P&I ISSUES in Stuart Rees’ Cruelty or Humanity , Bristol: Policy Press  2020

Regarded by international jurist Richard Falk as ‘A road map for humanity’ and by Noam Chomsky as ‘a wonderful guide to the challenges we face’, Stuart Rees’ ‘Cruelty or Humanity‘ identifies world-wide threats to freedom and democracy and displays the humanitarian alternatives.

Stuart Rees argues for courage in public life and for intellectual promiscuity, as in augmenting political analysis with poetry, shown in American poet William Stafford’s warning, ‘Sometimes commanders take us over and they try to impose their whole universe, how to proceed by daily calculation: I can’t eat that bread.’

Cruelty as policy

Swathes of evidence from democracies, dictatorships and theocracies show cruelty as a hub of domestic and foreign policies. States have stigmatised the other as unworthy: Indigenous people, unmarried mothers, non-believers, people of colour, dissidents, asylum seekers and refugees.

Cruel policies are maintained by deception and denial, as in claims by those who commit mass murder that they believe in human rights or, as in Syria or the US, using torture as a form of governance and claiming it’s legitimate.

From China to Australia, from Belarus to the US, the secret use of police and intelligence services to maintain state control highlights the dangers if this tyranny virus spreads.

Cruelty is also fostered by social and economic policies that sustain inequalities. Those who are poor, homeless, unemployed, or sick without access to health care, experience violence and a variety of controls that keep such people out of sight, out of mind.

Optimism from humanitarian alternatives

Humanitarian alternatives to cruelties depend on ‘a language for humanity’. That language re-emphasises the values of love, friendship, solidarity, satire, trust, plus a determination not to be cruel to future generations.

That language identifies the need for identities of self-respect without which there is little hope, as in the lives of besieged Palestinians, or the corralled Rohingya on a hillside in Bangladesh, or the despair of burned-out refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos.

Advocacy of humane governance emphasises that security depends not only on the abolition of poverty, hunger and homelessness, but also on combating climate change and ensuring nuclear disarmament.

Adherence to human rights remains a yardstick for civility and freedoms, but in every context such rights have to be redefined by insisting on what is just and never tolerating cruelties. To aid those goals, the philosophy and practice of non-violence is crucial.

Politics can be redefined by insisting that power be used only in non-destructive, life-enhancing ways. Non-abusive politics can occur in families, hence an end to domestic violence, in the work place as in outlawing managerialist practices, and in international relations by replacing confrontation with dialogue.

A priority in the language of humanity concerns interdependence and internationalism. We should not need the Covid-19 virus, or the violence inherent in inequalities, to be reminded of the vision of the 16th century poet John Donne: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.’

But we can heed Australian Aboriginal poet Oodgeroo Nunucaal:

‘I’m for human kind not colour gibes

I’m international, never mind tribes,

I’m international never mind place,

I’m for humanity, all one race.’

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Stuart Rees OAM is Professor Emeritus, University of Sydney, recipient of the Jerusalem (Akl Quds) Peace Prize and author of the new book “Cruelty or Humanity”, Bristol: Policy Press. A human rights activist, poet, novelist, and Founder Director of the Sydney Peace Foundation.

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