According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, around 5 million people in Syria live in cities under siege (by rebels or the government) or in areas that are difficult to access. And not just in the city of Aleppo. PHOTO: EBC

*By João Alberto Alves Amorim

I could start this text by pointing out the proximity of the end of the year, a period in which, once again, we surrender to the most varied consumerist feasts that these days have become, or, still, any other reference that hooks your attention focused on the themes Christmas and festive.

It could also make use of the most common tags and the most widespread themes and buzzwords – consciously or unconsciously – through social networks, with Christmas mottos or end-of-year reflections, yearnings for peace, prosperity and joy. But, I will start this text in another way, suggesting a reflection: Do you know who you are? Or, more simply and directly, who are you? The question, despite what it may seem, is neither simple nor easy. On the contrary. You will find that it is an extremely uncomfortable question. Especially if I tell you that the answer must be given without mentioning your name, your family ancestry, your profession, your address, your physical attributes or any other extrinsic characteristic.

It is usually the first question I ask my students when I begin to explain fundamental issues in human rights theory, such as the concept of human dignity. I let the students reflect for a few minutes and then I ask them (and I ask you, now) if they know the words to Chico Buarque's song Geni and the Zeppelin (all lyrics, of course, not just the chorus). You know? Most of the time, the answer to these two provocations is silence. Not just any silence, but one that reveals the discomfort of those who keep silent, that makes them restless, as if something were turning their insides.

Basically, the motto of this first class is to induce, even if only at that moment, the awakening of empathy. It is to create the conditions for those people, through these small inductions (and, of course, the rest of the classroom context) to wake up from indifference, to feel the fragility of the security they think they enjoy, to put themselves in the place of those we so easily refer to, when we need to exemplify inhumane conditions of existence, and notice, for example, the ubiquitous social hypocrisy and the nuances of speeches and promises carried through it, as in what they did to poor Geni. The verb head is exactly this: awakening.

Everyday we are stupefied by a mass cultural system that, in its almost totality, produces alienation masked by information, acculturation disguised as erudition and conservatism, and intellectual narrowing masked by freedom and breadth of horizons. Just before this point, I ask you again: Who are you?

It is not uncommon to hear that the cause for a multitude of serious social problems and issues in Brazil is education. More precisely, the lack of it. On the one hand, it is undeniable that Brazil is a deeply divided and unequal country in terms of education (or lack thereof). The overwhelming majority of the population does not have access to quality education and the minority that do not know very well, do not want to know or are angry with those who know, what to do with it.

But despite the lack of education being the usual suspect more common and frequent in conversation circles, Brazil is not a country that values, values ​​or invests in education. Not even a considerable portion of the population – despite the beautiful discourse of the conversation circles – is committed to or desirous of improving real education and, above all, the sacrifices and efforts involved in such evolution. And even if that were not the case, is the problem as simple as the much-vaunted “lack of manners”? Same? Isn't the issue a little deeper than that?

Ain Al-Hilweh Refugee Camp, Lebanon. PHOTO: UNHCR


You, who read me now and had access to education, to the educational system, have access to various sources of information, that is, you are part of the small portion of the population that had access to education, especially at the university level, which you have done to , effectively improve the social issues of the country, your city, your neighborhood, your street, your building (or, at least, not make the same “mistakes” of the majority who did not have access to “education”)?

We are a country that, in fact, does not value education. At least, not real education, which empowers, which frees. We prefer things to come to us easily. We dream of success and glory, of wealth and luxury, but we simply want such things to happen, like winning the lottery or being discovered by an unknown producer while sitting in a square or a bar. Although we are aware of the need to educate ourselves in a liberating way, we end up being victims of a practically omnipresent educational system that formats and trains, instead of teaching, that narrows vision and thinking, instead of expanding it.

Obviously there are exceptions to this general rule. But they are very few and practically inaccessible to almost all mortals in this country. Oh, one thing, have you managed to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this text? No? Within this cultural context of unacknowledged aversion to education, there is the issue of information diffusion and its processing.

For many centuries, one of the most common and efficient ways that the Catholic Church and the kings used to spread their teachings and their versions of the facts, especially for the illiterate population, was painting. Those who could not read and write, who could not understand the Latin Masses, gazed in wonder at the beautiful images and prodigious explanations of the priests and others in charge of spreading the desired version of the facts by those in power.

