From a distance we all have enough,
And no one is in need.
And there are no guns, no bombs, and no disease,
No hungry mouths to feed.
From a distance, there is harmony,
And it echoes through the land.
It’s the voice of hope, it’s the voice of peace,
It’s the voice of every man.
God is watching us. God is watching us.
God is watching us from a distance.
God is watching us; from a distance. If there is a God – something you pretty much have to take on faith – what does He or She make of our performance as human beings, this year of 2012 as it’s winding down? From a distance, there is harmony. Is it an illusion imposed by perspective? Let’s look closer.
February, 2012. Some 73 people are killed in a brawl between rival soccer teams, in Egypt. Knives and clubs are used, raising questions about security at the gate. Over 300 die in a prison fire in Honduras, initiated by an inmate who set fire to his mattress; most of the victims die in their cells, awaiting rescue. Russia and China veto a UNSC resolution on intervention in Syria, the same day as a “massacre” in the Syrian city of Homs which later accounts suggest was faked by the Free Syrian Army, in an attempt to steamroller the decision for intervention. Most of the dead appear to have been shot at close range, with none of the horrific tissue damage that would accompany the use of heavy weapons, as described by activists with a vested interest in drawing NATO into the fight as occurred in Libya. Hillary Clinton fumes “What more do we need to know to act decisively in the Security Council? To block this resolution is to bear responsibility for the horrors that are occurring on the ground in Syria.”
From a distance you look like my friend,
Even though we are at war.
From a distance I just cannot comprehend
What all this fighting is for.
March 2012. Valdimir Putin wins Russia’s presidential election, with about 64% of the vote. OSCE observers complain that he had no competition, and government spending at his disposal – as if having no competition were his fault, while one of his opponents is a multibillioniare and the 7th richest man in Russia. The total cost (estimated) of the Russian presidential election, according to Transparency International Russia, was $70 Million USD. The U.S. election campaign came in at an estimated $6 Billion USD. Elena Panfilova, head of TI Russia, complained that Vladimir Putin was abusing state resources in his election campaign although he made only one speech, as though all state visits should be discontinued during the year of a presidential election, while the opposition is free to do as it likes. Investigation of complaints about election fraud reveals most of the video clips purporting to show falsification or ballot-box stuffing originated from a single server, in California. A U.S. soldier goes on a door-to-door rampage in Afghanistan, killing 16 civilians including 9 children, most of them sleeping. Mohammed Merah, a Frenchman of Algerian descent, shoots a rabbi, two of his children and another child in Toulouse, France. Before he is killed by French police, Merah claims to be a member of al Qaeda seeking revenge for murdered Palestinian children. In Syria, President Assad agrees to a UN-brokered ceasefire and promises to withdraw troops from cities by April. The UN continues to publish and quote casualty figures in Syria as provided by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is one man working from his home in England, and who receives all his information from Syrian activists striving to overthrow the Syrian government.
May. Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng leaves the U.S. embassy to get treatment for an injured foot, but later says he left partly because the Chinese government threatened his wife’s life if he remained. He asks Hillary Clinton – in China for meetings – for help. Clinton arranges through government-to-government talks for Guangcheng and his wife and two children to visit the USA while Guangcheng studies at New York University; one for the good guys. Some sources incorrectly accuse Russian police of sending protesters to military draft centers. Francois Hollande defeats Nikolas Sarkozy to become president of France. Another “massacre” in Syria, this time in the city of Houla, kills 108 civilians, 49 of them children and 34 of them women. According to accounts by the ubiquitous activists, the Syrian government’s forces shelled the area with heavy weapons, and then its mysterious Shabiha militia closed in, shooting and stabbing innocent people. The BBC is caught using a fake photo of bodies in shrouds – taken 9 years previously in Iraq – to substantiate the Houla massacre, which is subsequently suggested to have been another staged event by the “Free Syrian Army” – a loose collection of militants – in order to mobilize international support against president Assad. That notwithstanding, 11 nations expel Syrian diplomats.
From a distance there is harmony,
And it echoes through the land.
