When peaceful protesters are shot by dictatorial regimes, we may deplore the violence. But do our governments speak out for us? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Consider Yemen and Bahrain. What have we done to help? Who sold the dictatorial regimes the weapons they turned against their people? Who supported their decades-long rule in the name of 'stability'?
Why, to this day, do we, do our governments, act as if people in Bahrain and Yemen do not have the same right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that we have?
When residents of the Fukushima district must leave their ancestral land, never to return, is not this violence? When did their right to live on their lands become less important than the military-industrial complex's lust for nuclear energy? When did "probable safety" become an adequate measure of environmental impact?
When 14,000 barrels of oil spill into the Ecuadoran Amazon, sickening the residents and destroying a pristine environment; when lives and livelihoods are lost in Louisiana due to the BP Deepwater oil spill, is this not violence? Who decided that the lives of Shiwaiar tribes or Louisiana fishermen were of less value than oil profits?
When children in Kenya go without food and drinking water because of drought, is this not violence? Eight million in Somalia face death by starvation, a direct result of our emissions of greenhouse gases. It is easy to weep for the funerals of thirteen children killed by a gunman in Rio. Our capacity to weep fails us when faced with the enormity of the African famine, the death of children whose names we do not know, whose funerals we will never see on television.
As Jesus makes clear in the gospel, in the end we shall be judged not just for what we did, but also for what we did not do. "I was hungry and you did not feed me, naked and you did not clothe me... sick or in prison and you did not visit me." In the violence of omission and apathy, our faces appear more often than we imagine.The hungry we did nothing to feed have in some sense died by our hand. The protesters and political prisoners we do not speak out for will speak out in our hearts during our final hours.
The problems are overwhelming but the solutions are close at hand. By giving alms to organizations such as Oxfam, who both feed the hungry and tackle the roots of poverty through environmental advocacy, we can feed the hungry and clothe the naked. By using our right of free speech, and by supporting human rights organizations, we can speak our for protesters and political prisoners in Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and around the world. Violence has many faces. Le them not be our own.