Doves of peace in armored vests

Post Date: Dec 25th, 2011 | Categories: Advocacy | COMMENT

This has been the year of protest and doves of peace have worn armored vests to resist the bloody repression of crazed, autocratic dictators who raged ruthlessly from Tunis to Cairo, from Tehran to Kinshasa. No one could have predicted the chain of events triggered by a humble Tunisian fruit-vendor who set himself alight to protest the abuse suffered trying to retrieve a confiscated cart. All he wanted was to make a modest living to sustain his family. But the authorities disallowed his simple dream and their callous, pitiless misconduct  – endured daily by most people across the world – launched the Arab Spring of revolution. The self-immolation of one aggrieved citizen, whose voice could not be heard, ignited the fire of an entire population which forced the President himself to escape to Saudi Arabia. Who would have guessed that? However inspiring the initial success was, every subsequent victory was paid dearly with blood and tears. These ironfisted tyrants cling so obstinately and embarrassingly to power that Nietzsche comes to mind, “Shame, shame, shame – that is human history!”

At Vision First we welcome refugees from 42 countries, each a troubled hotspot in an embattled world, that is trying to peacefully topple leaders buttressed by troops, tanks and torture chambers. When outraged masses rally against corrupt governments, the forces of justice, backed by goodwill and Twitter, initially succumb to the forces of repression, backed by gunfire and tanks, in an unequivocal imbalance of power. That’s the inevitable first step when vampire states, often run by thieving families for decades, have no better way to legitimize their rule, than gangsters have to dominate their neighborhood. The only difference is we often see these thugs-in-suits in the news, standing smugly for photo sessions with the leaders of western democracies, the World Bank and the United Nations. With so much blood on their hands, you would imagine they would be arrested and carted off to the International Criminal Court, but we have learnt that investment agendas commonly trump national integrity.

With the Christmas season upon us, we hold in our prayers those who suffer far away from their families, those who lost loved ones this year, those who abandoned their way of life, their work, their studies and everything cherished to become refugees in Hong Kong. At Vision First, we are often reminded how privileged we are to hear first-hand the voices of opposition from Egypt and Jordan, the cries of protest from Ivory Coast and Togo, the hopes of change from Congo and Somalia. There are deep, sorrowful emotions accompany the lives of those who might never be allowed to see their homeland again. Time Magazine is celebrating the Protester as “Man of the Year, as in 2011 protesters didn’t just voice their complaints – they changed the world.” We applaud their selection, as we owe a very great debt of gratitude to those who risk their life for the core values we share – the very essence of what it means to be human. It’s thanks to the quiet heroism of each anonymous protester that a fresh wind of change is blowing across the planet today. While most outraged citizens continued the struggle in towns and cities, others were persecuted, beaten and tortured so severely they had to seek protection abroad. Having seen the photos of their murdered friends, burnt-out legal offices and ransacked homes, we understand the urgency of their escape until the time when gun muzzles stop flashing. What would we have done to save our families?

Infuriated by images of protesters dragged by their hair, stripped, beaten and kicked by troops in Tahrir Square, a bleeding student cried out “You can kill our body, but you cannot kill our spirit!” This event parallels what occurred twenty centuries ago, when power-crazed leaders failed to end a revolution still going strong today. Two thousand years ago they feared a Protester born in a manger in Bethlehem, who first escaped as a refugee to Egypt, but then returned to challenge the abusive authorities that persecute the very people they should serve. If you don’t know your history, you are doomed to repeat it. Today’s despots have learnt nothing from the failure of the Massacre of the Innocents two millennia prior, but hold fast to the delusion that butchering their people will make them cower in submission. Christmas has come again and we would do well to remember those who have nothing to celebrate, but the compassion others show for their broken lives. Christmas is a time to rejoice, so please ensure you are making somebody else’s day special, too.

Christmas lunch courtesy of ANZ Bank
Christmas lunch courtesy of ANZ Bank