And Sharp Bullets
By Satya Sagar
05 November, 2003
is an image that has been haunting me in my sleep for the past many
months now. It is an image from the first wave of bombing raids carried
out by US warplanes in the town of Basra in southern Iraq.
In this image there
is a tired, broken Iraqi father who is lifting up the limp body of his
dead 10 year old daughter from the rubble of his bombed out home. If
one could freeze all the tragedy possible, anywhere, within one human
lifetime- this would be the image to capture it. A distraught father
with his dead daughter.
Now what do health,
media or globalization have to do with this image and the incident it
Before I get to
that, I want to make a confession. For quite some time now I have had
a problem in understanding even the simplest of terms - very common
words like health, media and globalization for example.
Maybe this is because,
as a journalist for nearly two decades, I have been reading too many
newspapers that lie and watching too many television talk shows that
distort all reality. Or yet again, it may be because of that image of
the Iraqi father and his dead daughter that has been haunting me, forcing
me to search for meaning beyond mere words. Whatever the reason for
my confusion, let me try to understand and clarify the these three terms
one by one, in the context of the times we live in.
First, let us take
the word health. For years together, as a journalist and
as a citizen with some minimum education I always thought health was
all about biology, medicine, doctors, hospitals. Makes sense, doesnt
it? Ill health is caused by disease. Bacteria or viruses cause disease.
And all these problems in turn can be treated with medicine prescribed
by doctors in their hospitals.
All that was till
I had the good fortune of attending the first Peoples Health Assembly
in Dhaka, Bangladesh in the winter of 2000 as a journalist helping out
with their media work. It was there while listening to the hundreds
of health activists from around the globe, reading the papers they presented
and talking to many of them that I realized a few very simple things.
First of all your,
my or anyones health is not a mere function of our individual
behavior alone but also the behavior of entire societies. It is a direct
function of the politics, economics, ecology and culture of the world
we live in.
Before anyone gets
me wrong let me make it clear that I do believe that individual behavior
is still a very important determinant of individual health. One cannot
absolve individuals of responsibility and blame every misfortune that
befalls the individual on society at large
And yet can anyone
tell me what precisely was the problem with the individual behavior
of that young Iraqi girl that she had to die at such a tender age and
the way she did?
It is quite obvious
that young girl there had to die because neither she, nor her father,
were really a match for the firepower of the worlds only remaining
superpower. But maybe she had to die because someone very powerful,
very far away, at a very safe distance thought she could one day grow
up, become a mother and give birth to a terrorist. Could
it be also possible that she had to die because she as an Iraqi citizen
was sitting on top of the worlds second largest reserves of oil
and there are too many petroleum junkies around the world who need this
indispensable narcotic of modern civilization?
These are the kind
of questions that come to my mind when I see an image like that from
Basra. War, it is clear, is the biggest threat to public health anywhere.
And make no mistake, the times we live in is all about war and conflict-
with really no end in sight soon.
But where do war
and conflict really come from? Is it just about the faults of human
nature or the differences between religions or nationalism and fundamentalisms
of different kinds? These are all surely ingredients that catalyze conflict
in different parts of the world, but I would like to point to that one
perpetual source of violence throughout human history- the quest for
control and consumption of resources.
These could be natural
resources- food, forests or fossil fuel as in the case of the US occupation
of Iraq. Yet again, the conflict could be for control and domination
of human resources. In the old days monarchs used to repeatedly rally
their people to war for capturing slaves from their neighboring countries.
In the modern age the role of the monarch has been neatly
taken over by multinational corporations. And the term slaves
has been replaced by cheap labour from the Third World.
And it is this process
by which feudal control over global resources has been replaced by corporate
control that brings us to that much publicised word globalisation.
I have always felt that there really cant be a fuzzier word possible
in the dictionary than this term globalisation.
After all, we all
know that the globe, the planet Earth exists and has been around for
a long time (it will hopefully be around a little longer !). People
across the oceans, forests, mountains and entire continents have always
traveled around the planet- in search of better habitats, resources,
experience or just for their own enjoyment. All of human kind, as any
anthropologist will tell you, migrated out of Africa-, which was truly
the motherland of our entire species.
And yet there are
those who today claim that they are going to globalise the
globe. That would be like making an apple more of an apple
or adding to Mona Lisas smile to make her look more attractive.
There is a reason
for this lack of clarity behind the word globalisation.
The word obfuscates the fact that we are not really one globe
at all and that there are many planets within this one planet Earth
that all of us are supposed to inhabit.
There is the glittering
golden planet of the bold and the beautiful, the rich and the powerful,
the masters of our universe. The small minority who control most of
the wealth on planet Earth, who make the policies that run the economic,
political and military systems of our world and who decide the
fate, life and death of the millions.
There is also a
silver planet run by those who will do anything to serve their masters
on the golden planet and aspire to join them at some point of time.
These are dubious managers, generals, advertising and public relations
professionals who spend all the time polishing and protecting the gold
of their Godfathers.
And finally there
is the planet of iron, rusting away, inhabited by a majority of the
worlds population. The people who work, who consume the least,
and with whose sweat and blood the other two planets thrive and survive.
And these are the very people- the people who make the globe spin on
its axis- to whom the virtues of globalisation are being
preached to by those from the planets of gold and silver.
In order to globalise
they are told to give up their land, water, forest and minerals to the
global corporations. They are told to leave their fate and that of their
families to the mysterious market, which is manipulated by global bankers
and investors. They are told to tighten their belts- (which are often
around their necks)- and promised that globalisation will bring them
a shining future.
Well, we have all
seen what this shining future looks like for our planets
workers. It means shining the shoes of the rich in the hope
that one day that pair of shoes will be their own. That day will never
come for the workers of the world through globalisation- for what is
sold to them as a dream is in reality the darkest nightmare.
