Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas... and some peace, too

Let me give a Christmas break to my India essays because, well, it is Christmas after all... and soulful pondering over larger issues that matter can wait for a day or two.

Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, a city that was occupied back then as it is now even two thousand years later. More things change more they remain the same? It is amazing that Christ - the Prince of Peace - was born in a place that was torn by violence, and the current history of his place of birth is no different. Violence seems to have taken over the narrative and peace-mongers are deemed unfashionable by numerous people.

It is in this context that Christmas seems so relevant - and yet strangely out of sync with current trends. Christ's message of love, peace, forgiveness, mercy find no takers and those with the loudest voices seem to be screaming words of hate, revenge and war in the highest decibel possible. In many ways, their message appears to make sense because they appeal to those whose world-view is limited to the immediate. However, we need to question this premise and ask... is this all there is to it?

Christ has said, 'those who live by the sword die by the sword', and our news provides ample evidence of this to be true. Those who initiate war and terrorism may appear strong and fierce, but it's a hollow triumph they celebrate because they are caught up in a vicious cycle of violence. And they do not even seem eager to think differently because they are victims of their own lopsided and violent paradigms.

Now just to give you some context as to why this war mongering makes no sense, let me just list some statistics here and you can make your decision.

The global military expenditure has been $1,100 billion (rest of the world: $500 billion, US: 623 billion, China: $65 billion, Russia: $50 billion, France: $45 billion, UK: $ 42.8).

Now I'm not interested in finger-pointing at individual countries and asking why they are so obsessed with their military expenditure because I'm sure strategic compulsions are the driving force behind this budget. However, let's try and look at other statistics, too, and see if money could have been spent better elsewhere.

Here are some facts on hunger that should make interesting reading:
+ 854 million people across the world are hungry, up from 852 million a year ago.
+ Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes--one child every five seconds
+ Today our world houses 6.55 billion people.
+ In 2004, almost 1 billion people lived below the international poverty line, earning less than $1 per day.
+ In the developing world, 27 percent of children under 5 are moderately to severely underweight. 10 percent are severely underweight. 10 percent of children under 5 are moderately to severely wasted, or seriously below weight for one’s height, and an overwhelming 31 percent are moderately to severely stunted, or seriously below normal height for one’s age.
+ In 2006, 4.3 million people become infected with HIV and 2.9 million people died of AIDS.

Now we are often told that poverty breeds terrorism, or rather, those who live deprived lives find it easier to resort to terrorism of any kind... just to better their lives. Obviously, I don't agree with this premise, but I do feel that if $1,001 billion are available for military expenses... suppose even a fraction of that amount was diverted towards health care, education, food production and distribution and other poverty eradication methods... would it make any difference?

On that note, let me wish you all a very merry Christmas... and may the Prince of Peace rule the hearts of policy makers and decision makers so that we can, together with the angels sing: peace on earth and goodwill to all

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