Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Questioning ourselves

By David Gallup

“The most important question that faces each one of us in the world today is ‘who are you?’”

For sixty-five years, Garry Davis asked this question directly or indirectly of everyone he spoke with. Whether he was speaking before the war-weary crowds of thousands after WWII, to border guards in his travels, to a fellow prisoner while detained, on college campuses while running for president, to NGOs and civil society at world summits, or to the audience of his radio show, Davis focused on this question and demanded that those listening to his words consider why this question is so important.

It is a question about opening people’s minds to how we are each a part of something larger, greater than our individual selves. It leads to a question about how we can accomplish more when we unite, then when we divide ourselves. And it leads to a question about whether to respect a social contract under law or to succumb to the fear and self-interest of war.

Sadly it has taken the war in Syria to begin to have a dramatic effect on more stable countries, for the question of who you are, of who we all are, to come to the forefront of discussion about national policies that impact human rights.

Earlier during the past five years, much of the world watched idly as millions of people fled Syria, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan, to neighboring countries. Hundreds of thousands more continue to flee, many of whom would rather face an arduous and dangerous trip to arrive in Europe rather that remain displaced in Syria and elsewhere as war and militant extremism rages on.

Journalists have documented the travels of many frightened people risking their lives to find a new home where violence does not impact their day-to-day lives.  These people have found that they have power in numbers – that when hundreds, indeed, thousands of individuals approach the fences, armed frontier guards, and police barricades, those obstacles cannot handle the pressure of the throngs of people coming through. Footage from CNN reporter Arwa Damon attests to this power: http://www.cnn.com/2015/09/10/europe/refugee-crisis-questions-no-answers/

We have hoped to provide World Passports to thousands of individuals at once – to the stateless or refugees from war and oppression -- to help them travel to a safe haven. A large group of individuals could literally “storm” frontiers together and overwhelm border police and guards (who will be unable to stop them from exercising their fundamental right to travel), thereby effectively erasing putative borders.

In the last few weeks, the World Service Authority donated more than 100 passports to Ogoni refugees in Benin who have been suffering in deplorable refugee camp conditions for more than 20 years. This is in addition to the approximately 1,000 passports that we have sent to individuals in these camps in the past three years. Some of these people have made it to South Africa; many remain in the camps.  These refugees wonder, “How can I get out of this camp?” and “Where will I go?”

For CNN journalist Damon, the two questions that she repeatedly hears from those fleeing are: “How can they let this happen?” and “And why won’t they help?”

As internal and international conflicts flare up, as energy creation and pollution hasten climate change and adversely impact the environment, and as nations fabricate and use nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, the “they” in those questions will invariably become “we.”

What is our identity if we are forced to leave our home behind? Who must take us in? Where will we go if we have made everywhere unsafe and unlivable? Who will protect and assist us? How can we ignore the plight of other humans? What is our responsibility to our fellow human beings?

These are questions that we must ask ourselves now if we want to have a sustainable world that works for all.

The first and most important question to ask yourself is, “Who are you?” The earth and life-affirming answer is: “I am a world citizen and I am a part of humanity and the earth.”