Wednesday, April 19, 2006

4. Overcoming apathy

When good people do nothing, evil prevails

In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.
Martin Niemoller

The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.
Hannah Arendt

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.
Bishop Desmond Tutu

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
Edmund Burke

How do we encourage people to care about the needs of their neighbour?

People are inundated everyday with issues that demand their attention. Global warming, over population, terrorism, mobile phone radiation, mortgage payments, the necessity to eat, pay bills, attend funerals, receival of a wedding invitation, the birth of a friend’s baby. Action (or non-action) on an issue is dependant on an individual’s priorities. These priorities are determined by an individual’s worldview which exemplifies an individual’s needs, wants or fears.

Politicians, market researchers, social commentators, psychologists, sociologists and political scientists are fascinated by this question, what causes people to act on one issue while not act on another issue?

Market researchers view this question through the lens of ‘supply and demand’. This model identifies market forces as determined by what good or service is in demand or not.

Activists, social campaigners, politicians, religious leaders often call for action today. The news often shows crisis after crisis which demand a response now. People have a repertoire of quotes in the back of their mind to remind themselves of the importance of action e.g, From the everyday, “never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today”(Benjamin Franklin); to the political, “evil happens when good people do nothing”.

Whose responsibility is it to solve a conflict?

Why is one nation rich and another nation poor? Why is one country in conflict and another nation not?

Economic theorists, identify the free market and social welfare as two approaches to dealing with such economic questions.

The free market model emphasizes the necessity for the individual to act with minimal interference from the state. In contrast, the social welfare model emphasizes the need for the state regulate the economy to ensure the rights of all individual are protected.

In a similar fashion when asking the question why one country is in conflict and another is not, peace theorists can use a similar approach.

One model can emphasize the emphasis on he individual parties to resolve the problem and the other emphasizes the role of the state in participating in the resolution.

The first model has various names, individual responsibility, defeatist, anti-responsibility. Such a model demands the individuals are the best ones capable for achieving their needs; individuals are best left to fend for themselves. In such a system outside parties consider ‘it is not their fault’, ‘not their responsibility’, or ‘there is nothing I can do’.

The alternate model has various names, collective responsibility, proactive, voluntary responsibility. Such a model considers ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ It considers ideals like: ‘Do unto others as we would have them do to us’ and ‘I am my brother’s keeper’.

What is Australia's responsibility to participate in conflict resolution?

Australia as a member of the United Nations and a signatory on numerous treaties and conventions to ensure that the rights of marginalised people are protected.

Below are an example of treaties Australia has signed and enforced in Australian law. Australia by law has a responsiblity to act when these traties are breached.

Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (Geneva, 28 July 1951)
Entry into force for Australia and generally: 22 April 1954

Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Paris, 9 December 1948)[2]
Entry into force for Australia and generally: 12 January 1951

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (New York, 16 December 1966)
Entry into force generally (except Article 41): 23 March 1976
Entry into force for Australia (except Article 41): 13 November 1980
Article 41 came into force generally on 28 March 1979
and for Australia on 28 January 1993

Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts [Protocol I]
(Geneva, 8 June 1977)
Entry into force generally: 7 December 1978
Entry into force for Australia: 21 December 1991

What 'glasses' do we use to view a conflict?

Each of us views a conflict through different glasses. These glasses are a result of years of formation based on personal experience and personal circumstances. In order to understand a conflict it is helpful to consider the following questions:

1) What is the impact on others as a result of the glasses that we use to view a conflict?

2) What is the spectrum of glasses available?

3) How are the glasses that we use--as human beings--liberative or destructive?

4) To whom are the glasses we use liberative or destructive?

During 2000-2001 I travelled to Israel, Europe and the US with the purpose of meeting with Jewish and Palestinian people. I wanted to experience their sense of pain as well as identify their sources of hope for the conflict. I was trying to get a glimpse of the conflict through their eyes. As part of our conversation I would also share the glasses I used to view the conflict as well as identify a range of other glasses used to view the conflict.

Who has the right to speak for another?

It is of fundamental importance for a person’s voice to be heard. The truth must be told. A person’ pain needs validation.

One problem, has been that in times gone by ‘speaking for’ someone has become a form of paternalism. This has been the source of great pain for people, particularly in the case of colonized people across the world. There are certainly many examples through history of the destructive aspect of one speaking on behalf of another. Such acts done in the name of ‘welfare’ include Christian complicity in the stolen generation and the placing indigenous people on reservations and missions.


1) What happens if a person’s voice cannot be heard?

2) What happens if the voice heard are destructive to another?

3) What other voices are out there?

Advocacy is critical to civil society. The foundations of the social system we live in involves someone speaking on our behalf.

Politicians speak on behalf of constituents, lawyers speak on behalf of clients, medical practioners speak on behalf of medical knowledge, human rights activists speak on behalf of those suffering, animal rights activists speak on behalf of animals, global warming activist speak on behalf of the planet.

What is the role of religious organisations?

What is the role of religious bodies to speak out about conflicts like Palestine-Israel, Darfur, Bosnia? Is this a conflict with equal sides? With equal reasons for feelings of injustice? Who is responsible to lower their arms first? (Is it the stronger party the weaker party?) Is there a stronger or weaker party? (Does it matter?).


1) What is the role of religious bodies if it does not speak about those on the margins?

2) Who is on the margins in conflicts such as Palestine and Israel?

3) What is the process religious bodies can make comment on the issue of Palestine and Israel?

4) Can individuals make comment on issues of Palestine and Israel if they are neither Palestinian or Jewish?

5) Can individuals comment on issues affecting other people if the individuals are not of the identity directly experiencing the injustice?

6) What issues are in common with Rwanda, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Iraq and Nazi Germany?

7) What issues are in common with the US, and Australian policy towards issues like terrorism or indigenous rights?

8) What lessons can be learned from the anti-slavery or suffragette movement.

In building these relationships there needs to be truth telling. There needs to be a sharing of stories of pain and hurt as well as stories of joy and hope.

I would regard that conflict like the Palestinian-Israeli conflcit are not just a matter that can be left for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians to resolve themselves. Palestine-Israel does not occur in a vacuum, but within a vast web of political interactions.

International conflicts are a responsibility for all people of good will. What is needed is truth telling and solidarity for those who are on the margins.