A few weeks ago, I decided that I would listen to a Ted Talk every morning while having breakfast. The point is to keep my brain going from the beginning of the day, but not necessarily on political or topical subjects. Every week, I will pick the one that made me reflect the most. I will post it here, and share my views with you.
The talk that marked me this week was given by former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009. National politics does not matter here, which is for the best as I am far from being an expert in British politics. You will also tell me that the speech is old, 6 years old to be precise. To that, I reply to you that old does not mean bad. And if you watch the video, you will probably notice that most of what G. Brown discusses still applies today. And this is exactly for that reason that this speech caught my attention.
The first part of the speech is made to captivate the audience, to appeal to their memories, to remind them of the horrors of the past that shocked them, of the pictures which changed the West’s perception of the world and triggered the intervention of the international community in crises abroad. This first part reminded me of a picture that was all over the internet a few days ago: the image of a little boy who was found dead on the Turkish shore after trying to cross the Mediterranean with his family in order to escape the war tearing apart Syria.
As Brown put it,
What we see unlocks what we cannot see
And although this picture is ethically wrong on many levels, it appeals to our humanity, which Europe seems to have had a hard time finding to come up with appropriate solutions to the continuous wave of migrants landing on our Southern borders.
The most important difference that I see between the picture of the little boy stranded on the Turkish beach and all the other examples given by Gordon Brown, is that this crisis has reached and directly affects the West. It is not in Africa or in the Middle East. It is right around the corner from us, within the borders of the EU. What this means is that the effects of decades of foreign intervention in the Middle East has caused a (predictable) crisis that is now asking us to correct our wrongs. It is also demonstrating that Europe is no longer immune to the problems the rest of the world is facing. And this time, sending off aid will not suffice, as it will have to be deployed within our direct realm, thus demanding extreme levels of understanding, cooperation and collaboration.
What this picture also suggests is that, we, the international community, have been unable to address a crisis that everybody knows exist. Gordon Brown rightly points to the failures of our institutions which have been created to advance human rights and human dignity, in order to create global and lasting peace. We have clearly failed, just like in Rwanda we failed to prevent a genocide, to rescue those who would rather risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded boats than stay in their country where their lives are at risk at every instant. And despite the importance of the media coverage relaying the information from Syria and other striken countries, we have failed to appropriately respond to their distress.
We need to tackle problems that everybody knows exist
We also fail to think global, to grasp the implications a foreign crisis could have on us. We forget that in this time and age, was goes around comes back around. Failing to support an underdeveloped country will have medium to long-term consequences that will be felt at the international level. Failing to think global, which also means diverse, compromises our chance for peace and stability. Ultimately, helping others also means helping oneself.
The example of global warming is a striking one as world leaders are due to gather in Paris at the end of November at the COP21 Summit. Gordon Brown’s speech came before the previous summit on the issue which took place in Copenhagen, but did not bring sufficient results. Institutions to regulate, punish and impose decisions must be created in order to make climate change a global common implicating everyone, for the sake of everyone.
In a time and age where people are aware and informed about what happens on the other side of the planet in an instant, more emphasis should be put on involving the people in decision-making and finding solutions to global problems. So far, civil society has been more active in welcoming the migrants coming from the other side of the Mediterranean than governments themselves. There has to be something wrong with our system. The global character of citizens is not reflected in governments. Information technologies are the key, which echoes another Ted Talk.
PM Gordon Brown calls for recognizing our responsibilities to others. We must act as global citizens to solve global problems, because they do not stop at borders. We have the potential to build a better world. Ethic must go beyond our nation interest. Let’s do it.
Gordon Brown engaged in a conversation on Global ethic vs. national interest which can be found here.