Through imagery representations, the simplest and most illiterate could understand the mysteries of faith, the reasons for their sufferings and trials and, above all, the fate of sinners, of those who rebelled against the will of God. It is not by chance that two of the greatest virtues that a poor servant, exploited, enslaved, without any perspective in the face of suffering, must cultivate are humility and resignation. Accepting the social condition, suffering the martyrdoms of this life, to gain, through this atonement, the kingdom of heaven, has always been a powerful message of social control, propagated until the present day, in the most varied ways.

In the XNUMXth century, we had radio and television, especially for the mass of people who either could not read or write, or, knowing that, were simply not willing to do so. We are today in Brazil, probably, the fourth generation of people raised in front of the television. Regardless of whether we were born in small pockets of tranquility or in large areas with no tranquility at all, we are a society that, for the most part, has become accustomed to being widely entertained and “educated” by television.

And today, in the XNUMXst century, we also have the internet! This spectacular tool that allows us to literally live in a world that turns notions of time and space upside down, which has enormous potential to equalize inequalities and truly promote democratic inclusion. But that also has its metadata collection mechanisms, which record our tastes, our preferences, our affections, our sensitivities, and convert them into offers, news, information, images and profiles selected to “please” us.

Some say there are already programs built into smartphones that “record” keywords from your conversations and turn them into metadata for the market.

Some say there are already programs built into smartphones that “record” keywords from your conversations and turn them into metadata for the market. Whether this is true or not, it is a fact that we live in a reality where browsing the internet has become a great and laborious adventure in selecting and evaluating the quality and veracity of the information we receive.

From the search “suggestions” that are provided by Google, while you are typing what you are actually looking for, to the news and pop-ups that appear on news portals and social media timelines, through the ads that pop up on websites. you browse, we are bombarded by an avalanche of information carefully chosen by algorithms that are based on information collected from ourselves. In the midst of this, they are also selected, by programs or by news agencies that centralize, according to their own business interests, information about what is happening in the world.

It is a gigantic amount of information that, due to its speed and quantity, ends up becoming impossible to process. Perhaps that is why, in the information age, it is so difficult to find a truly informed person.

Can you, who have studied a lot, guarantee the reliability of your sources of information? What have you been sharing on your social media? What newspapers or news sites do you follow? Do you hear dissent? Reflect on it? The risk, in the midst of the speed and profusion of information, of coming across something that is not true, or that hides malicious interests, is very great.

It is very easy, nowadays, to "viralize" indignations and demonstrations against this or that absurdity, against/in favor of this or that person, to engage in the most varied campaigns - even antagonistic - in the virtual world, but increasingly difficult to mobilize, to leave the house, to act outside the computer and the limits of the television screen and the circle of friends that give us the protection of thinking the same way we do.

Perhaps this is the reason why we see so many virtual indignant about hunger, misery, racism, poverty, violence, machismo, homophobia, corruption, lack of health, poor education, and so many other issues, and so few people acting effectively in the real world to eliminate such situations. Remember the question I asked at the beginning of this text: who are you?

It could be that the processing and industrial exploitation of the metadata trade is one of the main reasons why #we are allchape or we were all Charlie some time ago and we are not all Aleppo or Syria or the Democratic Republic of Congo or Yemen, or Chad, or the refugees who die in the waters of the Mediterranean, or even let us not be all the children who sleep on the street on the corner of your house, or in the center of your city.

I am not comparing or classifying tragedies. That's not what this is about. But it seems strange to me that so many mobilize (at least virtually) for Paris, for the cartoonists of Charlie Hebdo, for the dead in Nice, for the athletes of Chapecoense, for those who were run over in Berlin, here and in the rest of the world, and so few (even virtually) are moved by similar situations and tragedies, or of greater proportions, especially humanitarian crises, which kill thousands of innocent people, which victimize civilians in cowardly terrorist attacks, which make millions of people abandon their homes, which they condemn to death by starvation, by easily treatable diseases, by contamination caused by economic greed.

In the time you're reading these lines, hundreds of children have died from hunger, on a planet that produces enough food for more than twice the population it harbors, or from diseases that could be prevented with penny vaccines. Even though it doesn't appear on your timeline, at this very moment (and for many years now) hundreds of thousands of people are at the mercy of humanitarian crises in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, Chad, Nigeria, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine, Mali, and mainly in Syria. Most of them, fueled by heavy economic (oil, metals, water, land) and geostrategic interests that move and sponsor the high standard of social well-being of the great global powers.

