Failed states are a danger to us all

Why failed states are a danger to us all

Why Humanists must concern themselves with global politics and cultivate a global perspective.

Nationalism is always a problem

As I write this, America is recovering from an Ebola scare.  Ebola, a potentially deadly West African disease, has made it to America.  It was only a matter of time. We live in a globally connected world. People travel. Diseases travel with them.

The spread of Ebola may have been preventable though. One of the reasons it go out of control is because the country it is  ravishing (Liberia) has no central government organized well enough to control it.

Yes, Liberia has a government. According to Wikipedia, it is run as a constitutional republic.  But Wikipedia also lists Somalia as being parliamentary republic.

Having a government doesn’t mean your government has the ability to do things.  In the case of Liberia, the government had no ability to enforce let alone create quarantines. It had no ability to provide an education campaign to help people whose family members have Ebola understand how not to contract it or spread it to others. It couldn’t even provide hospitals and doctors and nurses to staff them and care for patients.

In other words, while Liberia isn’t exactly a failed state, it is a very weak state.  And weak states do not have the “will, reach or capacity to control the public health.” And that’s a problem for all of us. 

Every single human on the planet is made less safe by the absence of strong states.

Consider this article about the infestation of polio from Pakistan –   According to this article –  not only is the rate of polio infection rising, “The viral strain from the country (Pakistan) has also been found in sewers as far as Israel, Syria and Palestine– all countries that had successfully eliminated the disease. To date 80 percent of global cases according to WHO are said to originate in Pakistan and it holds the dubious distinction of being one of three countries exporting polio.”

So why is Pakistan’s response to polio such a problem?  Two reasons. First, the government isn’t very interested in public health matters or in things like education. And even if they were interested, they don’t have the infrastructure or capability of vaccinating all the children of Pakistan against this preventable disease.  Second, the social services in the country are largely provided by private religious groups who are spreading misinformation about vaccines, telling people that western vaccines are a way to sterilize Muslims. In other words – Pakistan has its own religiously based anti-vax movement.

To quote the article, “the number of children succumbing to this paralyzing disease has been the result of misinformation spread by these people who preach religion as a defense against medicines, and the failure of the state to use its resources effectively to counter this narrative.”

Failed or weak states aren’t just a problem for the people who live within its borders; they also represent a very real security threat to all the other countries of the earth as the citizens of those states travel and spread disease.

The solution to this problem is not to become xenophobic and close our borders.

It is impossible to isolate people. And since it is impossible, our best defense is to provide humanitarian aid.  The good news is that the provision of humanitarian aid is also compassionate and therefore consistent with pretty much every single moral code on the planet.

The humanist and therefore humanitarian solution is to strengthen the response to these health crisis through international cooperation and support so that if a state is weak or failed, basic health care services that prevent disease transmission can be shored up by the international community to not only help the citizens of that country, but to also protect the rest of us from disease transmission. 

The success of such intervention is entirely dependent on the willingness of the state (such as it is) to allow international assistance.  And that depends on our ability to counter extreme religious narratives against medical intervention.  And that’s where Humanism comes in.

It’s not just the failed or weakened state where extreme religious views prevent medical care from occurring. It’s also extreme religious views in the US that prevent us from mobilizing to provide needed medical help. 

In order to have a rational and compassionate and therefore effective approach to the problem of transnational disease transmission, we have to start countering the extreme religious narratives that are at once, anti-medicine, anti-science, and anti-transnational cooperation.

We have to convince people that there is no us vs. them. There is just us: the human family, inhabiting this spaceship we call earth.  We have to convince people that science really can help and that unnecessary suffering and death is not noble, it’s stupid. We have to convince people that they don’t have to be victims of fate, they can, if they want to, improve their lives and the lives of those around them. In short, we have to teach people, regardless of their religious background, the value of taking a Humanist or humanistic approach to life.

We have to do this with compassion.

Only with compassion can we counter the fear and misinformation that is being spread by extreme faith leaders. The stakes are too high to do anything else.