And it’s the hope of hopes, it’s the love of loves,
It’s the heart of every man.
June, 2012. Hillary Clinton accuses Russia of supplying Syria with attack helicopters, which turn out to be Syrian helicopters that were already in Russia for repair. This leads to wild rhetoric about the UK “striking at a 21st century scourge” by withdrawing the vessel’s insurance. While the British strut and prance, the vessel returns to Russia to be reflagged by a Russian underwriter. Mohamed Morsi wins a hotly-contested election in Egypt to consolidate a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood, which coincidentally is the group which would benefit most by a western intervention to overthrow Assad in Syria. Morsi promptly proclaims sharia law, and says in a speech that “Today Egypt is close as never before to the triumph of Islam at all the state levels”. Russia’s Maria Sharapova returns to world #1 in women’s tennis, after winning the French Open.
July. Libya holds its first elections since the murder of Gaddafi by mercenaries led by al Qaeda warlord Abdelhakim Belhaj, supported by NATO warplanes. Two people are killed in armed assaults on voting centers. In Kufur, some voting centers close due to a tribal battle. Nonetheless, western-educated Mahmoud Jibril takes an early lead. Near a Bulgarian airport, a suicide bomber carries out an attack against a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria on holiday, killing 5 Israelis as well as the driver. Netanyahu blames it on Hezbollah, saying angrily, “All the signs lead to Iran…This is an Iranian terror attack that is spreading throughout the entire world. Israel will react powerfully against Iranian terror.” No mention is made of Israel’s campaign of assassinating Iranian nuclear scientists. Russia and China veto another UNSC resolution which would have imposed sanctions on Syria, this one because it would offer a loophole for western military intervention. The UK was “appalled”. Susan Rice, American UN Ambassador, called it a “dark day” and said “The message it sends is that two permanent members of the Council are prepared to defend Assad to the bitter end.”
August. Egyptian president Morsi orders a retaliatory airstrike in the Sinai Peninsula which reportedly kills 20 militants, in retaliation for an attack at an Egyptian Army checkpoint which killed 16 soldiers. Ecuador grants asylum to Wikileaks’ Julian Assange. Three members of Pussy Riot are convicted of hooliganism in Russia, and sentenced to two years in penal colonies. The U.S. military death toll in Afghanistan, a war that has dragged on for 11 years, reaches 2000. Russia is admitted to the World Trade Organization. According to some sources, expectations include “…an increase of 3% in the Russian GDP, more foreign investment, and a doubling of U.S. exports to Russia-as long as trade relations are normalized through the lifting of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment.” The latter expectation is soon to be torpedoed by the American insistence on passing the so-called “Magnitsky Act” along with the trade bill.
September. Gunmen storm the American embassy in Benghazi, Libya, killing U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and 3 other embassy officials. The use of heavy anti-aircraft weapons and RPG’s leads some analysts to suggest the attack was planned in advance. Diplomatic cables later released reveal that Stevens repeatedly recommended or requested greater security for the Benghazi embassy. Other analysts suggest it was retaliatory anger at an anti-Muslim film released by a California producer; attacks on U.S. embassies in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, where angry demonstrators climb into the compound and rip down the American flag, seem at the time to support this theory.
October, 2012. Turkey launches cross-border attacks against Syria in response to mortar attacks on Turkish cities, an act for which the Syrian Army is far too busy even if there would be something to gain from aggravating yet another enemy; it is more likely the work of the Free Syrian Army, tiring of efforts to prod the west into an intervention. In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez wins a third term with about 54% of the vote. Rumors about his health promptly begin to percolate through the English-speaking press. Taliban gunmen shoot 14-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who claimed to be unafraid of them and undeterred in her determination to get an education, in the head and neck in front of other children on a school bus. She survives, and is airlifted to Birmingham, UK for treatment of skull fractures and for long-term rehabilitation. A Moscow court frees Pussy Rioter Yekaterina Samutsevich on appeal, on the grounds that she was detained by security personnel as she approached the altar and was therefore not part of the act of hooliganism. The sentence against the remaining duo stands. A large bomb explodes in Beirut, killing 8 people and wounding at least 80; among the dead is Brigadier-General Wissam al-Hassan, a top security official and longtime foe of Syria; this is seen as an attempt to drag Lebanon into the conflict.
