The World Sleeps While our Beds Are Burning
COVID-19 has infected over 52 million people worldwide. But while that’s in the news, other issues are being ignored Avi Benlolo, National Post Nov 13, 2020 One of my favourite songs from the 1980s is Midnight Oil’s “Beds Are Burning.” For me, it was a call to open our eyes to our own blind spots about the world around us. Its chorus hit home like a sledge-hammer: “How can we dance when our earth is turning? How do we sleep while our beds are burning?”
While many say the song is about Indigenous rights in Australia, it extends far beyond that. It extends to all Indigenous rights, to human rights and to how we are treating our planet. As we look around us today, nothing much has changed. In fact, it seems like things have gotten worse, especially in the last decade. Most days, it feels like the fire around us is burning stronger and inching closer and closer. Yes, we are dealing with COVID-19, which, by official counts has infected over 52 million people worldwide, and likely quite a few more. But while that’s in the news, other issues are being ignored.
A top civil servant told me that approximately 20,000 Indigenous people are living in “third-world conditions” in northwestern Ontario, the region he’s responsible for. Many of them don’t have access to drinkable water. It has to be boiled or trucked in. At least 23 communities desperately require the basic necessities of life, such as housing.
To make matters worse, many still suffer from multi-generational trauma resulting from having attended residential schools as kids. Sadly, according to the civil servant I spoke with, physical violence and sexual abuse are frequent occurrences. Their remoteness maintains our obvious neglect and blindness to their human condition.
The world has been consumed by the election in the United States. As a result, news channels neglect to report upon critical global events that have dire consequences for humanity. The Uyghurs in China are also in a desperate situation. The Canadian executive director of the Uyghur Rights Advocacy Project, Mehmet Tohti, told me that he hasn’t heard from his mother in years. He believes she was taken by the Chinese government to one of its concentration or labour camps. He doesn’t know if she is still alive and is calling on governments to take immediate action to help his people.
As the world turns, our beds continue to burn. Human suffering is pervasive, especially in remote places. It might be information overflow that limits our capacity to digest and act, or the overwhelming human feeling of helplessness and apathy. Or it may simply be a result of a polarized world that has lost patience in multilateralism, collaboration and co-operation. The United Nation’s 2005 Responsibility to Protect resolution — which requires states to act against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity — is rarely mentioned anymore.
While we’re asleep and distracted, mass atrocities happen on a near daily basis. Just a few days ago, more than 50 people were beheaded in northern Mozambique by Islamists who turned a soccer field into an execution ground, where they decapitated people and chopped up their bodies. It’s believed that up to 2,000 people have been killed and about 430,000 have been left homeless in Cabo Delgado province alone since 2017.
It is easy to bury our heads in the sand, but ignoring events that shape our world has ramifications. Whether it’s the butterfly effect or the domino effect, every action has a reaction somewhere. Many believe that a life worth living changes the course of history by being a counterweight to the evil that lurks in the shadows. Positive actions can also have positive reactions elsewhere.
This starts with overcoming our blind spots. Freedom House says that, “In every region of the world, democracy is under attack by populist leaders and groups that reject pluralism and demand unchecked power to advance the particular interests of their supporters, usually at the expense of minorities and other perceived foes.” Indeed, there has been a marked decline in democracy around the world and a strengthening and retrenchment of tyrannies.
We cannot afford for this to happen. We cannot sleep while our beds are burning. Its our responsibility as a free nation to advance peace, freedom and democracy around the globe. I only take one exception with Midnight Oil — keep dancing as long as our earth is turning. That brings hope, optimism, happiness, friendship and resilience.