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Jean Ziegler: Hatred of the West - interview with BASTA!

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Crossposted with Axis of Logic

This interview by Agnàs Rousseaux and Alexandro Rosinha was published by the French information web site BASTA! [2] on January 27, 2009.
It is based on Jean Ziegler's latest book "Hatred of the West" (La Haine de l'Occident - Albin Michel, October, 2008)

Jean Ziegler
[1], one of the leading proponents in the world today for justice and the right to food and human dignity for all people, reaches out in particular to the poverty-stricken people in the South. He has been leading a passionate fight over the past few decades against the appalling callousness and blindness of the West, the greed of multinational corporations that run the global financial system of the world. Their only interest is squeezing out maximum profit at the expense of the millions of starving people in the world (Excerpt from the interview: "923 million people, almost one in six people on the planet, is permanently and seriously undernourished, mutilated, rendered invalid by hunger and undernourishment").

For more information about Jean Ziegler, see " Empire of Shame'. A Conversation with Jean Ziegler (Mar 27, 2005) (L'Empire de la honte Fayard, 2005)

Jean Ziegler : I want to contribute to the awakening of the conscience of the West

Jean Ziegler is a rebel. After having been the Special Rapporteur to the United Nations for the Right to Food from 2000 to 2008, he is now the vice-president of the Advisory Council of Human Rights. He has just published "Hatred of the West." An essay that analyzes the claims of the South, tired of being dominated and exploited by the North. With his usual frankness, Jean Ziegler calls for a radical rethinking of what he calls "neoliberal obscurantism."

Jean Ziegler - Biography

Basta! You talk in your book of schizophrenia in the West. The European Union defends the right to food while also organizing the dumping of agricultural products through its export subsidies. The crisis we are currently experiencing has shown how it is possible to raise billions of euros to save banks, while money is missing when it comes to solving the problem of hunger. Doesn't this crisis help to highlight the hypocrisy of the West, and thus further weaken its credibility in what we call "the South' (the poor and so-called developing nations)?

Jean Ziegler:
On the one hand, there is real suffering in the West. Beginning last August [of 2008], every day in the United States 10,000 families are evicted from their homes for example. Thousands and thousands of pension funds traded in the U.S. were went up in smoke, generating anxiety for the future. Here in Europe unemployment rises, state tax revenues are decreasing, social injustice and employment insecurity are progressing very rapidly. Thus in the West, we must realize, there is real suffering as a result of this crisis - suffering which we can not minimize.

But, obviously, the most appalling tragedy is taking place in the 122 countries of "the South' [the developing nations]. There are 6.3 billion human beings on the Earth. 4.8 billion, that is to say two thirds, live in one of the 122 countries of the Southern Hemisphere. Every five seconds a child under 10 dies from hunger. 100,000 people die each day from hunger or its immediate aftermath. 923 million people, almost one in six people on the planet, are permanently and seriously undernourished, mutilated, rendered invalid by hunger and undernourishment. [3] This slaughter will increase.

There is an absolute scandal we have to be aware of: the fact that the West, which dominates the world's capitalist system, finds the means to raise hundreds of billions of dollars to save, to stabilize its financial markets and banks, but can not find the little money it would take to eradicate hunger in the world. I'll give you an example: On October 12, 2008, the Heads of State of 15 countries that share the Euro, the 27 countries that make up the European Union, got together under the chairmanship of Ms Merkel and Mr Sarkozy at the Elysà e Palace in Paris. In 3 hours and 30 minutes, they released 1.7 trillion dollars to improve the European banks' lending capacity and to raise the level of auto-financing for those banks from 3 to 5%. The fact is that the UN has said that eradicating world hunger, eliminating the massacre of hunger, would cost 21 billion dollars over five years,
less than one percent of the amount given to the banks amount. (emphasis by translator)

At the UN I very often watch what is called "pledging conferences", that is to say the meetings where the World Food Programme, UNICEF, FAO, etc. come with their programs, meet with ambassadors of countries in distress and say: "For Darfur, we have so many millions for the next three months fur the purpose of, for instance, keeping 2.2 million people alive, who are camped in 17 camps - all due to the terrible genocide which has been going on for 3 years in western Sudan. And very regularly, since the beginning of the crisis, Western ambassadors have given the reply: "We have no money."

Result: Even as we speak, in Darfur, the World Food Programme (WFP) is distributing rations to adults of 1,500 calories a day, while the subsistence minimum is 2200 calories per day. The UN, lacking money, simply for lack of money, can not properly feed - according to international law, to what the international conventions for refugees would require - the 2.2 million adults and children who are herded into these camps, the displaced people in Darfur or in other refugee camps in Chad and the Central African Republic.

There is a daily massacre of hunger, which is met by all Western governments with an ice cold sense of normalcy, in full view of everyone. Western public opinion says "you have no money, so unfortunately these people will die. They die, it is dramatic, but true. And so we find billions and billions of dollars, 1700000000000, released in 3 hours and 30 minutes on a Sunday afternoon at the Elysà e Palace last October 12, for interbank lending, that is to say, to make up a bit for the appalling evil that these predators and speculators, these criminal handlers of the international capital, have imposed on the economic system of our country. So it's totally absurd, and we need an insurrection, a world-wide awakening of people's conscience.

Basta: The latest FAO report, dated November 2008 shows an increase in the number of people who are starving or severely undernourished. They currently count close to one billion. It seems that in our society, these figures no longer cause any reaction. What is there today that can still arouse real indignation?

There is a problem: it is structural violence. Jean-Paul Sartre said: "To love people, we must truly detest the things that oppress them." The children of Darfur, Niger, Bangladesh and Gaza - since this is the appalling devastation caused by the Israelis against the civilian population of Gaza, in total disregard of the European Union, with the blessing of the new President Obama who was taken for an apostle of international morality it is true that these children do not die on Piccadilly Circus, in Berlin or on the Champs-Elysà es. They are not visible. And the French president, the German chancellor, or the British prime minister merely go on dealing with their constituents. This is normal in a democracy: their purpose is to stabilize the banks, they take care to bail out their automobile industries etc. These are not voters, children dying of hunger in Mongolia, in Bangladesh and Guatemala. They do not count politically in this system of structural violence.

What is left? It is the moral imperative that is inside us, in each one of us. France is a very old and living democracy which has flaws, but the flow of information, human rights, freedom of expression and organization are fully guaranteed. However, in a democracy, there is no excuse for doing nothing. There is no such thing as inability to act in a democracy. It is the responsibility of the civil society, of citizens, of the inhabitants of these democracies, to rise up and to use all the democratic means we have - and they are huge in its ways: elections, demonstrations.

There exists a public check on the governments, on behalf of those children who die of hunger in the other half of the world, and whom we represent, not in terms of one ideology or another, but according to the categorical imperative that is inside each one of us, to insist on the cancellation of Third World debts, the end of agricultural dumping by the European Union on African agricultural markets, the end of agro-fuels [burning food to make fuel for cars while children are dying of hunger], ending market speculation, with futures on agricultural commodities. We are the ones who can enforce this. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher, said: "The inhumanity imposed on others destroys the humanity in me." It is perfectly obvious.

Basta: Faced with these facts, what do we do? You said you do not believe in "the conversion of the powerful." From January 27 to February 1, 2009 the World Social Forum is taking place in Belà m in Brazil. What can we expect? Where can any change come from?

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Siv O'Neall was born and raised in Sweden where she graduated from Lund University. She has lived in Paris, France and New Rochelle, N.Y. and traveled extensively throughout the U.S, Europe, and other continents, including several trips to (more...)

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