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What Promised Land?

14 October 2014

From Mankind's beginning until today, he has roamed ceaselessly all over this planet. The reasons are many. In the hunter-gatherer days, people followed the great herds of animals that provided them with food, clothing, and tools, and other necessities of life. Escaping from a hostile climate, a natural catastrophe, religious or political persecution, an invading army, or simply for curiosity, have all contributed to mankind's travels. This aspect of human behaviour has been constant and present-day technology has increased that trait.

By the end of 2013, 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced due to war, persecution, violence, and human rights violations according to the recent report issued by The United Nations High Commission for Refugees. This is six million more than the previous year when there were 45.2 million displaced persons in the world. In what must qualify as a masterpiece of understatement, UN Commissioner, Antonio Gutteres, said, "The world has shown a limited capacity to prevent conflicts and to find a timely solution for them." To top himself in stating the obvious in an eloquent manner, Gutteres continued, "Today, we not only have an absence of a global governance system, but we have a sort of an unclear sense of power in the world." This was said in Beirut on June 20th when the global report was issued. The increase is largely the result of Syria's civil war. By the end of 2013, 2.5 million Syrians had become refugees in other countries and 6.5 million had been displaced within Syria, the UN agency said.

The numbers have been swelled by people escaping conflicts and persecution in the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Forty-two thousand people have fled to Italy in the first four months of 2014 said a spokesperson for The European Union's Border Agency, Frontex. The majority comes in overcrowded, and hence dangerous, boats. As one escapee said, "There were fifty-six of us on a boat made to carry twenty, but no one complained." Those bound for Greece have to stay below deck in almost suffocating conditions for fear the Greek coast guard will see them and be turned back - shades of the "Exodus" or the slave trade ships proving that nothing changes under capitalism.

Obviously, some do not make the crossing alive. In fact, 170 died at sea trying to reach Europe this year and 366 migrants died off the coast of Italy last autumn. Many who reach Italy are from Libya and intend to head to other destinations in the EU causing problems for the various states where they settle regarding housing and employment. The most terrible aspect of this matter is the treatment of refugees in Libyan detention centers, who are waiting for boats to take them to Italy. There are nineteen such centers run by the Libyan government, that hold anywhere between one thousand and six thousand people. Human Rights Watch (HRW) was allowed to send researchers into nine of them and interview 138 detainees, 100 of whom reported some form of torture.

Refugees were hung upside down from trees and whipped. Migrant women and girls were strip-searched and violated. Dozens were crammed into tiny cells with blocked and overflowing toilets. Boys as young as fourteen told researchers from HRW that they were regularly assaulted by being beaten with iron rods or rifle butts, whipped with cables and hoses, burned by cigarettes, kicked and punched, shot with tasers, probed with electric shocks, and hung upside down and beaten. Researchers found up to sixty men and boys crammed into rooms as small as thirty square metres. They also found refugees in shipping containers.

"We were shocked at the level of extreme violence used by the guards on defenceless migrants and asylum seekers," said Hanan Salah, a researcher for HRW in Tripoli. "The stench, filth, and overcrowding in some of the detention facilities, were almost unbearable at times," she continued, adding HRW personnel, "found rampant illtreatment, torture, and unfavourable conditions for men, women, and children in all nine of the Centres visited."

Some of the violence was a form of punishment for attempts to flee, but mostly there was, "no apparent reason for it," said Ms. Salam. Her suggestion is that Italy and the EU, that financially support many of the detention centers and, in fact, have a budget of twelve million euros for the next four years, should, "Immediately suspend all aid until the Libyan authorities launch an investigation into these abuses and the UN is able to verify they have been stopped." As terrible as this is and as urgent the need to terminate it, the plain, brutal fact is that as long as capitalism lasts, there will always be human rights abuses. As normal as it is for people to flee oppression, the conditions that make that necessary will always be with us under capitalism. Some of the Jews who perished in Nazi Germany had gone there years before to escape the pogroms in Poland and Russia. These conditions are built into the system of inequality and antagonism that is capitalism.

It may well be that many who are now fleeing countries in turmoil were patriotic in that country before any trouble started and some may even wonder if there is any country where one can feel safe. The answer is "Not permanently." Nor can it be argued that these types of abuses do not happen under democratically elected governments. The World Socialist Movement has clearly and consistently shown that such governments are sometimes as brutal as dictatorships when dealing with opposition to their authority or that of the interests of capital. The genocide of North America's aboriginal people stands as a prime example.

One may like many things about one's country but liking a land should never be confused with liking a political system. Every country is a means by which the few live at the expense of the many. The need to capture raw materials and access markets inevitably force competing sections of the capitalist class to war. Furthermore, even those who do succeed in ridding themselves of an oppressive government, such as was the case in the Arab Spring, simply wish for a continuation of the status quo as far as economic systems are concerned. This is why The World Socialist Movement states that a class- conscious majority must be the vehicle to rid the world of inequality and human rights abuses.

In a socialist society where the production of wealth will be for the benefit of all humanity and where all stand equal in relation to the means of production, there will be no reasons to go to war over resources or markets. Similarly, the abuse of human rights and the myriad of other problems that the system of private ownership brings would be a thing of the past. Perhaps nobody said it better than Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator, "You, the people have the power to make life free and beautiful, to make life a wonderful adventure." We say, then, that it is time to organize and bring that situation to reality.

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