November. The quarrelsome Syrian National Council – a disappointing effort by western backers to unite the Syrian opposition – is shunted aside in favour of the Syrian National Initiative, a handpicked group chosen by the western Friends of Syria. It is immediately recognized by France as the only legitimate government of Syria, in an aggressive repeat of its action on Libya, albeit under a different French president. The new leader, Sheik Ahmad Moaz al-Khatib, promptly requests financial assistance and arms from his beaming “parents”. Israel launches another of its periodic offensives in Gaza, in retaliation for rocket attacks, hitting some 20 targets and killing Hamas military commander Ahmed al-Jabari as he is traveling through Gaza in a car. New Egyptian president Morsi steps up with aggressive vocal support for the Palestinians. His foreign minister and Hillary Clinton broker a cease-fire. Morsi declares himself the authority over Egypt’s courts, thus removing any check the law might exert on him. Surprising pretty much everyone, the UN approves non-member state status for Palestine. Israel is furious, while the USA and UK are disappointed their background maneuvering was unsuccessful. This will allow Palestine access to international organizations such as the International Criminal Court. A fuming Netanyahu announces Israel will not transfer about $100 million in much-needed tax revenue owed to the struggling Palestinian Authority, and will resume plans to build a 3,000-unit settlement in an area that divides the north and the south parts of the West Bank, thereby denying the Palestinians any chance for a contiguous state. Barack Obama is re-elected president of the United States. Russian election monitors present for the election, after enduring complaints from aggressive monitors of the Russian elections that monitors could not always see what was happening inside the polling station, are told that if they approach an American polling station closer than 100 yards they may be arrested.
Which brings us around to now. Protesters rally in Tahrir Square, where not even a year ago they were cheering Mubarak’s ouster and deliriously tweeting victory at each other, over Morsi’s constitution, which he presses forward with undeterred. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, announces she is pregnant with the someday likely heir to the British throne. Two Australian DJ’s play a prank, calling the hospital and pretending to be the Queen and Prince Charles, and manage to score a scoop from the unsuspecting nurse who took the call. The following week the nurse, Jacintha Saldanha, commits suicide by hanging herself with a scarf from her wardrobe door in the nurse’s quarters.
From a distance we are instruments
Marching in a common band.
Playing songs of hope, playing songs of peace.
They’re the songs of every man.
According to The Statistic Brain, 50% of the world’s population lives on less than $2.50 a day. Some 80% of the world’s population lives where income differentials are widening, not narrowing. Meanwhile, Exxon-Mobil’s earnings for the first 9 months of 2012 were $34.9 Billion, up 10% over the same period in 2011. In British hospitals, 43 patients starved to death and 111 died of thirst while on wards, according to a report by the Office for National Statistics; nurses placed trays of food in front of patients too weak to feed themselves, and later took them away untouched. Another 78 patients died from bedsores. Meanwhile, the British government’s Health Secretary announced that “real-terms spending on the NHS (National Health Service) has increased across the country” when figures from the Public Spending Statistics revealed that spending was actually down year-over-year.
An otherworldly deity watching us from a distance would have a hard time escaping the conclusion that we have progressed little from the cruel children we were on the playground, and that we have a long way to go to achieve anything like the self-satisfaction of looking after the weak and helping our fellow men through tough times.
Still, there is hope. We can still start 2013 better than we started 2012, and even those who have extended the hand of friendship only to draw it back full of warm spit can patiently extend it again. It’s late, but it’s never too late until it is. At this special time of year, as always, I wish peace and contentment in the company of family to friend and foe alike, from my family to yours. Merry Christmas, and best wishes for a New Year in which we all do a little better.
Editor’s Note: “From a Distance” is performed by Bette Midler, written by Julie Gold. You can see the official video here. It’s a great song, and I always thought Midler is an underrated singer with a gorgeous, soaring voice that suits this kind of music.