When my grandchildren, Alex and Malina, were recognized for raising money for mosquito nets for the Imagine No Malaria Campaign, Alex explained, “They’re just like us.” Just ten years old, and already they have empathy and can imagine how these other children must feel, even children who live halfway around the world.
This is part of what it means to be human. We live in the midst of dehumanizing forces, with the awareness of danger and suffering all around. Media images distract, divert, distort, and disempower so effectively that most of us believe that there is nothing we can do. It’s tempting to withdraw our awareness of what’s going on across the globe, and to just focus on our personal lives. But by doing so we become part of the “silent majority” that consents to the status quo through our silence and inaction.
The invasion of Gaza is at the top of the news. I oppose all forms of violence, including the firing of rockets by Hamas into Israel. But Israel’s actions are so disproportionate and horrific that people around the world are voicing their outrage and turning out for mass demonstrations. Israel is terrorizing the civilian population in Gaza through occupation and now invasion. The people are suffering in ways that most of us cannot imagine. Read this Letter from Gaza by a Norwegian Doctor to get an idea of the scope of the horror.
The United States sends $3 billion of military aid to Israel every year, so we who are US citizens are complicit in this escalating violence against innocent civilians. Even those in Gaza who want to flee have been hemmed in so that there is nowhere for them to go. Can we really ignore their suffering without diminishing our humanity? I don’t think so.
We are also hearing a lot about the children coming across our border from Central America, fleeing for their lives. They are being met with intolerance, racism, xenophobia, and hatred. This exodus is not taking place in a vacuum. The United States has a history of overthrowing democracies throughout Latin American and establishing dictatorships that are open to US military and corporate interests. The United States has also dominated the economies of many of these poor countries, through IMF and World Bank debt and more recently through so-called free trade agreements. Rather than helping these countries become self-sufficient, these policies have increased corporate power, privatized and deregulated public services, and driven people off the land. To find out more, read David Bacon’s insightful article “How U.S. policies helped create the current immigration crisis.”
Many of these children are fleeing violent gangs or political oppression. Many may qualify as refugees. Can we in good conscience turn our back on these children and send them back into situations of extreme danger? How could we do that without diminishing our own humanity? What would we do if we found ourselves in situations like theirs, where we felt there was no alternative but to flee? What would our children do?
I’m glad that my grandchildren feel a sense of solidarity and connection with people around the world, and that they are eager to help when they can. In this age of globalization, that is what it means to love our neighbors as ourselves.