Poverty is Terrorism

If our "mega-cities" coverage in this issue doesn’t convince our readers and the substantial audience of international politicians and journalists also receiving it that the world has much bigger problems on its hands than terrorism, then I don’t know what will. On September 11, 2001 some 3,000 people died in one single savage act in one day. Yet around the world 10 times that many children die in one day, every day.

Where are the troops fighting to end this? Where are the yellow ribbon magnets adorning American gas-guzzlers, cheering efforts to send food, provide aid, relieve debt and depose the dictators who deliver us this evil? Indeed, where were we in Rwanda when a blatant form of genocide was taking place? And where are we now in Darfur where genocide will also soon claim one million lives? If there are troops and journalists to send, should they not be dispatched to places like these, where we don’t need phantom WMDs and imagined terrorist connections? Poverty, and the officials who allow it to persist, make for the worst form of sustained terrorism.

The appalling realities seem to continue without end. The $15 million the U.S. first offered for tsunami relief was less than the planned cost of the impending inaugural. And where was George W. Bush during the recent G-8 meetings? When he wasn’t blocking progress on global warming, he was refusing to agree to a modest plan promoted by Britain’s Tony Blair that would have committed the partners to spending 0.7 percent of national income on foreign aid by 2015. The U.S. currently commits only 0.16 percent of the national income, the smallest percentage of any G-8 country.

And I’m afraid a rock concert every 20 years isn’t enough. Perhaps what we need instead are a thousand "town criers" like Bob Barker, the venerable game show host who closes every Price is Right with an admonition to "spay or neuter your pet." If we ended every TV broadcast, from Good Morning America to Six Feet Under, with "every day 35 million children die of extreme poverty" or "the average per capita yearly income in Sri Lanka is $880," or "the infant mortality rate per 1,000 live births in Angola is 187," this apathetic (and often selfish) country might finally come to realize how the other half lives.

We can’t keep getting richer while the rest of the world keeps getting poorer and have our only response be exploitation: sending jobs there only when we can profit here by paying below-living wages; sending troops only when there is an opportunity to control oil reserves; and then failing to use our vast economic power—much of which has been obtained illegally and immorally—to help free them from their hellish existences.

In the recent HBO film, The Girl in the Café, a young woman finds herself at a fictional G-8 summit as a guest of the British delegation. She becomes increasingly outspoken—and increasingly unwelcome—as she tries to persuade the world leaders in the room to take strong action to end poverty. When it comes to light that she had recently spent time in jail, she is asked why. "I hurt a man who hurt a child," she answers. "Your child?" she is asked. "Does it matter whose child it was?" she replies. Amen.