To be very honest, I’m not sure where this blog is taking me, but I wanted to comment on a couple of items we saw on BBC World last night.
No, I’m not going to mention the story-du-jour, the reaction in Islamic nations to a nasty little film about the Prophet Mohammed which was designed to spark outrage and which ended with the deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya and three other US workers. I feel sorrow for the families of those killed in Libya but I also feel pity for the people who produced this film, who are so bitter, twisted and hateful that they somehow think there’s kudos to be had in creating a film which has caused death and the fanning of more fires of hatred. They aren’t heroes, they’re simply contemptible, pathetic little people.
There is so much focus on this story, however,that the fire in a garment factory in Pakistan which killed around 250 workers has to some extent been overshadowed. These men, women and children – yes, children – were asphyxiated for lack of oxygen, or died from smoke inhalation, or were burned to death, so badly that many are unable to be identified.
I don’t know if these workers were producing the cheap clothing which we in the West love so much, but I do know that the sorrow on an old man’s face as he waited for news of his youngest son, who almost certainly had died in the blaze, touched me deeply. His suffering was heart-breaking and my heart ached for this old man who obviously dearly loved his son and now was facing his loss, the father’s grief palpable as he sat waiting to hear of his son’s fate.
We see stories like this because here in North Cyprus we watch BBC World News and we see news stories beyond the shores of the usual Western-dominated news. I didn’t see much about this tragedy on Australian news websites and they didn’t hit the main front pages of British newspaper websites, they were tucked away under the “Asian” headline. The only news outlet to report the fire in detail was Al-Jazeera. But I wondered what the response would be if, say, 250-odd workers were burned to death in the US, Europe, the UK, or Australia. There would be blanket coverage and it would be front page news But not when workers die in Pakistan, many of them young children with their lives ahead of them.
And then I saw the story of the deaths of young children in Afghanistan killed by a young suicide bomber. These are photos of those children. They were living, loving kids who had their lives cruelly cut short, even more cruel that they were killed by another teenager consumed by hate and anger. But who knows what fuelled his decision to become a suicide bomber? We’ll never know. I just feel very sad that such a young person could not only see no other course but to kill himself and in the process end the lives of young people who were struggling to survive on the mean streets of Kabul.
These children were dirt poor, they survived and helped supplement their families’ income by selling various trinkets to the various people who entered and left NATO’s heavily guarded Kabul headquarters. Many of the children played in Skateistan, a centre for skateboarding, set up to provide activity for very poor children, many of whom live on the streets. The kids at the skateboarding centre and who sold on the streets had formed their own family support network among themselves and now that little community has been broken apart and shattered.
I suppose what attracted my attention was not only the sad loss of young lives with all their future ahead of them, but also the photo of Khorshid, below,. She was by all accounts a feisty young woman who ignored the strictures on women in Pakistan and fought to live her life free of restrictions. She looks like my great-granddaughter – both lively, adventurous, one with her life still ahead of her, another now silent in the grave dug for her by her family.
I don’t have any answers. I guess my main aim in writing this particular blog is to pay tribute to people who get blotted out of existence by the media’s focus on our own backyard, to honour those children who now will never know the joy of reaching adulthood, perhaps finding meaningful work, loving relationships and later having children of their own.
This is my little tribute to those children and to the hundreds of people who died in the Karachi fires, whose names we will never know but who have families who are now desperately grieving the loss of their loved ones. I guess my prayer is that we can one day feel that the loss of lives in Pakistan, India, Africa, Indonesia, in all developing nations, are as worthy of the attention we pay when people die in the developed world. We need to build a world community where everyone counts. Remember that wonderful poem by John Dunne:
For Whom the Bell Tolls
by John Donne
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.