“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
When I read the article What If We Told People That They Belong? by Wingdsolve Ambassador, Claire Leunissen, I was struck by the sincere and heartfelt tone of the piece, as well as the common sense of the sentiment in the title. I thought: it really should be that simple! Perhaps that’s what the drafters thought when they wrote the text of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Perhaps that’s what the leaders of almost fifty countries thought when they endorsed it.
But how long does it take for good intentions to be lost…….?
But how long does it take for good intentions to be lost to the inexorable metronome of time? How long does it take for a spectacular idea—one that was once formally adopted by global leaders and then indelibly etched into the collective consciousness of millions of people—to fail? Recent world events would indicate that all it takes is about three generations. I am talking, of course, about the UDHR, a document that was far ahead of its time when it was signed almost seventy years ago. It seems almost forgotten today as a guiding watchword for global leadership. There’s a sadness in that reality.
A garden not cared for will slowly become choked with weeds.
A garden not cared for will slowly become choked with weeds. A top set in motion will soon fall over unless given an extra spin when it begins to wobble. And what about relationships? Most anyone can tell you that they will quickly wither and die unless they are appreciated and nurtured every day by both parties. The ordinary, routine and trite are not exempt. Hit movies and music seen and heard everywhere today will disappear, slip out of mind and be forgotten in a few months. But somehow you’d think this kind of atrophy shouldn’t happen when human dignity, well-being, liberty and life are involved.
… a Canadian citizen, a woman from Montreal, Fadwa Alaoui, was detained for four hours at the international border, fingerprinted, photographed and questioned in detail, then denied entry into the United States, apparently because of her religion.
Today I read an article on CBC News, where a Canadian citizen, a woman from Montreal, Fadwa Alaoui, was detained for four hours at the international border, fingerprinted, photographed and questioned in detail, then denied entry into the United States, apparently because of her religion. The woman had previously travelled regularly across the border to visit with her parents and family.
This is an ominous thing to have happened. A student of world history would tell you that this is the kind of thing that went on in the old Eastern Bloc countries before, during, and after the Second World War. It was practiced by the Stasi, the state security service of East Germany, during the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall came down in 1989, most westerners believed it would be relegated to an ugly and distant past. No so, it seems.
Why are things like this happening again now?
Why, in North America, are we now witness to incidents like this? These indignities casually perpetrated by agents of the state on individuals? They begin as a mindset of mean-spirited zeal. That is then ardently ratified as policy at the highest levels of government. Finally they are carried out indifferently or malevolently by low-level functionaries with guns. Where did we go wrong?
This nonchalant authoritarian thuggery, the abuse of average people who have done nothing wrong, evokes chilling memories —ghosts of past atrocities to humanity— in people like me today who came of age and awareness fifty years ago. Why are things like this happening again now?
One reason is that ideas, even great ideas that have the force to positively affect millions of people, are no different than gardens, spinning tops, relationships or pop music. They require an ongoing infusion of energy to keep them fresh, top of mind and relevant to the next generation. They need people of all ages to continue to care about them deeply. And they require people who are given the privilege of leadership to take them to heart, nurture them and treat them as if they were their own ideas.
Many people today aren’t even aware of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Many people today aren’t even aware of the UDHR. It was formally adopted by the United Nations General Assembly (by 48 countries) in 1948. It came about as the result of what the world had seen happen to great masses of civilian humanity during the Second World War. The idea at the time was that it should never be allowed to let happen again.
Millions of people were murdered en masse in the gas chambers of extermination camps. There were brutal executions of large groups of defenseless civilians at killing-sites by military order. And individuals were summarily shot if they challenged the authorities.
This all happened because most people didn’t believe it could happen. In the beginning, they remained complacent and accepting when they began being subjected to the small indignities, which were treated as normal and commonplace. It escalated from there.
It started with lists.
It started with lists. The population was screened. Names were collected of people who were considered to be undesirables, or who supposedly posed a risk to the “security” of the state. They were placed on lists and regarded with suspicion. Their movements were tracked. They were denied employment. Society became stratified. Peer pressure was applied. Certain people and groups of people were ostracized. And then they were turned out of their homes and put on trains to be disposed of because they were considered to be less than human.
And all this happened under a government that was elected by the people, in a supposed democracy. Remember. It started with people being put on lists. They were then grouped, gradually marginalized and ultimately dehumanized.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is generally agreed to be the foundation, the antecedent, of international human rights law. Knowing the reasons why it was put in place three generations ago, is critical to understanding why it was such an important step in attempting to set an example for the future.
If this kind of thing is allowed to continue by citizens of good conscience, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has essentially become a sham.
Something to remember: In 2017 a Canadian citizen, a woman named Fadwa Alaoui, was put on a list and now cannot travel freely between two bordering G7 countries that are supposedly democracies. By everything that we know, it was not because of anything she did that contravened any law of either country. It was because of who she is. There are undoubtedly thousands more people like her on the very same list, and other lists, for the very same reasons. There is something fundamentally wrong with the thinking behind a practice like this. The world as I once knew it, has regressed.
If this kind of thing is allowed to continue by people of good conscience, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has essentially become a sham.
When I started writing this piece, I didn’t mean for it to be a downer. I have to end it on a message of hope. I was inspired by two articles on this new-media site that basically speak to the same concerns about disappearing freedoms and abuses to humanity, in different ways: the one I noted earlier, What If We Told People That They Belong? and Sister Marches by RavneetB.
It gives me hope for the future when I read pieces like yours. It is thinking like this, and only thinking like this, that will change where we are now and shape a better world for the next generation. REG
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