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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 17th, 2007 - 00:45:46

Five minutes to doomsday
By Linda S. Heard
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Jan 17, 2007, 00:43

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Today, the Doomsday Clock, presently set at seven minutes to midnight, is set to be moved forward by its caretaker The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists. This symbolic gesture reflects the sense of foreboding experienced by many in the face of wars, nuclear and biological weapons proliferation, terrorism and global warming. Rarely has our planet been as threatened. Rarely has the human race thrust humankind into such jeopardy.

As if erratic weather systems, tsunamis, melting icecaps, fast disappearing species, disease and poverty wasn�t enough for the world�s leaders to tackle, it seems we have taken to shamelessly annihilating each other. Our politicians and generals even have nice words for this phenomena, like cleansing, subduing, pacifying; words that all translate into someone�s death.

The individuals who wield the tools of such destruction are worshipped as "the nation�s finest." They are always the good guys; the victims of their missiles, bombs and torture camps, always the rogues.

Rogues like the nomadic herdsmen bombed with their livestock in Somalia; rogues like the village folk buried under a bomb crater in Pakistan; rogues like the celebrants at wedding parties in Afghanistan and Iraq, who ended up in coffins or attending funerals. Human beings with shared hopes and dreams reduced to collateral damage in the time it takes a pilot to push a button.

The corporate media is complicit, either wittingly or unwittingly, in prettying up our side. The inherent biases of its owners and editors manipulate the truth, its reliance on advertising revenues means pandering to the comfort zone of its readership, which must never be offended by photographs of dead babies or kill ratios.

Let�s face it. Most Westerners don�t want to know what their governments are doing in their name or on which new atrocity their taxes are being squandered. The celebrity antics in the Big Brother House, the worst-dressed list, the closure of Britney Spears� fan club and prices at the pump hold far more allure.

If anything Western publics are guilty of willful ignorance. The proof: Despite all evidence to the contrary, some 20 percent of Americans still believe Saddam Hussein was involved with Sept. 11. That�s more than 70 million educated people with access to first world communications, satellite television and the Internet. Unless those millions are chronically intellectually-challenged there can be no excuse.

At the same time the Arab world is steeped in apathy. During a visit to a Cairo dentist�s office at the time of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, I asked that the television be switched from a Nancy Ajram video clip to Al Jazeera. To my surprise, my fellow patients, who had been glued to the gyrations on the set moments earlier, ignored the news, preferring to flick through glossy magazines or chat.

Then on the first day of Eid Al-Adha, when Saddam Hussein was hanged, I noticed a noisy large crowd surrounding the wide-screen television in the forecourt of a well-known Italian-style coffee shop in downtown Cairo. What was all the excitement about? No, not the indignity suffered by a former Arab leader but an almost-scored goal during a local football match.

What are we doing? The Doomsday Clock is ticking while most of us are burying our heads in the sand. Are mendacious politicians and widespread injustices turning us into ostriches or automatons content to spend our lives playing with our fancy gadgets? Have you ever watched the Oprah show when she hands out gifts to the audience? Well-dressed adults actually swoon over a free BlackBerry or a bottle of perfume.

Isn�t it about time we decided to own the state of our world, to use a favorite Oprah expression? Politicians do what they do because they can get away with it. We get our mind-numbing toys and they keep their power. The checks and balances on that power should be us. If we don�t strive for awareness and speak up, then who will?

Let�s assume you�re unable to relate to the plight of the Palestinian people, the millions displaced from Western Sudan or Iraqis embroiled in a civil war triggered by a US-led invasion or the post-war suffering of the Lebanese.

Let�s suppose you care not a jot that the polar bear has joined the endangered list or that the planet is fast heating up to unacceptable levels. It�s easy to shrug one's shoulders, ignore the headlines and turn the channel.

But will we be able to avert our eyes from a nuclear conflagration so easily? Wake up, folks! Nuclear North Korea is being isolated and squeezed. Nuclear Pakistan is being accused of harboring al-Qaeda. Iran, which may have acquired ready-made nuclear weapons and certainly does have chemical and biological weapons, is being openly aggressed.

If the Doomsday hands hit midnight, no one but no one should be allowed to get away with saying "I didn�t know."

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at

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