Friday, July 01, 2005

The Wild Wolves of Gleneagles: Live 8, G8 and Africa's Anguish

As we've noted here before (here and here), and as others have noted (here), the "Live 8" concerts are, in the main, a goodhearted but wrong-headed diversion by unconsciously co-opted pop stars being used to obscure the brutal and rapacious exploitation of Africa by the world's richest countries. But one good thing to come from this PR-apaloooza is that it has - temporarily, no doubt - focused attention on Africa's plight and the West's central role in creating it.

There's nothing new about this knowledge, this blood guilt that stains the very fabric of Western civilization. Almost 70 years ago, Rabindranath Tagore captured its essence in a poem written during yet another period when the "enlightened nations" were plunging into maelstrom of terror, fear and death. Here's an excerpt from "Africa," published in 1938:

"…Others came with iron manacles,
With clutches sharper than the claws of your own wild wolves:
Slavers came,
With an arrogance more benighted than your own dark jungles.
Civilization's barbarous greed
Flaunted its naked humanity.
You wailed wordlessly, muddied the soil of your steamy jungles
With blood and tears….

…Meanwhile, across the sea in their native parishes
Temple-bells summoned your conquerors to prayer,
Morning and evening, in the name of a loving god.
Mothers dandled babies in their laps;
Poets raised hymns to beauty.

Today as the air of the West thickens,
Constricted by the imminent evening storm;
As animals emerge from secret lairs
And proclaim by their ominous howls the closing of the day;
Come, poet of the end of the age,
Stand in the dying light of the advancing nightfall
At the door of despoiled Africa
And say, 'Forgive, forgive - '
In the midst of murderous insanity
May these be your civilization's last, virtuous words."

Tagore was not the only one to see the truth, of course. Indeed, more than a generation before, in 1905, a voice rose from the midst of the West itself to decry "Civilization's barbarous greed." It was Mark Twain -- too often remembered now (if remembered at all) as the genial author of those school-assignment chores, Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. Twain was much more than this, of course, much darker in spirit. He was also one of the fiercest opponents of imperialism that America has ever seen. Here is his cry into the heart of darkness: King Leopold's Soliloquy.

(Edited after astute comments by "Anonymous." Many thanks.)