In the wake of the Bali horror, strong action against the evil
of terrorism, and sympathetic support for the victims are clearly
priorities. However, this Sunday's National Day of Mourning invites
us through grief and justifiable anger to a deeper analysis of the
complex causes of terrorism.
In the long run, prudence requires not only vigilance and counter-force
but dispassionate and compassionate reflection, "an inner response",
as Australian sociologist, John Carroll, called it in Terror, his
profound meditation on the meaning of September 11.
Significantly, the Day of Mourning follows the UN decreed International
Day for the Eradication of Poverty. While no simple, causal connection
may be made between poverty and terrorism, there can be no doubt
that (in parts of Africa, the Middle East, the sub-continent, and
South East Asia) the struggle for survival, in a world where a few
have plenty and most have little, breeds desperation and resentment,
the fertile ground for terrorist recruitment.
The undeniable fact of life confronting us on this planet is that
there is gross and growing inequality. 1.2 billion human beings
live in absolute poverty described by former World Bank President,
Robert McNamara, as "a condition of life so limited by malnutrition,
illiteracy, disease, squalid surroundings, high infant mortality,
and low life expectancy as to be beneath any reasonable definition
of human dignity".
In such critical conditions, people do terrible things to survive.
Not only do they comb the garbage heaps for sustenance, they sometimes
resort to violence and respond to extreme ideologies.
Poverty is not just about access to housing, clothing and food
but also about a sense of political and economic impotence which
spawns generations of terror.
Ultimately, the use of force in a world unjustly divided between
the haves and the have-nots is not safe for any of us. Pragmatism
and enlightened self-interest suggest that another way based on
compassion and generosity is needed.
In a globalised world Australia needs to be a more active partner
in the international coalition to eradicate poverty. The challenge
is to re-establish our role as a good global citizen not only in
the necessary eradication of terrorism, but also in the long-term
quest for global justice.
One measure of the response of the affluent world to poverty is
levels of overseas aid. Thirty years ago the wealthy nations adopted
0.7 percent of GDP as the target for overseas aid. It has never
been reached by most OECD countries while Australia's current level
is only 0.27percent.
Another measure is the plight of the more than 20 million displaced
persons across the world - refugees. Mostly they wait in camps in
poor countries like Sudan or Indonesia or Pakistan.
Poverty is both a contributor to, and a consequence of, the ecological
crisis which affects rich and poor alike. That's why Australia's
official response at the recent Earth Summit was disappointing,
especially our self-interested intransigence over the Kyoto protocol.
Of course there are no simple solutions to poverty. In some instances,
freer trade may help economies raise standards of living. In other
instances the corruption and despotism internal to some countries
must be removed.
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