Sunday, May 22, 2011

You’re not even a Nigger – You’re Lower than That – You’re an African!

The TV has decided to play “Hotel Rwanda” as its late night/ early morning show. The movie tells the story of Paul Rusesabagina, the Rwandan hotelier who managed to hide 1,268 Tutsi and moderate Hutus during the 1994 genocide.

I remember the genocide. I saw it on TV. It happened at the same time as the Bosnian War and while Europe and the USA made lots of noise about placing an arms embargo on the Milosevic regime in Serbia, the Rwandans decided to do things the old-fashioned way – they butchered each other with machetes and the world watched as it happened.
To put it in its crudest terms, Bosnia was an unequal war while Rwanda was a “Snuff Movie-Made Real.” Everyday you would turn on the TV and you’d get to graphic images of people who had been hacked to death. One day, one group of people decided that they would take a sharp chopper to their neighbours and that was that.

The Western Powers lead by the USA, who had so efficiently kicked Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait two-years earlier, sat by and watched. Saddam had to be kicked out of Kuwait because he was a murderous thug was an amateur compared to the chaps in Rwanda. What went wrong?

Well, the simple answer is this – Kuwait was and is a reliable oil supplier for the West while there is utterly no strategic interest in Rwanda. The contrasting attitudes were best summed up by one of the most poetic lines in the movie – “You’re not even in a Nigger – You’re Lower than That – You’re an African.” It is important to save Kuwait from a murderous thug called Saddam because Kuwait has oil – nobody scores points for saving African lives.

I never appreciated it at the time but the difference in the way the world reacted towards Rwanda and Kuwait were lessons that history had already demonstrated. Great powers inevitably act towards the world – they inevitably act in their self-interest. This was true of the British in the 19th century and it is the same of the Americans in the current one. China has shown that if it grows into the next power, it will do the same.

Both the British in the 19th century and the Chinese in the next century have been clear on how they’d run things. The Americans are a different case. They’ve worked on the policy of “Doing Good.” Whenever they’ve invaded a country in the last century, they’ve always done it on the official premise they were “liberators.” To be fair, both Saddam in Iraq and Noriega in Panama were dictators. However, if you look at the way they’ve tried to manage Iraq, you have to question their real motives.
Which leads to the point on what can the rest of the world do? Well, for the most part, it is best to work with the superpower in terms of trade. Chances are the superpower is a superpower for a reason. In the 19th century it was the British and today it is the Americans who have the skills and the technology that the rest of us simply don’t have. As such, it’s always a good idea to send your best and brightest to learn from the superpower. This is a good exchange. For the British, educated natives helped to run the colonies. The Americans use them to help run multinationals.

Superpowers, especially America can be benevolent. Americans forces have helped keep the peace in various parts of the world. Both PAX BRITANICA and PAX AMERICANA have kept the world from exploding into a larger conflict.
However, smaller nations and people from smaller nations have to remember that superpowers don’t act out of the love of their smaller brethren but out of their own strategic interest.

Simply put, anyone who believes that the super power will rush to their defence out of the goodness of their heart will be in for a massive disappointment. So what can smaller countries stuffed with black, brown and yellow people do.

Well, the answer is to learn to be independent and self-reliant. One should learn the skills of the superpower and what makes the system tick but not be dependent on the superpower for ones security and prosperity. While I don’t always agree with the official stance of the Singapore government, I do give credence to the idea of National Service – simply put, - it is good to have someone defend you but also important to doubly ensure that you know how to defend yourself.

It’s good to have alternatives. As long as you remember that as far as the superpower is concerned, you are “Lower than a nigger,” you’ll always have the instincts to look out for yourself and not rely on the superpower to do it for you.

1 comment:

ed said...

"Both PAX BRITANICA and PAX AMERICANA have kept the world from exploding into a larger conflict. "

Good article. It's good to see local sites taking on a global perspective on things. That said, just a small correction.

PB and PA did not keep 'the world from exploding into a larger conflict. Rather, they redefined the (national/regional) lines along which conflict takes place. That sets the stage for said 'larger conflict'.

It is, amongst others, the UN that serves to temper the potential of conflict upon this new PA and PB-created stage. But this Pax A/B is now evolving, especially with the emergence of the EU. A 'Pax EU', i suppose, is in formation. But this is going to lead to other divisions in the world such as the 'Pax Sino' in s.e.Asia for instance - which is itself in formation now. It will take a while though.


ed