, provides insight and clarity at home that a mere decade or two of confronting Islamic radicals fails to afford.
Remember former House Speaker Tip O'Neill's dictum that "all politics is local"!
There is a new definition of "local"...and we could and are arguing that global is the new local just as Orange in the new Black, and some hope that tea is the new coffee.
With what amounts to a substantially global economic stage, the emergence of multilateral trade agreements, proposed and already signed, sometimes through bilateral treaties, and a trans-national communication system so interconnected that events anywhere are reported everywhere instantly, the capacity for individuals to absorb, digest, reflect upon and attempt to interpret the relative significance of events, in a manner that sustains their optimism and their hope, and wards against a rising tide of cynicism, hopelessness and even despair is threatened if not compromised.
On the other side of this coin, the flood of news from abroad makes it increasingly possible for political leaders to engage in such obstructive and regressive policies and tactics at home that are either imperceptible by their own electorate, or are couched in a context of too much information and confusion about the details rendering them vague, and far less damaging than they would otherwise be considered.
And so, while the technology to communicate and the skills of the reporters to analyse and report have never been better, so too is the power and influence of both those who own the technology and who pay those reporters. Ironically, while the capacity to disseminate information is unsurpassed, so too is the reduced capacity, interest and engagement of the general population to find meaning in the flood. And with the enhanced capacity to communicate comes also the enhanced power of the elite to control what precisely is communicated.
Little wonder, then, that human interest is still magnetized around events that have a kind of familiar ring to them: assassinations, prison escapes, marriage between people of the same gender, a eulogy that rises to a dramatic crescendo with the President initiating and leading 6000-plus in the singing of one of the oldest Christian 'chestnut' hymns, Amazing Grace. Little wonder, too that ordinary people, as well as political leaders, find it both difficult and even perplexing to fully integrate into their world view a galloping disease like ebola, or the more nearby plethora of cancers that seem to be impacting people on every street in every town and city in North America, or the confusing impetus to be-head, to terrorise and to rule the world by this growing band of thugs whose many faces and names help to give it cover (through confusion) and to attract recruits in its various battlefields.
In our desire to comprehend, we like to dissect and to simplify, in order to make sense of something. We use traditional and historic words, stories, archetypes and examples that we know and understand from our schooling and our cultural origins. And we continue to resist whatever is considered foreign. New people in a small community are treated with polite distance. New ideas are buffeted by simplistic dismissal, as are those brave enough and willing enough to put them forward. Even volunteering in new situations, developed over decades by others, by those new to the situation is compounded by unexplained changes made by those 'in charge' to the confusion and downright anger of those manipulated.
And little wonder that the stories of the multiple sites of terror including the various forms they take are reduced in the public mind to "more trouble" as were the sectarian conflicts for decades in Ireland, known as "the troubles". Everyone knew then, and certainly knows today, that in Ireland, the fight was between the Roman Catholics and the Protestants, two very different versions of something called Christianity. While the Irish "troubles" have calmed, the whole world is now witnessing a similar but different conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims, amid the turmoil and chaos of the crumbling of dictatorships, failed states, rampant poverty and galloping despair. And the British government's attempt to quell the troubles in Ireland knowing both the language and the religious bases for the dispute, if not the reasons for the depth of hatred and bigotry, is vastly different from the current situation in which the world's major powers literally know nothing of the language, culture or religious beliefs and practices of Sunni and Shia. Nor do we know the extent to which each side is prepared to go to 'win' or to stop the fighting. Intellectual arguments, theories about an Islamic reformation, and Pentagon and State Department assessments and strategies, while giving talking points to their front men and women, and cover to their political masters, are not tempering the conflict nor dissuading recruits from joining, nor engaging in the needed battle of ideas, of education and of receptivity and openness to how the world might become engaged in both understanding and helping to resolve this political, ideological and quasi-military disease that threatens to destabilize peace and security anywhere and potentially everywhere.
Learning a few place names of cities and countries previously unknown is not enough.
Learning a few dramatic incidents, mourning with those who have lost family members, while noble and honourable, is not enough.
Deploying bombs and missiles, as if we knew what we were doing (when we cannot predict the long-range impact of our actions) is not enough.
Reading books on the history of the Muslim faith, while admirable and enriching, is not enough.
Throwing money into pockets of extreme poverty and hopelessness in the developing world is not enough.
This scourge, linked to the many examples of the imbalance of wealth and its concomitant power that beset us, the 60,000,000 refugees attempting to find a life out of the several scenes of chaos, the apparent and growingly apparent incapacity or unwillingness or both, of institutional leaders in all countries to form a collective and united will to grapple effectively, and courageously and on a long-term basis on multiple 'fronts' to bring this monster to heel, is going to continue to impact the political and even the biological health of individuals and nations for the foreseeable future.
And just like the Confederate Flag that continues to fly over the state capitol in Charleston, that burned the pain of bigotry and injustice into the hearts and minds of both blacks and whites, and may finally be removed, this black ISIS flag and the cry of "Allah is Good" are and will continue to cast a long shadow over the hopes and dreams of millions, both Muslim and non-Muslim, not to mention the threat they pose to the people and the state of Israel.
We cannot wait for the century-plus to remove this black flag, and its addiction to complete control, as blacks have waited patiently for the removal of the Confederate Flag even though we want to bury its stories on the back pages, and at the bottom of our newscasts, while celebrating the "progress" we believe we are making on the home front.