Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Economic Justice 02-11-24

More than charity, poor need justice

Mirza A. Beg
Birmingham News on Sunday 24th of Nov. 2002
Alabama Public Radio Sunday 1st of Dec. 2002

My children get to celebrate more than their fair share of festive occasions. They certainly get more than their fair share of goodies. Being a bicultural family they celebrate and get presents for Christmas and on top of that they get to celebrate Eid al Fitr and Eid al Adha from my religion.

Eid al Fitr is essentially a thanks giving festival when Muslims all over the world celebrate the end of the Month of fasting, "Ramadhan". We thank God for the bounties in our lives and share some of it with people in need and less fortunate than us. Eid al Adha is the commemoration of Abraham’s sacrifice of his Son. This also entails giving alms to the poor. Come to think of it, all our festivals are based on thanking the almighty and sharing with the poor.

The world is teaming with poor. Majority of the people of Africa, Latin America and Asia are poor. They eke out, or mostly fail to eke out a living even below the subsistence level. There is poverty in America, but most of the poor in this country are a thousand times better off. We in this country, thanks to the social safety nets have no idea of what one goes through, seeing one’s child die of hunger.

My children are used to hearing a lecture from me, about sharing their good fortune with poor children around the world. While stopped at a traffic light they have seen children begging in India. They thought they knew what hunger and poverty is? After all there have been times when they did not eat lunch at school because they were not hungry at the time, by the time they came home they were starving. I asked them to fast with me in Ramadhan for one day on the weekend; they came to know better. But still we do not know what it is like to be perpetually hungry. Fortunately that kind of poverty has been abolished in this country.

At times I am sad that they are not aware of suffering. Suffering that is not of one’s own making. Suffering resulting from the accident of birth. Suffering that has gone on for generations and there is no end in the foreseeable future.

On every occasion when they get presents, my wife makes sure that they get some cash as well. So they can part with it, after my oft repeated by now old lecture. I try to vary the themes and make it as short as I can. They give me a few dollars each to send to the poor in India. My son reminds me to send some to the poor old man he saw in Thailand as well, and to the maid in Turkey who had lost her brother in Bulgaria to ethnic cleansing. They think they are doing their fair share, and start opening the presents. Some of the presents in monitory value could feed a family in a poor country for more than a month.

I am happy that they have not seen poverty the way I have. I feel sad not knowing if they would empathize with the poor and needy when they grow up. When my parents gave their lecture to me, it was easier to visualize. I saw it every day while going to school. I saw poverty that kills, that robs one of human dignity. Dignity that is and should be a birth right.

Most of the indignity of poverty is man made. It results from the greed of some and lack of imagination of others. We feel and sympathize with the poor, but fail to empathize with them. We give them charity that is the need of the hour, but what they need is justice. Endemic poverty is a crime against humanity.

At this stage my children do not know all this. They feel happy that they helped the poor, almost an alien people whom they faintly remember from our travels. Some day they will know it. I hope by the time they grow up they would not know the starkness of poverty as I do.

Mirza A. Beg can be contacted at

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