On April 16, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr, while jailed in Birmingham, Alabama, wrote an open letter to clergy who were opposed to his style of protesting. A circuit judge had ruled on April 10 against non-residents of Birmingham organizing marches and protests there. Martin Luther King Jr and his Atlanta-based Southern Christian Leadership Conference defied the ruling. As a result, he, along with Ralph Abernathy, Fred Shuttlesworth and others, were arrested and jailed.
A part of the letter reads, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
This quote, and the letter in general, reminds us of the of a fundamental claim in the U.S Declaration of Independence: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (human beings) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator, with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. Justice is the cornerstone of this claim.
Justice, among other things, means fairness, impartiality and genuine respect for people. There are no qualifiers in these attributes, they apply to all people. We may show impartiality to people in Great Britain but not to Indians; that is not alright. During the struggle for independence in Africa, Julius Nyerere declared that Tanzanians could not claim to be independent until all African nations were independent. Actually, we cannot claim to be truly independent if there is a segment of humanity that is in bondage.
We are, as human beings, wired together, as the psychologist researcher Bene Brown puts it. From the spiritual, mental and psychological standpoint, we are, as human beings, connected, one with the other. Unfairness or disrespect for one is unfairness and disrespect for all.
For appreciation of this principle beyond the abstract, think for a moment about the refugee crisis. Because of persecution somewhere on the face of the earth, conflict, violence – domestic or ethnic – and these are all consequences of injustice – we had, at the end of 2017, 68.5 million refugees around the globe, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Imagine the whole population of France as refugees.
Injustices in the Middle East and North Africa push millions of refugees to Italy, Germany, Great Britain, France, Scandinavian countries and all over Europe. Do the injustices in the Middle East and north Africa have effect in Europe? Certainly; tremendous effect. Similarly, persecution in Central America, be it domestic violence, political or ethnic injustices, have far reaching consequences in the United States, Canada, Mexico and the whole western hemisphere in general.
It would be very unwise for any one of the countries in this illustration to claim that injustice in one community does not endanger justice in other communities. Earlier this year there was chaos and international outcry when families fleeing injustices from Central American countries were separated at the U.S/Mexico border. Italian coast patrols have engaged in rescue operations of North African and Middle Eastern nationals displaced by one form or another of human injustice. Europe, in general, has had to endure emergencies like this whenever there has been a disturbance of peace in a neighboring region.
This is a familiar picture all over the world. I grew up in Tanzania where from early in the sixties, refugees from Ruanda and Burundi were scattered in camps in different parts of the country. These were people who fled from ethnic injustices in their own regions. Kenya has a similar story with refugees from Somalia.
Stories like these are repeated anywhere on the earth’s surface. I have used the refugee experience because it is probably the most visual form of injustice and how when perpetrated in one place it affects others beyond local borders.
Injustice can also be subtle, especially when it is born of any number of phobias. This is injustice from a worldview or a particular perspective; a mindset. Phobias are often irrational fears. Homophobia for example, often leads to injustices against homosexuals. Some countries persecute homosexuals. We live in an ever-shrinking world technologically connected to quickly disseminate ideas (and prejudices) from one place to another.
Since human brains are connected – Prof. Digby Tantam of the University of Sheffield calls it, interbrain, the direct connection between our brains and other people’s, and between theirs and ours – prejudices can similarly interconnect across nations and continents. Prejudicial statements by an American leader reverberate with neo-Nazis everywhere around the globe.
From the brief discussion above and the examples of persecution as one example of injustice, we can firmly repeat Martin Luther King Jr’s observation that, “we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny (that) whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly”.
If we could all absorb and recognize the truth relayed in this article, the world would change for the better overnight, I think. Because so many of us are occupied with our own personal struggles to survive, it is difficult to find the time, energy and courage to intervene when we witness injustice being perpetrated against others, partly out of fear of reprisal from the aggressor. That’s where courage comes in: courage defined not as an absence of fear, but the ability or willingness to act in spite of it. And at the root of that courage is love. Love of God, love of self and love of neighbor. “Perfect love casts out fear.” John 4:18.