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16. Who Owns You?

"Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them"

Frederick Douglas, Orator and ex-slave (1817-95)
You might be under the impression that your life is largely your own, to do with as you please, so long as you do not thereby immorally infringe upon other people's lives. Of course this is how we would all wish it to be and some might be so complacent as to think that it actually is that way. Yet history, today's included, continually shows us the degree to which the state regards as its own property the actual lives of the inhabitants living within the red line defining its territory. It would seem apparent that one of the unspoken rules of our world community of nations is that any individual state can do whatever it likes to its own citizens without interference from any other state.*

* If it is large enough it can also sometimes take ownership, without too much world fuss, of the people and property of a small neighbour (China/Tibet; India/Sikkhim; Indonesia/East Timor). Hitler's biggest mistake was to not quit when he was already well ahead.

This can and sometimes does extend to mass genocide - the brutal, systematic murder of millions of those within the state's own boundaries. We have seen this happen with the Armenians in Turkey early this century, a story still rarely acknowledged by anyone other than the Armenian survivors. The mass murder of German Jews and gypsies was of little concern outside Germany, until Hitler extended across his own borders and started killing foreign nationals. Pol Pot killed millions of his fellow Cambodians whilst the world looked on. Stalin murdered millions of Russian peasants and the world was not concerned. The murders continue today, whether in East Timor, the Amazon, Tiananmen Square, Waco, Nigeria - just read the Amnesty literature if you need more red spots on the world map. Even in America we find that large numbers of its own citizens are prisoners of the War on Drugs.

There is rare condemnation of these activities and even rarer action to stop them. Indeed, it is more likely that the developed and civilized nations of the world will be falling over themselves to supply the deadly tools of oppression to the states perpetrating these genocidal activities; tools such as attack helicopters and jets, weapons, electric prods, incarceration equipment and a full menu of gas from CS to old-fashioned tear gas.

One of the rare exceptions to world indifference was the peculiar case of South Africa in which ongoing world outrage was expressed at the legalized suppression of black people. This took the form of sport ing boycotts and support of the blacks fighting apartheid - which probably contributed to an earlier demise of the onerous apartheid rule than would otherwise have happened. However, you can be sure that if the government of South Africa had been run by blacks subjugating blacks of another tribe there would have been no outrage and their leaders would still be having tea with the Queen and discussing their cricket scores with other world leaders today.
There are 16 million oppressed blacks in South Africa. But some 400 million people live elsewhere in black Africa, a majority under despotic rule. Why is so little attention given to their plight?

George Ayittey , columnist - 1985
Every country in the world views you as the absolute property of the state running the country of which you are a national, even though your own state will often try to persuade you that they are your servants and you are a free person. We never hear of Malaysia's draconian drug sentences when Malaysians are being executed nor of Saudi Arabians who are tortured, imprisoned or executed for their beliefs and words. But when a Filipino maid is threatened with execution in Saudi Arabia the world comes to her rescue.

An individual state might take strong military action when its own borders or its citizens are threatened by another state. But it has always historically and continues today to stop short of ever taking effective action against another state that chooses to massacre or persecute its own citizens.* The concept of one state interfering in another's affairs is not really even considered, though occasionally some United Nations rescue mission may appear too late on the scene and contrive to make the existing situation even more entrenched. A classic case of this was the 'UNsafe' zones set up in the former Yugoslavia. The holocaust continues with a new cast of victims each year.

*That does not preclude it from abusing those citizens, however, when seeking to settle a score with their leader. Indeed, after the Gulf War, America's chosen means to persecute its enemy Sadaam Hussein was to wreak poverty and disease upon the citizens of his country through browbeating their trade partners into an international boycott. It is unlikely, however that Sadaam Hussein's own food or medical supplies were ever interrupted.

Of course, the political structure depends very much upon this perception of ownership, since each government exists solely because it has the ability to dictate to the people within its boundaries how they live and behave, and to regularly and "officially" take as much of their money from them as it deems possible. That this has to be done within some framework of law matters little when we see the speed with which basic laws safeguarding our freedom or setting our taxation, are changed in order to pursue one political agenda after another.
The top-gun, self-serving power structure
Also claims outright ownership
Of the lives of all those born
Within their sovereignly claimed
Geographical bounds
And can forget their citizens' lives
In their official warfaring
Which, of psychological necessity
Is always waged in terms
Of moral rectitude
While covertly protecting and fostering
Their special self-interests.


Buckminster Fuller - ETHICS - A Geoview
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