My usual listening at work every day is KSKA-FM, Anchorage’s public radio station. Today it’s full of news of last night’s earthquake in Haiti. Twitter, too, has been full of news of the quake and — more importantly — what we can do to help.
President Obama made a statement this morning—
At the time I visited, the most recent comment on the video above, from user Gorilla396, read:
I was waiting for him to say, “Just another billion dollars, no biggy, right?” The U.S. gov’t needs to stop spending money in other counrties that will never be able to pay it back or return the favor. When are we as a country gonna stop being the “Emergency Services” of the world? He seems to forget or not care that he has spent trillions of dollars already. Just another counrty we shouldn’t be in.
But see Renard Sexton’s article today at FiveThirtyEight.com about the U.S.’s relationship to Haiti, which includes a history of occupation & interventionism for the protection of American business interests. We continue to have an economic relationship with Haiti:
Today, the U.S. remains the largest trade destination for Haitian goods (more than 70 percent of exports), while imports from the United States (34 percent) are even higher than Haiti’s next door neighbor, the Dominican Republic (23 percent). U.S. official aid to the country is quite significant (USD 260 million according to OECD DAC), though quite variable, with large spikes during Operation Uphold Democracy in 1994 and 1995, and a tripling of aid from 2004 to 2008, after the 2004 coup that threw President Jean-Bertrand Aristide out of power for the last time. [Ref #1]
I’m proud that my president and my nation is stepping up to the plate. Besides, it’s not as if the U.S. is the only nation working to bring aid to Haiti in a time of such desperate need — Wikipedia editors, in the Wikipedia article on the quake, have been keeping track of the numerous countries & organizations which are working to render assistance . There are also lots of international organizations seeking to bring aid. Public Radio International’s program “The World” has compiled a list of reliable aid organizations that you can donate to. (But beware of scammers.) I donated to the International Response Fund of the American Red Cross, which has already pledged $1 million to Haiti relief.
Christianist lackwit Pat Robertson, in one of his typical & predictable damn them when they’re down/blame the victim statements, claimed in a broadcast of the “700 Club” this morning that Haiti “swore a pact to the devil” in order to free themselves of French colonial rule, and that as a result “they have been cursed by one thing after the other” ever since. [Ref #2] Yep, just like the residents of New Orleans brought Hurricane Katrina on themselves too.
This is the kind of bastardization of history — not to mention lack of compassion — one can always expect from a Christianist like Robertson. This is their simplistic & immature response to the problem of evil in the world — what in theology is called theodicy, which attempts to reconcile the belief in God with the existence of evil, whether moral or physical. Like Job’s comforters in the biblical Book of Job, Robertson’s kneejerk response is to blame any harm that befalls a person or an entire nation on that person or nation (or their ancestors). But remember: the Voice in the Whirlwind rebuked Job’s comforters, & vindicated Job:
[T]he Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends: for ye have not spoken of me [the thing that is] right, as my my servant Job [hath]. [Job 42.7, KJV]
I recommend that Pat Robertson take note. And shut the frak up.
Thank goodness for all those Christians who really are Christians, & give their money to relief efforts instead of creeps like Robertson. Thank goodness that most people of faith throughout the world believe in something other than the Big Bully in the Sky God of Robertson & his ilk — a god which by Robertson’s own account is capable of committing greater cruelties & evils against large populations than the “devil” simply because (supposedly) their ancestors fought off another (no doubt Big Bully in the Sky God-sanctioned) evil — such the French-imposed slavery that ended in Haiti with the Haitian Revolution (1701–1804).
Steve Aufrecht at What Do I Know? gives another reason than Wrath of the Big Bully in the Sky God for high Haitian casualties:
Wrath of God or lack of adequate building standards?
God is one of the stories people use to explain how the earth works. “Government is evil” is another story that people use to explain things. Another story we can use is that much of what government does is invisible and we don’t notice it until it isn’t working. Zoning rules, including building standards, are often seen as one of the evils of government. People resent government rules that say they can’t build a house the way they want or that they have to use a method that will increase the costs considerably. And sometimes general rules sometimes don’t make sense in specific situations and there are cases of corrupt building inspectors.