Five years ago, we watched unafraid a sequence of absurdities and crimes against humanity perpetrated in Syria, with millions of refugees and internally displaced people, hundreds of thousands dead. According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, around 5 million people in Syria live in cities under siege (by rebels or the government) or in areas that are difficult to access. And not just in the city of Aleppo.

Despite Aleppo's omnipresence in our TV news and in our timelines, and the amateur and autobiographical videos, mainly of women and children, that reach us daily (many without being able to prove their authenticity), Aleppo is not the only city under siege, nor in conflict, in a country devastated by war. It is not even a city that has been completely under the control of military groups that oppose the Assad government, as the western part of the city has always been controlled by the government and what has recently been retaken by the government is the eastern part.

When news comes from Aleppo, we need to be careful, for example, to identify whether we are referring to the city or the province, both of which have the same name. The humanitarian crisis in Syria, in human terms, is of gigantic dimensions, but it is also an information war, where each interested side seeks to capitalize more and sell “their fish” better. And in the midst of this crossfire of bombs, bullets and information is the civilian population.

Some blame the Assad government and its main allies, including Russia and Iran, for the genocide and the humanitarian catastrophe plaguing Syria. Others blame the US and its allies in the region and Europe for yet another imperialist intervention and humanitarian crisis. There are also those who point to the failure of the UN and its doctrine of Responsibility to Protect in yet another humanitarian catastrophe.

What most people don't see is that, regardless of the side you sympathize with or choose to support, regardless of the side you consider the winner, or the selected themes that you accept to be touched and moved by, the truth is one: the big loser in Syria, and in all the forgotten regions and humanitarian crises of the planet, as well as in the corner of your house, is Humanity itself.

And this is not just about Syria. The defeat of our Humanity stems from the torpor from which we refuse to wake up. The same trance that leaves us inert in relation to the humanitarian tragedies in Syria, Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti, the Central African Republic, Nigeria, Iraq, Palestine, in the territories dominated by the Islamic State, by Al -Qaida, by the paramilitaries in Colombia, is what makes us indifferent, or manipulable, in relation to urban violence; that mobilizes us against the reduction of speed limits on the marginals of the city of São Paulo, or on the streets of the country's big cities, but does not stop us from mixing alcohol and driving; which makes us indignant about the corruption of members of a certain party, but does not shake us in relation to the even greater corruption of those who illegitimately took power; that makes us cry for a hungry child in Africa, but doesn't make us buy a snack from a bakery for a hungry child, who challenges us in the street we walk on.

Therein lies the defeat of our Humanity. But this subject has not yet appeared – and, perhaps, will not appear – in your timeline, nor in the headlines of the main news or soap operas on television. Maybe you think: This is not me. It might be. But, after all, who are you?

PS: At this time of year, while many are basking in the sound of traditional Jingle-Bells, or even Simone's music, I always remember the song Do They Know Its Christmas, recorded by a collective of British artists, in 1984, which was called Band Aid (Ajuda das Bandas, in free translation) and from where I got the title of this text you just read.

They were successful artists in the 80s, Sting (recently released from The Police), Bono Vox, Phil Collins, Boy George, George Michael, Spandau Ballet, Duran Duran, among others, all led by Bob Geldof. The song was recorded to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia and neighboring countries, so the big headline in the world's major newspapers and the ubiquitous humanitarian crisis in the media at that time, at a time when the internet didn't even dream of being born, didn't we had cell phones, no cable TV, let alone real-time global coverage.

Released at Christmas of that year (along with the video), it sold millions, raised a considerable amount of money and inspired other similar movements, most notably USA for Africa, led by Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones and Harry Belafonte (who recorded the song We are the World), as well as leading to Live-Aid concerts the following year.

Do They Know its Christmas it is a very beautiful song, with strong lyrics, which draws attention to the disparity between the rich/consumer world, well fed and happy, and the poor, miserable world that we prefer not to see. I recommend that, in the interval between Simone's song and Roberto Carlos's special, you watch the video (search on YouTube), read the lyrics and their translation. Maybe you feel touched and emotional. Perhaps he will try to act differently. Or maybe just think, "Well, tonight, thank God is them, instead of you."

*João Alberto Alves Amorim holds a PhD in International Law from USP, professor of International Law and coordinator of the Sérgio Vieira de Mello Chair at the Federal University of São Paulo (Unifesp). He was a lawyer for the UNHCR and the Refugee Reference Center, of Cáritas Arquidiocesana de São Paulo.

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