Monday, January 03, 2005

More Reflections On The Catastrophe

There are a couple of interesting reflections on the wider questions raised by the tragic events of the last week in this region.

> Over the last few days Norm has posted a series of interventions here
, here, here and here on the relationship between the recent earthquake and religious belief. In his most recent post he places Marx's famous dictum about religion as the "opium of the people" in the broader context in which it was written and has some interesting thoughts on the value of truths and illusions. Read the rest.

> In yesterday's Observer, Nick Cohen has a good piece headlined "The Politics Of Disaster" in which he looks at the way that authoritarian regimes have dealt with the catastrophic events of the last week. In particular, he follows up on what is going on in Burma - a question I raised last week. As Cohen notes:
The uniformed gangsters who run the kleptocracy, ravish its forests and murder its citizens, expressed their heart-felt sorrow and decent regret at the news from the rest of the region, but made no mention of the waves taking Burmese lives.
But piecemeal evidence is now pointing to the fact that many, many people may have lost their lives. The problem is that
It will take weeks to find out if the real death toll is anywhere near as bad as in Thailand - if, that is, we ever find out. The junta has an interest in maintaining the illusion of total control. A public admission of weakness makes it seem vulnerable and plants the dangerous idea in people's minds that it may one day be weak enough to overthrow.
Cohen also mentions the political problems in Aceh, the worst affected region of all. He rightly conjectures that the Suharto dictatorship would have used the earthquake as an opportunity to crush secessionist dissent in the province. And though he mentions the less than "spotless" record of successive "democratic" governments in Jakarta since 1998 I think he underestimates the hard-nosed desire of the newly-elected Indonesian government - ruled by a retired general, remember - to maintain its iron-fist policy in Aceh in the long run.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

rilke in his tenth duino elegy:

... we are strangers
to the alleys of the
City of Sorrow, where
in the falsified silence
born of continual clatter,
the mold of emptiness ejects
a strutting figure: the gilded din,
the exploding memorial.
O, with what finality
would an angel trample to dust
their marketplace of consolation,
bounded by the church with its
off-the-rack indulgences: as
tidy, dull and shut tight
as a post office on Sunday.
Outside, always, curls
the edge of the carnival ...

the enormous tragedy jolts us to action, to compassion, to prayer ... but soon enough, after the hue and cry has died down, after all the remains that can be have been found and bid farewell to with the appropriate and practical rituals that stave off fears of our own mortality, we return to the dance of our separate puerile existences ... death, that levelled the wealthy tourists in the fancy resorts and the subsistence fisherfolk in the decrepit coastal villages, will once more retreat into the shadows, waiting ...

4:32 pm  

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