’Tis the season to
count our blessings
Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is at the center of untold and unnecessary massive human suffering.
AS WE ENDURE the long mid-winter nights approaching the start of a new year, for many it’s useful to reflect on those less fortunate and count our blessings.
Alas, one doesn’t need to look far to find millions “less fortunate.”
The headlines this year have been replete with disasters – man made and the other kind – leading to untold suffering for millions.
Typhoons, earthquakes and tornadoes are among the hazards of living on earth.
Wars, injustice and intolerance of “the other” are often avoidable, but cause as much or more human suffering.
FROM THOSE still suffering from the massive typhoon in the Philippines, to those buried without power in the Eastern US because of the snow and ice storm, it is easy to find examples of human misery on the news and in the headlines.
But two recent stories about those less fortunate stand out because they result from human behavior that could – and should – be avoided.
The first and least known was aired over the weekend on Moyers & Company in the segment Incarceration Nation
The Moyers & Company segment Incarceration Nation examined the US prison population boom.
The program notes tell us: “America’s prison population has exploded from 300,000 to more than two million today due to harsh sentencing policies and the 40-year-old war on drugs.
“This week, Bill speaks to civil rights lawyer and legal scholar Michelle Alexander about why we need to end our system of mass incarceration.”
The segment begins with a snippet from the tireless anti-drug-war crusader, acclaimed television producer David Simon speaking recently in Australia:
“You’re seeing the underclass hunted through a war on dangerous drugs allegedly that is in fact merely a war on the poor and has turned us into the most incarcerative state in the history of mankind, at this point,” Simon says. “In terms of just the sheer numbers of people we’ve put in American prisons […] No other country on the face of the earth jails people at the number and rate that we are.”
This is alarming, coming as it does from one with first-hand knowledge gained when he was a police reporter for the Baltimore Sun two decades ago.
The point is amplified by Moyers in his set up:
“During the past 30 years, the number of inmates in federal custody has grown by 800 percent, and half of them are serving sentences for drug offenses. According to The Sentencing Project, an advocacy group dedicated to changing how we think about crime and punishment, “more than 60 percent of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities.”
According to Moyers, the book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,” by Michelle Alexander, woke people up to the situation.
By way of explanation, the author says:
“A wave of punitiveness really swept the nation on the heels of the Civil Rights movement. And this attitude has infected not only our criminal justice system but our education system that now has a zero tolerance policy for school discipline infractions. And has led to this prison building boom unlike anything the world has ever seen,” Alexander says.
Indeed, the number of inmates in US prisons puts us on a par with the likes of Iran and China. It is a shameful distinction, but it has been festering for so long it will take unprecedented mobilization by many people to even move the needle in the right direction.
The CNN story on the suffering of Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
ANOTHER STORY getting prominent media attention has been the plight of the millions displaced by the bloodbath in Syria and the fallout on the surrounding region.
We addressed it recently in Humanitarian crisis spreads beyond middle east focusing on the impact it is had on Bulgaria, Europe’s poorest nation.
One of the most moving accounts can be found in the CNN piece Syrian refugees face miserable winter in Lebanon.
“Syrian refugees in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley thought life couldn’t get much harsher,” reported Mohammed Jamjoom on Dec. 13.
“But that was before winter storm “Alexa” moved in. The rain and snow have since made things even more miserable.
“Scenes of despair are all around: One young girl, sockless and in slippers, trudges through the snow gathering what’s left of it for water. Later, she’ll need it to cook with.”
It is a deeply moving report.
On some level, we all share the pain of preventable human suffering. It need not be – or at least need not be so bad – if we gave more thought to our common humanity.
In the dark nights of mid-winter, it is a good time to reflect on how each one of us can contribute to lessen the misery and relieve the suffering.
After all, isn’t that the true spirit of the seasonal holidays, however one celebrates them?
It is man’s inhumanity to man that is the cause of so much needless pain. It’s time for us to focus on the more uplifting side of the human spirit, so we can renew our commitments to improve it in the time we are allotted to do so.
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