The silence is deafening

Updated on Nov 24, 2006 03:10 AM IST

Worse than silence of those who are forced to hold their tongue is the silence of those who choose to be quiet in the face of injustice, writes Federico Mayor Zaragoza.

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None | ByFederico Mayor Zaragoza

The Bush administration has supported the enactment of a law that excludes certain detainees from habeas corpus protection, one of the pillars of democracy. And there has been silence. Contrary to expectations, there was no severe response from people or institutions who should have reacted. Guantanamo, ‘secret’ flights... Silence. As Martin Luther King once observed, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” On many occasions, I have explained that there is a silence that is worse than the silence of those who have been silenced. It is the silence of those who choose to remain silent.

The worst silence is the silence of our institutions. The silence of entities that, by their very nature, are aware of the issues and should not miss the opportunity to make themselves heard. The universities, the academies, the scientific community, they should be particularly alert, especially with regard to issues that may lead to irreversible situations.

We are too distracted, excessively absorbed with matters that are secondary, preoccupied with news that with progressive frequency provide an incomplete and exaggerated, if not biased, perspective of reality. The net result is that we become ‘receivers’, passive spectators resigned to waiting to see what happens.

The United States needs friendly, independent voices to make it understand that the days of unilateral foreign policy decisions, determined to dominate by force those deemed ‘enemies’, are over. That neither Europe nor Latin America are going to blindly follow arbitrary economic, military or cultural policies that entail dominance or subjugation.

And in response to the growing poverty generated by the process of globalisation promoted by the wealthiest nations: silence. In response to the delocalisation of manufacturing to the East and of management to the West: silence. Faced with the huge challenges of China and India’s entry in the growth of the planet: silence. Silence with respect to dictatorships under which people labour in deplorable conditions because they benefit the market and war economies that we support.

When will we finally apply the United Nations Millennium Objectives, proclaimed in 2000 and repeated in 2005, to fight hunger, Aids, and to build housing instead of missiles and instruments of war? Someone must take the initiative in this new era to speak up. And this someone should be Europe and its institutions, its centres of higher education, its artists and inventors, who initiate this new historic road toward intellectual rearmament that the world so desires.

Let us unite our voices to achieve a United Nations which, with all of the institutions it represents, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organisation, can guarantee on an international level compliance with economic, social environmental, cultural and ethical conventions. And where, all together, the great challenges of humanity can be met with the appropriate prospective vision: energy, water, nutrition, health. A UN capable of confronting the transgressors who today occupy the supranational space with total impunity, frequently under the shelter of multinational corporations; a UN capable of practising efficient multilateralism, in which security emanates from justice and the diligence required to transform force into dialogue.

It is more urgent than ever to be vigilant, with the perseverance to prevent defencelessness and the excesses of policies based on peace and security. “[The] legitimate fight against terrorism has been used as a pretext to deprive or revoke human rights,” declared Kofi Annan before the General Assembly in September this year.

And for the European Union to regain its lost credibility, the ‘Eastern’ countries cannot continue to be ‘proud spokespersons’ if they don’t speak up. The Millennium Objectives are not being met, especially in Africa. The immense tragedy of the sub-Saharan immigrants who arrive in desperation on the coasts of abundance is due to the inhuman conditions in which they live in their countries. They come to the West because the West has repeatedly failed to fulfil its promises to them, while at the same time, has continued to exploit their natural resources.

We are coming upon an era of massive participation in which via internet and mobile text messaging, people will begin to participate actively in public affairs. The time for resignation and silence is, fortunately, coming to an end. For this reason, it is especially important that Europe assume the lead in this already unstoppable movement. So that the generations who are one step behind us cannot accuse us of silence when our voice is so necessary: together in peace, tireless in our resistance in favour of authentic democracy. So that no one can ever say, “We listened for your voice, but it was never heard.”

Federico Mayor Zaragoza is the Co-President of the High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilisations initiated by the UN Secretary General. He was the Director General, Unesco (1987-1999).

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