I woke up this morning with a bunch of thoughts that begged to be connected, ordered into some coherent proposal. It included bits of poetry, scripture, current news and global institutions. All these seemed like pieces of a disordered puzzle.
One of the poems my father used to read to us when we were little was called “Opportunity.” It stuck. “I knock, unbidden, once at every gate! If sleeping, wake — if feasting, rise before I turn away. It is the hour of fate…” I can still remember his deep, melodic voice reciting, “Seek me in vain and uselessly implore. I answer not, and I return no more!”
One of the bits of scripture to which our mother often referred us said, “O OPPRESSORS ON EARTH! Withdraw your hands from tyranny, for I have pledged Myself not to forgive any man’s injustice.” Her quoting this
left us kids in no doubt of the concept of Divine justice and retribution and we were ever careful, growing up, to be on the right side of history. This was our opportunity. “Then we must labor to destroy the animal condition, till the meaning of humanity shall come to light.”
In the news there are often happenings which, though they are reported individually, are actually connected. When several things happen on the same day, they tickle at our consciousness and beg to be combined into a logical life lesson.
Yesterday they arrested a government leader who had been sought for fifteen years for war crimes. The analysts were saying that this was a good omen, that one more perfidious leader was being remanded to the world court and that this would act to stay the hand of the oppressor in future. Yes.
But the world is awash with oppressors. How are we to catch them all and bring them to justice?
Yesterday they also reported (bless that reporter woman with the eye patch) on a cell phone video being found of soldiers using rape as a weapon of war in Libya, the details of the story so gruesome as to cause the anchorman to retch on live television. Soldiers acting worse than ravenous animals. Incontrovertible evidence of a crime against humanity (albeit women) being perpetrated under the daylight glare of international scrutiny. Methinks I can hear…
“Their strangled cries echoing into eternity.
Their myriad whispers clamoring for expression.
Their shrieks and angry shouts rising,
a ghostly cyclone threatening
to engulf and sweep away
everything in its path,
till all the deeds done in the dark of night
should come to light in the blazing sun.
Cracks in a dried up riverbed.”
Certain young men of Lybia have taken the opportunity to heal the wounds of these women. They have offered to marry the violated women and rescue them from a life of shame and isolation. This is a balm for this suffering, a solace for our eyes.
Is this not also an opportunity for the international community? Yes, a clear and present opportunity.
The principle of collective security calls for humanity to establish certain universal pacts to which all nations agree and then to enforce them. Such a universal pact has been established in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We know, as a human race, to what standards we wish to adhere, we’ve created a world body that brought together all the nations to ratify this covenant of how governments should treat their citizens. When a government is committing a crime such as use of rape as a weapon of war and it can be proven, the principle of collective security requires that “the human race as a whole should resolve, with every power at its disposal, to destroy that government.”
What does it mean, “to destroy that government?” It used to mean, to mount a military action against it, to bomb it into perdition, or, submission. But no, there is a much simpler path.
Could we not, through that world body, unseat such a government? Delegitimize it, vote it out of existence, leave it out in the cold, recognize a provisional group of people trying to create a better government for themselves? (Details to be worked out by minds far more brilliant than mine.) It seems to me there is an opportunity here for a bloodless removal of a government from power by a simple act of will on the part of the international community.
Perhaps we fear this will start a domino effect. Aren’t there a few other countries using rape as a weapon of war right now? Wouldn’t it upset the prevailing order to start unseating them? Create chaos. Instability. Oooooh.
But don’t we want a new world order? Don’t we want an avalanche of justice, to beat back the scurrilous rats, perfidious violators, corrupted megalomaniacs bleeding mankind and starving our children to their death? Why can’t the world’s people decide? Why can’t a world fraternity intercede when a whole people are hostage to a criminal?
In most cases where a government has proven corrupt or inept its people can change it by the power of the vote. But then there are cases that run so counter to our collective will (and to the meaning of humanity) that they merit outside intervention by a world parliament, the instrument of which we have already created. In that case, waiting for that government to fall (by military power) and then declaring them illegitimate seems like leaving the cart before the horse. As a poet, I know this: to unseat a government that is using rape as a weapon of war would be a sweet example of poetic justice. It would be an opportunity taken, to outlaw this egregious, repugnant practice. To obliterate it from the face of the earth by swift and decisive intervention. I believe this is called “a deterrent.”
Now, I am not so naïve as to think that a government like that will simply leave or abandon its power. But this will deflate its pretention to it. It will put them on the losing side, their support will melt away. Their armed forces will desert them with impunity, their machinery will be slowly dismembered. Their assets will be seized (as they do not belong to them but to the people). They will know that it is their day of judgment, that they will be hunted down and brought to the world court to answer for their crimes. They will know there is no place for them to hide. Military intervention may in fact be unnecessary or needed on a much smaller and less expensive scale. It is time for this shift in our “modus operandus.”
Collective security: it is a wonderful tool, waiting to be used. It simply requires unity and will. Collective security is an opportunity for poetic justice.
Metaphors are myriad
But words now grow tired
When life hangs breathless
Between roses and mire.
Where do we find shelter
From relentless shelling?
How to not be aware
That the Phoenix is rising?
Here now is the century
The split-second juncture
Where all of our visions
Are placed in the balance
Within touchable reach
Of the eye of this vortex
The most feared of our nightmares
All the dreams we most cherish
Which way tips the scale
Is not ours to determine
Yet one breath is perdition
The other salvation
One step is the right one
The other infernal
The line is a razor
Where the angels are dancing
All predictions came true
All warnings were accurate
The possibilities are now endless
The consequences are tragic
Do we really believe
He will stand silent witness?
Or tip the scales with the fingers
Of compassion and justice
What forces undreamt of…
What clues in the sand?
At the gate of forever
Time sifts thru our hands
As we breathe wordless choices
And hang in this balance
And rise up from the places
Of our most sacred longings
Will this breath add the weight
That determines the fate
Of six billion and countless
Unborn and remembered?
At the edge of the razor
Where the angels all dance
Will our race finds its will
Or surrender its chance?
(To download Cross Roads, a poetry sample from “Children of the Half Light”, click on the icon above.)
 John James Ingalls. “Opportunity,” The Little Book of American Poets. Ed. Jessie B. Rittenhouse. Cambridge: The Riverside Press, 1915.
 Baha’u’llah, The Persian Hidden Words, No. 64.
 Baha’u’llah, The Seven Valleys, p. 34.
 Rhea Harmsen. “The Clothesline Project,” World Order, Summer 1998 p. 36-39.
 ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Secret of Divine Civilization, p. 63.