What a shame that it’s taken a killer earthquake to shock the world into sympathy for the pitiful plight of the people of Haiti. Descendants of former slaves who fought for and bought their independence from France in the early 19th century, they’ve been plagued ever since by one catastrophe after another.
Natural disasters like hurricanes have always regularly wreaked havoc on their lives and livelihoods. But the worst devastation they’ve suffered has been entirely man-made, imposed on them at the point of the gun or machete by some of the most criminal and corrupt ruling regimes on the planet.
Perhaps the most evil of the Haitians’ oppressors, at least in living memory, were Dr Francois ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier, and his son Jean-Claude or ‘Baby Doc’, who, supported by their murderous Tontons Macoutes militiamen, ruled the roost from 1957 to 1986.
A series of subsequent governments haven’t proven much improvement, however, and Haiti has remained a social, economic and environmental basket-case protected from descent into total desolation and despair by the presence of UN peace-keepers.
So, as massively destructive as this earthquake has been, and as tragic in its toll of lives, I’m relieved to see that it may not prove the last straw for the people of Haiti, or the final nail in their country’s coffin.
In fact, having finally galvanised the global community into action, I hope the quake will be instrumental in getting Haitians not just emergency aid, but all the long-term support and assistance they need to put an end to their sad history of deprivation and despotic abuse.
The signs are certainly hopeful, even at this early stage. The Obama administration has committed the US to a massive program of both rescue and rebuilding, and signified the seriousness of its intent by putting former Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton in charge.
This strikes me as more than merely symbolic as it may seem to some, as Clinton has long admitted regreting his failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide, and Bush must have learnt at least some lessons from his adminstration’s much-criticised failures following the flooding of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina.
Like the US, the UN has also responded massively and decisively to the earthquake, despite the shock of losing so many of its own personnel in the collapse of the headquarters of its Haitian mission.
And the reaction from around the world, despite initial delays occasioned by the chaotic situation, congestion at Port-au-Prince’s single-runway airport and damage to port unloading facilities, has been enormous.
The Red Cross was there immediately and in strength, of course, as was that magnificent mercy organisation, Médecin Sans Frontiėres.
Also quickly on the scene, somewhat to my surprise, given my misgivings as to the humanitarianism of the government of the People’s Republic, were Chinese rescue teams with their sniffer dogs.
Doubtless there were teams of workers and shipments of supplies from dozens of other nations and organisations, too, besides the US and others I’ve seen specific reference to, like Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, the European Union, Israel, France, Mexico, Qatar, South Africa and the UK.
Though were almost certainly lots of notable absences, like Burma, for example, who, having left its own people for dead following Cyclone Nargis, and denied the rest of the world permission to help, would almost certainly have been a no-show.
North Korea, too, I imagine would find it impossible to spare any of the million or so troops it considers it needs to guard against its paranoid fantasies of ‘invasion’ by the South, and Iran far too busy persecuting its opposition and building its nuclear capability.
And to judge by the continuing suicide bombings in Pakistan and elsewhere, organisations like al Qaeda and the Taliban were far too preoccupied with killing their own countrymen, women and children to be bothered saving the lives of far-off infidels.
Speaking of religion, of course the Creator can’t be excluded from an Act of God like a massive earthquake, and there were the customary calls for outpourings of prayer by the faithful of all manner of creeds.
Most seemed sincere and compassionate, but inevitably some of the ‘religious’ reactions were somewhat misguided, not to say outright malevolent.
Notorious US media evangelist Pat Robinson, for example, made an almighty spectacle of himself by declaring on his television program that the Haitian disaster was a sign that Haiti was cursed.
In a Reuters report, Robinson was quoted as claiming that “they were under the heel of the French, you know Napoleon the Third and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil”.
“They said ‘We will serve you if you will get us free from the prince’. True story. So the devil said, ‘OK it’s a deal’. And they kicked the French out. But ever since they’ve been cursed by one thing and another.”
Faced with such falsehood and flakery so typical of ‘religious’ fundamentalism, it’s no wonder that so many adherents of so many faiths find themselves so conflicted and confused.
And no wonder that I and my fellow agnostics, repelled by all the hypocrisy and cant surrounding the question of whether or which God is great or good, have settled for the self-evident if simple-minded opposite proposition that, in any event, good is God.
In other words, that God, whether or not He exists as some omniscient, omnipotent, supreme and super-human being, is a matter of deeds, not creeds. And of the kind of love of thy neighbour that the community of nations is finally extending to the people of Haiti after having so long abandoned them to their fate at the hands of their hateful rulers.