In search of the Christmas spirit

In search of the Christmas spirit

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Yesterday, I received an encouraging email from a newfound friend, Michael Bruckner, an Austrian musician and miniature photographer who visited Pakistan a few months ago. I wrote about him and his fellow musicians when they played at PNCA in Islamabad, and he also exhibited a handful of his art photos. He had appreciated that I wrote about what he tries to do, showing beauty in the unexpected, such as some insects on an autumn leave, a larva on a dry tree trunk, or a few busy bees and ants at work. He said in his email that we should not be closed-in in our minds and only look for and find beauty in what we have been told is beauty; we should not be judgmental, but rather just observe. He attached three pictures to his email yesterday, a tree in foggy and misty Austria at this year’s pre-Christmas days and some insects; no bright sunshine, no crisp moonlight, no snow-covered Christmas-landscapes. But Michael’s pictures were as beautiful as the standard pictures.

There isn’t much Christmas-spirit in the hearts of Europeans who want to keep refugees and other migrants away from their housing societies and workplaces, and their organised and well-run communities. They tell migrants not to come, and if they do come, they are often told that they are not quite good enough – and it will take generations to become fully accepted, having giving up much of their own identity and culture. The hosts don’t question how they built their lands, forgetting that there was often exploitation, colonialism, unfair trade and sea transport, and more. True, they have developed fairness, rights and tolerance for people inside their own lands, but not for those outside. North-South relations were like that when I took up development studies, with aid, trade and ideologies in the 1970s – and this is how the world still is.

What happened to the Christmas-spirit in the West? What happened to international solidarity and work for a new international economic order? Why can only some people migrate while others are forced to remain under difficult circumstances? Why cannot governments and multinationals genuinely help develop local communities in the South rather than drain them? God never said that the world’s resources are only for some; he said that his garden is for all, and that we must be good custodians and emphasise sharing – not only at Christmas-time, but always.

When the new president-elect in the United States of America wishes to build a wall on his country’s southern border to keep immigrants out, he is either very cruel or very ignorant. Besides, his country may benefit from the people crossing over to his land; both countries should long ago have found ways of cooperating so people can travel and live legally together, share resources and wealth, and reduce crime and drugs trade.

Donald Trump and his movement, and similar populist movements in European countries, seem to have been fishing in troubled waters, gaining support from people who rightly need jobs and paths to success, plus those who want change just out of dissatisfaction and to gain profit at the top. Most such movements have prejudiced analyses and scant plans for how to implement improvements for the needy and create growth that benefits all. The jobs they say they will create, and the private sector solutions they believe in, may be better for the company owners than for the workers.

True, there is a need for new ideas when manufacturing jobs disappear, often to countries with lower labour costs; there is a need for interventions when old industrial towns become ghost towns, leaving behind people on rudimentary social welfare since the world’s richest country, America doesn’t understand social politics, only how to generate private sector profit. European countries, too, also allow increased inequalities and reduced welfare.

This doesn’t mean that the Americans don’t have Christmas-spirit, even conservative Europeans, and upper class people in developing countries. As a matter of fact, I believe that many Americans are more kind-hearted and helpful to their neighbours than many other people on our planet – much because they had to fend for themselves when they first came to the New World as immigrants a few hundred years ago, and there was no social welfare state to look after them. But today, in our complex world, we need a state that can help everyone. That type of Christmas-spirit is beyond most Americans understanding, and that of the upper classes in developing countries.

On Tuesday, I received a newsletter from an international peace network, TFF, based in Lund, Sweden. Its coordinator Jan Oberg wrote a piece about the recent tragic events of the Syrian civil war. Peace researcher Oberg just visited Aleppo to witness for himself the fall (or liberation) of the ‘beautiful, cultural, industrial and human’ city’s dozens of square kilometres turned into wasteland, with WWII-like destruction.

The western media has been far from neutral, he said, and many countries and groups who have supported terrorist groups have had vested interests, including NATO countries, Russia, the Arab states and so on. It has been a senseless destruction of Syria for an inexplicable purpose. “Peaceful conflict-resolution and co-existence was what nobody thought about or had competence to implement. Conflict and peace illiterates speak the language of weapons”, stated Oberg.

When some kind of peace settled on Syria and Aleppo last week, we received news about the attack in a market in Berlin, taking our attention away from Syria. Furthermore, the Russian ambassador to Turkey was murdered in a cold-blooded assassination – and there are other direct acts of terrorism and war, including in Yemen, although currently not being ‘breaking news’. Our eyes have turned away from Aleppo, at least for the moment.

I would like to refer to a new book by a prominent Norwegian peace researcher, Nils Petter Gleditsch, who has authored ‘Mot en mer fredelig verden?’, which in English translates to, ‘Towards a More Peaceful World?’. Gleditsch explains that there are fewer wars and less violence in the world today than in a long time – and that wars are limited to some countries and areas, terrible where they rage but less global than before. He adds other indicators, too, showing that the world is actually on the right track towards more peace and less direct violence – in spite of the attention we give to terrorism, populism and other negative trends.

I am glad that Bruckner, Gleditsch and others remind us of seeing positive developments in the big world and in small things. Democracy and orderly state-rule, the ‘social democratic peace’, as Gleditsch terms it, seems to win the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Let us realise that and encourage those forces to become universal between and within countries and communities.

Dear reader, may I wish you a Merry Christmas, and let us pray for the Christmas spirit to be with us every day throughout the year, irrespective of faith, politics and other differences.__The Nation

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