Crisis and its Immediacy

Posted by Lily Tran on September 28, 2011
Sep 282011

The Oxford English Dictionary defines crisis as:

A vitally important or decisive stage in the progress of anything; a turning point; also a state of affairs in which a decisive change for better or worse is imminent; now applied especially to times of difficulty, insecurity and suspense in politics or commerce.

We see crisis as a state where great turmoil has shattered and interrupted the lives of individuals. Often crisis stems from political and economic turmoil but also a natural disaster. Crisis often involve great brutality and oppression, poverty and a threat to survival, and overall, a great loss of lives. However, browsing through the pages of the Human Rights Watch and thinking about the definition defined above raises two questions:

What do we consider a crisis?

How long do we expect a crisis to last?

One example of crisis in the traditional sense of the word can be seen in Burma. A former British colony until 1948, the country has been in a state of crisis since April of 1948. Since the 60s Burmese civilians have been imprisoned, tortured, and murdered in a devastating civil war against the military rule. Oppression and censorship have plagued Burma for years and most likely will continue for many more years. The election in 2010, the feigned democratic election, promises little humanitarian improvement. Throughout the war, many protesters against the ruling military government were arrested and tortured in prison. Today, over two thousand prisoners still remain in prison, including most of the monks and nuns who protested against the military government in the infamous campaign of 2007 where the military brutally tortured and arrested many monks and nuns. Though the government claims to desire to progress, the military has yet to follow even the feigned suit.

Burmese monks protesting in the infamous campaign in 2007 where the Burmese military rule retaliated by torturing and imprisoning monks and nuns. Many of those imprisoned monks and nuns are still imprisoned today.

An installation in Grand Central Square in New York in 2010.

The situation in Burma fits every element of the definition of the term crisis. We can all agree Burma has been and still is in crisis. Intervention in Burma still remains decisive and the investment of neighboring countries makes methods of intervention even more difficult to consider.

The classification of the term crisis becomes more difficult when addressing the social expectations of a society.

One example of what I consider as a crisis is the treatment of homosexuals in Uganda and many other nations in Africa. When the death of David Kato, a prominent gay rights activist in Uganda, was murdered, the world gained an insight into the hatred for homosexuals ingrained into the Ugandan society, a hatred greatly fueled by the work of missionaries. The notorious anti-homosexuality bill of 2009 proposed death for homosexuals who were HIV positive, making the punishment for homosexuality in Uganda even more draconian than before (revealed homosexuals were previously sentenced to prison). The dismissal of the bill in 2010 has quieted the world’s protest against the anti-homosexual practices of Uganda, but the bill may return when parliament meets again. And the treatment of homosexuals remains precarious; human rights activists have intervened, restoring some hope that improvement will be made for the condition of homosexuals. However the spectacle that involved international churches and the churches in Uganda during the bill’s protest have raised the complex nature of the aversion and the ideological foundation of the aversion and the punishment, making improvements on the lives of homosexuals seem grim. Though the draconian bill instilled a sense of immediate crisis, the continued prosecution for homosexuality should also be a crisis we need to continue to dedicate attention to.

Children march in support for Uganda’s anti-homosexual practices, revealing the deeply rooted resentment for homosexuals in the society.

Both Burma and Uganda stand in a state of crisis. However, for both nations, the states of crisis have existed for decades. And in both cases, the duration of both crises have reduced our attention to them. Crisis is now viewed as a time of instability, but many crises have slipped our attention because of their length. To a certain extent, we have viewed the constant instability of other nations and other nation’s policies as their own form of stability. We only see the worst moments of the struggle without realizing the perpetuation of the struggle.

More resources:

HRW’s report of the state of Burma in 2011
HRW’s report on the state of Uganda in 2011
Interview with David Kato