De Lima’s arc of justice
Nature has its ways of teaching us about human societies.
In the mid-2000s, farmers across America were astonished by a perplexing phenomenon: the sudden and total collapse of once thriving beehives.
A mysterious condition struck western honey bee (Apis mellifera) colonies across North America, reducing the proudest keepers to despair.
Down on their hands and knees, the beekeepers struggled to detect even a single honeybee out of hundreds of thousands within their realm.
Over the next few months, the collapse in the number of bees across the mid-Atlantic region and the Pacific Northwest of the United States was 50 percent, with the loss rate averaging around 33 percent for the next five years.
It was a frightening sight for those who struggled to understand, until today, how kingdoms that appeared solid and powerful could vanish into thin air without any trace, as if they never existed.
Scientists termed the mysterious condition, where the queen bee and a few survivors are fatally abandoned by their foot soldiers, the colony collapse disorder.
A similar phenomenon takes place in the realm of human beings. Recent uprisings across North Africa and the Middle East, for instance, have led to the sudden, shocking collapse of what until then seemed well-entrenched brutal dictatorships, including that of the flamboyant Moammar Gadhafi.
Even close American allies such as Hosni Mubarak, who once oversaw the Arab world’s most powerful nation (Egypt), and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, who oversaw the Arab world’s most liberal nation (Tunisia), succumbed to the wave of protests.
So dramatic were the series of political upheavals in the Middle East that it led me to writing my first internationally published book, “How Capitalism Failed the Arab World: The Economic Roots and Precarious Future of the Middle East.”
There, drawing on a broad literature in the social sciences, I traced the complex sociopolitical and economic origins of the revolts, which awaited the proper catalyst to blossom into full-scale regime change.
Only in my early 20s then, I obsessively poured all my energies into understanding the fragility of authoritarian regimes, which would seem invulnerable on the outside, mainly thanks to carefully crafted propaganda, but are profoundly rotten from within.
The Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar once crisply described his sudden fall from power thus: It starts with a trickle, then the whole structure collapses in a single fatal blow like a house of cards.
Scientists call this phenomenon the “inflection point”: It often takes just a single spark—a single degree change in temperature or a single act of protest and defiance—to force a whole edifice crushing into the dustbin of history.
Risk engineer Nassim Taleb famously described it as the “black swan,” the rare and improbable combination of events that leads to toppling the supposed masters of the universe.
And this is how we should understand Sen. Leila de Lima’s increasingly successful effort to ensure that justice prevails against those who have acted, and continue to act, with false notions of eternal impunity.
Thanks to the so-called Magnitsky Act (2012), voices of freedom and democracy can now push for a whole host of sanctions against human rights violators across the world.
Named after Russia’s pro-accountability martyr Sergei Leonidovich Magnitsky, who sacrificed his life to expose massive corruption, the US law imposes a wide range of sanctions on miscreants across the world, especially when domestic institutions have abjectly failed at upholding fundamental human rights and the rule of law.
Make no mistake: The efficacy of US sanctions against powerful states such as Russia and China shows the broad reach of American power.
With the Magnitsky Act, shamelessly opportunistic politicians as well as lowbrow agitators and purveyors of destructive fake news and disinformation face not only travel bans and sanctions from the United States, but from other nations that are reportedly following soon with their own Magnitsky measures, among them Australia, Canada and the European Union.
Ideally, the United States, itself a major perpetrator of war and destruction across the world, has no business being sanctimonious. Perhaps it should start by amending structural injustice at home.
But we live in an imperfect world, where local despots act with impunity in cahoots with “trapos” at home and tyrannical powers overseas.
And if Martin Luther King Jr.’s arc of justice can be made to bend under the shadow of a few but powerful voices of conscience and accountability in the West who support our freedom fighters, that can only be welcome.
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