Friday, December 31, 2004

It's All Our Fault (Again)

I wondered how long it would be. A few days ago I heard the first letter from a Radio Four listener suggesting that the UK was dragging its feet over aid 'despite spending billions on an illegal war'. Then a Radio Five news report in which unnamed persons were 'criticising George Bush' for sidelining the UN, and suggesting that he cared not for the poor and afflicted.

The Indian Ocean disaster is a heaven sent opportunity for liberal breast-beating into which can be shoehorned the correct views on globalisation, George Bush, Iraq, whatever. Try Jeremy Seabrook in (where else) the Guardian, who manages to cover imperialism (holidays to you), Iraq, globalisation and asylum seekers in a few short paragraphs.

"when we distinguish between "locals" who have died and westerners, "locals" all too easily becomes a euphemism for what were once referred to as natives. Whatever tourism's merits, it risks reinforcing the imperial sensibility."

"while the tsunami death toll rises in anonymous thousands, in Iraq disdainful American authorities don't do body counts."

Of course the Guardian has a different, non-imperialist view of dead Asians. If white people kill them the Guardian will give max publicity. Otherwise forget it. Congo is the locus classicus - maybe five million deaths, but an absulute sod to blame on Whitey.

Which is why I've read little about Aceh in the last few years, where tens of thousands died in the wave but the news was slow to emerge - as journalists, diplomats and NGOs have been barred from the area for years due to a separatist revolt which got minimal coverage. I wonder how many have died in the revolt ?

The script has an interesting subtext, too - that these poor people are completely incapable of helping themselves and are utterly dependent on the Great White Gods coming across the sea - a kind of latterday Cargo Cult mentality projected onto the inhabitants of Indonesia and Sri Lanka by BBC correspondents who on a conscious level would reject racist stereotyping as something that only the Evil Right do. The victims are interviewed as if they're chavs complaining that the windowframes have needed painting for six years but the council haven't done it yet.

I'd recommend the reports of a Radio 5 reporter called (I think) Julie Ashmole.

"The promised aid hasn't arrived yet - how do you feel about that ?"

The interviewee failed to rise to the bait. He seemed to have other things on his mind.

I'm trying to find a source for the BBC story of a few days ago that the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) summit a year or two back rejected a proposed early warning system, such as exists for the Atlantic and Pacific, on grounds of cost and the low risk of such an event. I'm presuming it's true, in which case this can perhaps be seen with hindsight as a mistake.

Watch for more breast-beating in the days ahead.

None of the above, of course, absolves us of the obligation to stump up. Hilary Benn has shown the way, announcing that of the Government's annual £400 billion tax take, no less than £15 million, or 0.00375% of Government revenue, has been earmarked for the disaster. An example to us all. For a take-home pay of £20,000 pa it works out pro-rata'd at 75p.

The Government needs the other £399.985 billion for vital health initiatives like this one.

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