Horrific scenes from New Orleans on this evening’s news… Described as a city descending into anarchy, with looting, shooting, hunger, desperation. And this displacing the earlier horrors of the stampede in Baghdad as panic about potential suicide bombers spread among the hoards of women and children marching over the Tigris to attend a major festival…
On the surface these two incidents are totally separate of course, but it seems some commonality flows through them… and as such I hope and pray that the respective survivors will be spurred into mutual compassion.
It seems ‘nature’ has a lot to answer for in these troubled times. ‘The Forces of Nature’ were riled against by interviewees on the news in New Orleans – the raw power of wind and water turning all to rubble and splinter. Man’s best efforts at order facing the inevitable entropy of muddy chaos. And in Baghdad it seems humane natural panic swept like a hurricane through crowds fed for years on a diet of fear and violence.
The end result of both? The technology that seemed to offer progress cracked and buckled: bridge railings sending hundreds down to drown, and levees collapsing to send water gushing up. And as the luxuries dissolve, the SUVs float away, the access to clean water and convenience food disappears in the mud, our very fragile societies – the very democracy that has marched out to bring an end to terror – are exposed to the awful truth that when a family is thirsty and the shop keepers are absent then windows are going to get broken and supplies are going to go.
They dramatized it as looting on the reports. And I’m sure there’s some. But they could only back it up with evidence of hungry folk desperate to stay alive when the authorities were days away from meeting their needs.
I hope that we will all see just how delicate our situations are. It’s too easy to look on with disgust as people in far flung places appear to act like animals and loot and smash and fight and protest. But in a matter of days we have seen how the urban poor of a place much more familiar have had to act to survive – and taken in action in conditions that look more like Addis or Dhaka than down USA.
So I hope there is mutual compassion. That the Iraqis will see suffering and offer respectful support for the poor and marginalized of a place that is perhaps painted rather differently. And that the US will see just how easily fear and circumstance can drive normal civilized people into apparently savage action, and stop and think. Just as those marines just back from the Gulf, now buzzing over too-familiar sights in an altogether unfamiliar context, must be thinking “what the…?”