November 25, 2017 – Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain – Women hold banners demanding ‘freedom for the Catalan political prisoners’. Image: Jorge Sanz/Pacific Press via ZUMA Wire/PA Images. All rights reserved.
In recent months, our
ability to forget has become increasingly apparent. In our blind, deaf and dumb
First World – in Spain, for instance -, there have been cries against
oppression and struggles for freedom. Many have taken to the streets to fight
for civil and political rights and analysts have defended the right to vote and
the rule of Law.
The headiness of the
fight has resulted in shows of intolerance, police overreaction and injuries –
all in the name of freedom, independence or the constitutional order.
But what if we contextualized
First World struggles? What if we reminded ourselves of where we are and what is
Life outside the First World bubble is nasty and short.
For example: in the
worst attack in the country’s history, 315 people lost their lives in Somalia
on October 15. Another: in September, more than half a million Rohingya,
fleeing an army offensive, crossed from Myanmar to Bangladesh while Aung San
Suu Kyi, the woman who inspired the fight against repression by the military with
her non-violent stance and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, looked on in
silence – like so many others.
On September 26, the
deadline the European Union had given its member states to take in refugees
desperately fleeing war, hunger and oppression expired. Spain, for one,
had only granted asylum to 11% of the total it had committed itself to. Many
other European countries also failed to comply.
Life outside the First
World bubble is nasty and short. We could fill this article with figures on
child malnutrition, everyday violations of human rights and victims of bloody
repression and criminal gangs. But we are all familiar with them and fully
aware of that reality, aren’t we? It is true that many of us are trying to help,
promoting cooperation, fighting for the rights of others, supporting NGOs. But
it is also true that our help is – alas – quite insufficient in this
irrational, unjust and violent world. As citizens, there is, in fact, much too little
we can do to change things outside our bubble.
But there is something
we can actually do: avoiding being manipulated by irresponsible and irrational
politicians. That is, by politicians who seek to embezzle us with nationalist tales,
who try to convince us that we are being oppressed or menaced by others, who rewrite
history at their convenience, and who, at the same time, deny their ingrained corruption,
who impoverish their citizens in order to bail out banks and who fail to offer
a safe haven to refugees. Nationalist exaltation, embracing the flag and
chanting patriotic anthems are the tools of dictators and unenlightened self-proclaimed
democrats. Nationalism can be the opium for both those who call for
independence and those who call for unity: two bald men fighting over a comb, as Jorge
Luis Borges famously put it, referring to the Malvinas/Falklands war in 1982.
In this context, everybody
gets smeared. Newspapers lose their essential purpose: they no longer inform and
carry propaganda. Analysts throw abuse at each other. And democracy bears the
brunt. Polarized societies move away from attempts at consensus and dialogue.
It is obscene to fight over who gets to be called “the victim” while, outside our bubble, the oppressed are tortured and killed.
Spanish writer Antonio
Muñoz Molina has recently said that it is obscene to fight over who gets to be
called “the victim” while, outside our bubble, the oppressed are tortured and
killed, political prisoners are shot and imprisoned, and the fight for freedom
of expression often ends up in exile.
Most probably, many
will think that these words unfairly devalue the struggle of Catalan pro
independence supporters and also of those who support Spain’s unity no matter
what. It is not my intention to offend. My intention is just to plead for some sanity
and ask for respect for those who, in the world at large, are oppressed and
silenced and have no rights or due process. And to warn about irresponsible
politicians stirring nationalism here and there, and ask readers to remember
how, in our very recent past, this has always led to war and destruction.
Nationalism can blind us even further. And it can unleash forces which we
should never allow to get out.
Having our basic needs covered does not give us the right to
navel-gaze. First of all, because actually not everyone in Europe, in Spain or
Catalonia has their basic needs covered. Second, because it is immoral, as
Muñoz Molina puts it, to victimize ourselves when there are millions of real victims
in the world whose lives are at risk. Third, because it is not only more just but
also more productive to fight against those who manipulate us, lie to us and
steal from us – here, in Somalia and in Myanmar.