All I can see in
globalization is the continuation of colonization by other means but
for the same purpose- the looting of local resources, the destruction
of indigenous livelihoods, the bankrupting of entire national economies,
the loss of sovereignty of the developing world. And every time the
people of the world try to improve their lives, even by following the
rules of the marketplace, the globalisers find new ways to increase
their own wealth and keep the vast majority in poverty. A poverty, which
by itself is the mother of all health problems.
At this point I
would like to say something, which is important for all movements of
social justice to consider. And that is the fact that while extreme
poverty is harmful to the health of people this is equally true of extreme
prosperity. Today we see the rich, not only in the developed countries
but also in developing ones, killing themselves with their obscene wealth.
Think of all the things that the rich have to do to keep themselves
on top of our societies. The moral stress they undergo while exploiting
the poor, the psychological stress they get worrying about preserving
their wealth and the physical stresses of consuming more than what is
humanly possible- all these together kills them everyday. So it is my
belief that it is the duty of the social movements around the world
not only to fight for justice for the poor but also consciously save
the rich by taking away their wealth. (The rich will resist of course,
but we have to do what is in their best interests!)
Coming back to globalisation-
it is often claimed by the mainstream media that the anti-globalization
movement only criticizes and does not provide any alternatives? Is there
an alternative and what does that look like?
That was the second
thing I learnt from the Peoples Health Assembly in Dhaka and from
the global network of health activist groups - the Peoples Health
Movement in general. That it is possible to have a clear and simple
alternative to the approach of globalisation- that is workable, viable
and in the interests of the majority of the people on this planet.
proposed by the Peoples Health Movement is that the health and
well-being of the individual should be at center of all policy making
everywhere. The logic is very clear. Health should be at the center
of everything human societies do precisely because everything that human
societies do affects the health of all its members. And mind you, here
we are talking about not just the physical condition of the individual
human being but also their economic, social and spiritual health.
Every time a government
anywhere formulates policy on anything trade, finance, defence, agriculture-
it should do so only after asking the simple question- how will this
policy affect the health of individual citizens in that country ?
That is an important
point, mainly because this simple question is never asked and what we
in the Peoples Health Movement are suggesting is still an unfulfilled
dream. The fact is that the health of the people today is not even at
the periphery of concerns that drives policy makers who run our globe.
What is at the center of their concerns is money and profits.
And in fact what
we see in our time is a complete distortion and misuse of the basic
concepts of medicine by the global elites.
A few years ago
when I first heard the term surgical strikes used to describe
the bombing of Kosovo in Yugoslavia I did not think very much about
it. But surgical is a medical term and surgery is a procedure that is
meant to save lives. So why is the US army using this term to describe
a process that is meant to kill people?
This misuse of medical
terms has only increased under the so-called War on Terror launched
by the United States since September 11. So now we have US leaders calling
for the wiping out of terrorists, US army commanders talk
of detecting and destroying terrorists. People dubbed as
terrorists´ are compared to snakes, deadly bacteria and
microbes and the promise is made to cleanse´ the world of
terrorism as if it was a disease or an epidemic of some kind.
Make no mistake
about it- in the eyes of the imperialists all those who resist imperialism
are really nothing more than microbes. And this is where the global
media plays a crucial role in the de-humanisation of all those who resist
and preparing the ground for massacres and genocide by the imperialists.
So what exactly
is the media´ all about? As many of you would already have
noticed much of the global media is used by powerful vested interests
to promote their point of view, distort realities and fool ordinary
people into accepting their sorry fate as the best possible deal they
can ever get. In other words the global media is nothing but a sophisticated
However, I have
noticed a strange new trend in recent times. The role of the global
media as a mouthpiece of the establishment has actually diminished.
This is not because the media has become more truthful in its reporting
of realities but because the establishment no longer needs to make a
pretence and is willing to launch an open and brazen attack on the rights
of the people everywhere. The masters of the golden planet have already
fired the media from its pitiful role as a messenger- and now Communicate
directly with the people of the world.
I will give you
an example of what I am trying to say. A couple of years ago, I like
many of you, heard the US President George W. Bush claim on television
that he is going to send a strong message to terrorists
everywhere in the world. Soon after that US armed forces invaded Afghanistan
and took over that country, killing thousands of innocent people in
Again, earlier this
year I heard Little Bush say that he is going to send a strong message
to dictators who produce WMDs. Soon after that the US air force started
pounding Iraq with bombs of every description, and have now occupied
the country, once again killing thousands of civilians as well as poorly
From this I can
conclude only one thing that communicating a message does
not mean sending an email or a letter or newspaper report or a television
picture anymore. In the dictionary of US imperialism communication has
always been about sending bullets, bombs and missiles to make their
point to those who dare to defy them. And that is truer today than ever
That is why I believe
that the smokescreen of the global media has been dispensed with and
the real messages in our times come from the armed forces of the imperialist
powers. While their words have become fuzzier, their bullets have become
sharper and that is where the impact of their propaganda comes from.
This is the ugly reality we have to wake up to.
The oppressed people
of the world cannot have a dialogue with Imperialism through mere words
and images- however poetic and powerful these may be. That dialogue
may have been possible in normal times, but the sad fact is that we
live in abnormal times. The time has come for all of us to communicate
in the only language that elites everywhere understand- that of mass
movement and mass resistance. The sooner we stand up and resist the
closer we will be to creating a better world.
Satya Sagar is a
journalist based in Thailand. This article is based on a presentation
made at a forum on the humanist and medical vision of Eugenio Espejo
and Ernesto Che Guevara in Cuenca, Ecuador, 13-17 October 2003. The
author can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org