It’s still easy, if no one resists
It used to be easy to conquer the world; it wasn’t a very big place. The Mauryan empire of ancient India was no more than five million square kilometers, but included over forty percent of the planet’s population. The Mongol Empire was six times that size, covering one fifth of the land surface, but only held twenty-five percent of the population.
It’s much harder to conquer the world now. We can monitor every square meter of its one hundred forty-nine thousand square kilometers. It’s a huge world, but progress made it small. The Romans shrank the world with their road-building programs. The Mongols’ horsemanship enabled them to create their empire. The British Empire (seven centuries later than, and the same size as the Mongol Empire) depended on sea transportation to bring distant places within reach.
In the twenty-first century the internet, surveillance satellites, security videos and personal camera-phones have made the world smaller yet. We know more about somebody half a world away than our next door neighbor.
“Today, the instantaneous world of electric information media involves all of us, all at once. Ours is a brand-new wold of all-at onceness. Time, in a sense, has ceased and space has vanished. Like primitives, we now live in a global village of our own making, a simultaneous happening. The global village is not created by the motor car or even the airplane. It is created by instant electronic information movement. The global village is at once as wide as the planet and as small as the little town where everybody is maliciously engaged in poking his nose into everybody else’s business. The global village is a world in which you don’t necessarily have harmony; you have extreme concern with everybody else’s business and much involvement in everybody else’s life.”- Marshall McLuhan
Does that mean we have seven billion neighbors? If so, what is our responsibility to them?
The Bible is pretty clear:
Simply stated, we should not allow our neighbor to die if it’s in our power to prevent it.
Eighty million people were killed between 1000 and 1525 AD when Islam tried to conquer India. Few, if any people in the West would have known about it, and had they known, there would have been little they could have done. Indeed, the West was preoccupied not letting Islam conquer Europe.
Tens of millions of people were killed during Communist China’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution. The government of the People’s Republic of China keeps the actual number a closely guarded secret. It might have been eighty million. It was more likely around forty million. People in the West knew something terrible was happening, but China was (and is) a secretive country. Could the West have done something? Yes. A difficult war could have brought down the Communist government. Tens of millions could have been saved, but millions would have died in the process.
And we didn’t know much about them. They weren’t our neighbors yet.
In a 1994 genocide, Hutu death squads slaughtered eight hundred thousand Rwandans. The world’s superpowers knew something bad was about to happen, but they stood idly by. President Clinton described his failure to intervene as one of the biggest regrets of his presidency. Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire was Force Commander for the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. His desperate calls for support to stop the slaughter were ignored.
“Still, at its heart, the Rwandan story is the story of the failure of humanity to heed a call for help from an endangered people.”
It wouldn’t have taken a massive, dangerous military intervention. Nonetheless the world stood idly by as the blood of its neighbors was spilled. Would this have been, in McLuhan’s words, maliciously poking our nose into everybody else’s business?
What about the invasion of Iraq- the one that overthrew Saddam Hussein. Was that maliciously poking our nose, or obeying the Biblical (you can also call it “moral”) dictum of not standing idly by the blood of your neighbors? President Bush described Iraq as an exporter of terrorism. Its leader was a genocidal despot, who used chemical weapons against his own people. The President argued that Hussein was perilously close to deploying weapons of mass destruction against other nations; whether this was true is still a matter for debate.
President Bush applied the principle of not standing idly by, as well as another Jewish teaching (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 72a) that “If someone comes to kill you, arise [preempt him] and kill him first.”
Iraq in 2014 is a malicious corner of our global village. Neighbors from other Muslim lands such as Chechnya or Britain are forcing their religious beliefs on Iraqis; the ground is soaked with the blood of those who resist. Do we stand idly by?
And that other principle that President Bush applied: if someone rises up to kill you, it is your obligation to preemptively kill him first. The Sunni extremists now slaughtering everyone within reach have promised to come to New York, and not as tourists. Where they go, their goal is to conquer.
Can we say that current events in Iraq are not our concern? That we don’t care about the blood of our neighbors, or that ISIS is rising up to kill us? The world is too small for that attitude. The people of Mosul are our neighbors. They and their ISIS tormentors live in our global village.
The Roman roads, the Mongol horses and British ships led to world domination. There’s another group out there that wants to conquer, and they’re using the digital highways developed by Western civilization to wage their war to attack. Do we stand idly by our own destruction?