Speaking up against oppression and persecution

The trend towards ethno-religious rhetoric and superficial religiousity in some countries in this region and South Asia often masks serious problems.

Sep 05, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
The trend towards ethno-religious rhetoric and superficial religiousity in some countries in this region and South Asia often masks serious problems.

Often in these nations, there are large pockets of poverty, glaring income disparities and rampant corruption. These problems are aggravated by a neoliberal economic system that favours privatisation, poor protection for workers’ rights and exploitation of the environment. In some cases, native communities have to make way for plantation firms, logging, the construction of dams and mineral extraction.

All the while, household and Federal Government debt have reached levels that should be of concern, even as share prices on Bursa Malaysia hit a record high, some of it due to speculation.

The failure to protect workers’ rights and taxation policies that increasingly favour the wealthy have contributed to widening economic disparities. The lack of employment opportunities, due to a below par education system, contributes towards a sense of insecurity among the lower-income group.

In this climate, it is easy for right-wing extremist groups to play on racial and religious prejudices and insecurities against foreigners and minority groups and turn them into scapegoats.

While all this is happening, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is being negotiated in secret, away from the eyes of the public, who are kept in the dark – only to be presented with a fait accompli when the agreement is done and dusted?

But a website has leaked news of a little known term called “certification” under which the United States may have the right to decide what another country’s obligations should be under a trade agreement. The US may refuse to allow the agreement to proceed until that other country has changed its laws or regulations to suit US demands; the US may even want to redraft that country’s laws to suit its own interests as it reportedly wanted to do with Peru.

Free trade agreements have several common features:

--they seek to open up the agricultural sector in developing countries while protecting it in the developed nations
-- they impose more restrictive intellectual property rights clauses in developing nations
-- they allow for longer periods for pharmaceutical patents, thus lessening the scope for cheaper generic medicine.
-- they allow multinational corporations to sue even national governments if the latter’s decisions are against corporate interests
-- the protection of workers and the environment is often given lip service

Basically, the TPPA will give more room and power for powerful transnational corporations to spread their wings across the region and penetrate deeper into markets. It is not difficult to predict who stands to profit more from this deal – these powerful corporations or the ordinary people.

After three decades of neoliberal policies, we can clearly see the gap that has opened up between the wealthy, aided by crony capitalism, and the rest of society across the world.

Francis, the Bishop of Rome, understands well the impact this is having on the vast majority of people — the poor and increasingly, the middle class as well — who are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of living.

It is against this backdrop that Francis has “unblocked” the process of beatification of Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador who spoke up against the brutal repression of peasants and who was assassinated in 1980. “There are no doctrinal problems and it is very important that [the beatification] is done quickly,” the UK Independent reported him as saying.

Though we will never know whether Romero would have wanted to be classified as a ‘saint’ (for fear of being dismissed so easily as someone extraordinary or holier than the rest — something Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day feared), Francis’ comments represent an unmistakable and ground-breaking shift for the universal Church.

He appears to be sending a clear message that he is serious about his vision of “a Church of the poor” and therefore, there is a need to look at the world — and the Gospels — from the perspective of the meek, the destitute and the persecuted.

More than that, reading between the lines, we can sense a desire to have more bishops who will speak up for the interests of the poor and the oppressed — the counterparts of the anavims (the lowly ones) in the Gospels. Given the dire state of the teeming multitudes who are suffering from economic oppression, political repression and even violent persecution – especially in the Middle East, this shift in perspective comes not a moment too soon.

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