The Light of History: Reflections on Durban and September 11th

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1:00 pm

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development. Copyright © 2002 Society for International Development. SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), 1011-6370 (200206) 45:2; 76–79; 024393. NB When citing this article please use both volume and issue numbers.

SID On-line Dialogue

The Light of History: Reflections on Durban and September 11th1 LINDA BURNHAM

ABSTRACT Linda Burnham draws out the underlying messages we need to learn from Durban and from the US response to September 11th. While asking us to keep our hopes and our dreams for change, steady souls and spirits, she also asks us to pause at the history of racism and colonialism that is still informing our world. And turning to September 11th, she asks just how it was possible that it took only two weeks of the Twin Towers tragedy for the US airline industry to squeeze US$15 billion out of the federal budget. Tellingly, she asks just what could have been done with that US$15 billion towards solving the disease, poverty and insecurity of the world’s poor. KEYWORDS colonialism; hope; justice; peace; poverty; racism

The light of outrage is the light of history springing upon us when we’re least prepared. (Rich, 1991)

The UN World Conference Against Racism In many ways, the UN World Conference Against Racism seems like a lifetime ago. Those of us who participated in the conference did so in the hopes that we could help create new conditions, new understandings and new strategies for the struggle against racism. That we could help move the international community another step forward in its fitful efforts to eradicate racism, ethnic conflict and xenophobia. Our time in South Africa was intense and we came home intending to work together to evaluate what was gained and what was lost, and to share our rich experiences with all of you here at home. Instead, we, along with the rest of the world, were overtaken by the horrific, unconscionable acts of 19 desperate and murderous men. The light of history did indeed spring upon us when we were least prepared, and the shape of the world shifted dramatically on that September morning.

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Burnham: The Light of History The UN Conference was rapidly overshadowed, relegated to a dim, possibly irrelevant preSeptember 11th past. For the US delegation, part of the struggle to find our bearings in these deeply unsettling times has been to cull some of the lessons of Durban and link them, as best we can, to current circumstances. Lessons from Durban If it was about anything, Durban was about how the past bears down upon the present, about how unevenly the weight of history is borne. The battle over reparations was central. It widened out from compensatory measures for descendants of the African slave trade in the Americas – an issue that made its way in from the outer margins of political discourse due principally to the dogged persistence of African American activists in the USA – to include the full legacy of colonialism in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, the C