But Port-au-Prince’s apparent devastation compared to San Francisco’s relatively minor damage shows how science and government can set standards for construction, which, if enforced, save lives. As individuals we are always tempted to cut corners when our dollars don’t match our desires, but the law encourages us to use methods that were developed with potential disasters (fires, hurricanes, as well as earthquakes) in mind. Again, I realize these rules are not perfect and as the science improves old methods get changed. And humans who enforce the rules aren’t necessarily consistent or honest. But looking at the difference between the damage in Haiti in 2010 and in San Francisco shows the value good, well enforced, building codes make. The low death toll in San Francisco is, in part, a result of one of the invisible roles government plays in our lives when it is working right. [Ref #3]
Now, that makes a lot of sense. Haiti’s people need help in the form of humanitarian relief to recover from the immediate effects of the quake; but also to establish and maintain a government that is responsible to its people & its needs — including good building codes.
Meanwhile, visit at least one of those reliable aid organizations I already mentioned and pony up.
And with regard to theodicy, remember again the lessons of Job & the Voice from the Whirlwind: bad things sometimes do happen to good people. Celebrate the goodness of the Haitian people, & help them.
A special shout-out to my friend Lynne, who lived in Haiti for a time & knows this.
Matthew Yglesias unpacks Pat Robertson’s religious bias & ignorance of history:
[T]he Haitian Revolution began in 1791, years before Napoleon took over France as Consul. Napoleon III didn’t come to power until 1848. So clearly Robertson is confused on the basic history. But I believe that Robertson is referring to the Bois Caïman Ceremony that in Haitian national mythology initiated the revolution. This was a Vodou ceremony and the following text is normally attributed to its leader, Boukman:
The god who created the earth; who created the sun that gives us light. The god who holds up the ocean; who makes the thunder roar. Our God who has ears to hear. You who are hidden in the clouds; who watch us from where you are. You see all that the white has made us suffer. The white man’s god asks him to commit crimes. But the god within us wants to do good. Our god, who is so good, so just, He orders us to revenge our wrongs. It’s He who will direct our arms and bring us the victory. It’s He who will assist us. We all should throw away the image of the white men’s god who is so pitiless. Listen to the voice for liberty that speaks in all our hearts.
If you were a white, Catholic French person or Haitian plantation owner, I can see why you would characterize this as a prayer offered “to the devil.” The black Haitians are postulating the existence of two Gods, one for the whites and one for the blacks. The whites regard the God they pray to as the one true God. So if the blacks are praying to some second god, and doing it with a Vodou ceremony, it stands to reason that they’re engaged in a satanic ritual of some sort.
But there’s no reason for 21st century Americans to accept this interpretation of the story. From the Haitian perspective, I think you’d say they were just praying to God for his assistance and asserting the justice of their cause. This is what pretty much everyone does before heading into battle. [Ref #4]
Well, that’s not new: one of the foundations of Christianist ideology is to assume that any religion (including much of Christianity) that does not kowtow to the narrow strictures of Christianist ideology is “satanic.” Remember, Christianism isn’t identical with Christianity: it’s a religio-political ideology that believes that (its version of) Christianity is superior to all other religions, & seeks to establish itself as the dominant political power to the exclusion & even eradication of other religions & belief systems (not to mention the people who believe in them). It’s basically about power grab through religion (much as with the religio-political ideology Islamism — which is not the same as the religion of Islam.)
I’m with Yglesias. Boukman’s god sounds not unlike the god upon whom the biblical King David calls upon time & again in the Psalms, & his prayer sounds not that much different from the psalms of David that called upon God’s help against David’s enemies.
Ta-Nehisi Coates names it: Pat Robertson was “equating an attempt by slaves to claim their freedom with ‘a pact with the devil'”:
The next time your wondering why there are so few black Republicans, consider the fact this unreconstructed Confederate was not long ago one of their greatest crusaders. Consider that he is equating the resistance of slavery, with a rejection of Christ. And there’s an African-American right next to him, nodding in agreement.
Fuck Pat Robertson. Fuck the “Christian” Broadcasting Network. And fuck any black person who’d nod reverently while a white supremacist slanders our founding fathers. She should be ashamed of herself. [Ref #5]
- 13 Jan 2010. “Haiti and United States Inextricably Linked” by Renard Sexton (FiveThirtyEight).
- 13 Jan 2010. “Robertson’s ‘true story’: Haiti ‘swore a pact to the devil’ to get ‘free from the French’ and ‘ever since, they have been cursed’.” (Media Matters for America).
- 13 Jan 2010. “Seven Point 0” by Steve Aufrecht (What Do I Know?).
- 13 Jan 2010. “Did Haiti Form a Pact With the Devil?” by Matthew Yglesias (Think Progress: Yglesias).
- 13 Jan 2010. “Professional Bigot Pat Robertson Does It Again” by Ta-Nehisi Coates (TheAtlantic.com).