Nobody is Innocent

38 Witnesses, the latest movie by Belgian director Lucas Belvaux – 14 March 2012

Bonjour Francoise,

I went to see that movie just because you told me that you had been very impressed by it and you wondered how you would have reacted…

it was about the murder of a young woman in the large industrial port of Le Havre, with 38 neighbors doing nothing to help her – the movie was a bit too slow and with limited actors’ involvement, but I am going straight to the wider points that came to my mind

1) French people are particularly self-centered and indifferent

Parisian editors told me, back in the 80s when I was talking to them about a book on the Central American revolutions, C’est tres difficile d’interesser les Francais a autre chose qu’a eux-memes

but others too can be quite coward – in politically conscious Greece under the 1967-74 dictatorship nobody wanted to help Alexandros Panagulis against the military because they “had a family”

2) and the same crimes happened in a North American megalopolis – in the New York subway, circa 2010, a guy entered a car and told a man to give him his seat, naturally the man refused, so the guy started stabbing him with a knife, and pursued him through the car, meanwhile people were filming with their cell phones

a good example of how modern technology has made people aloof, used to see everything through a screen without participating, without touching their fellow-humans, voyeuring from a neutral and safe distance – a bit like U.S. writer Paul Theroux traveling and seeing a country and a people through his passing train window

technology however only marginally helps human apathy, this movie is actually based on the much earlier real-life “stabbing murder of Kitty Genovese in New York in 1964, a crime that occurred within earshot of thirty-eight people, none of whom lifted a finger to prevent it”, almost half a century ago…

my companion had the very same story, it too happened in Queens, New York, in 1980, a woman was stabbed, then the murderer came back to finish his victim, nobody had called the police, even though it is over 30 years ago my companion remembers it very well because she had freshly emigrated from Central America and was so surprised by that inhuman reaction

3) in Egypt or India – and in many so-called third world countries – a crowd would immediately gather outside

BUT, I would like to see if those same people – Egyptians or Indians – were brought up and lived in a Western society, if they would act as in Egypt or India or as in the Western setting

in other words, what is fundamental is the individual’s psychology more than the environment

as most people are identical, those Egyptians or Indians would probably act as Westerners

4) at the end of the Belgian-French movie, I thought, what a fuss about one death – all the pain, the questions, the inquiry, the reenactment of the murder, even the personal lives of some witnesses destroyed – when millions of deaths occur every year through (mostly Western) killing, Irak, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc etc etc !!! or the North Americans lamenting about the World Trade Center self-inflicted attack, or the recent bus crash with the Belgian schoolchildren in Switzerland (13 March 2012), lot of fuss here too, questions, debates, ceremonies, a 1-minute silence all over the country, but Belgians I talked to did not know about the crazy gringo soldier who had killed in cold blood 16 Afghans including 9 children barely TWO days before (11 March 2012)…

5) so, my Belgian cousin, how can you ask this question?!  “I don’t know how we would have reacted in that situation” – this is a very simple case where one needed only to pick up the telephone and call for help, no more involvement, you can even do it anonymously

6) to conclude, this proves the point I always make, i.e. that nobody is innocent – when everyday (wo)man (l’homme de la rue) is in a position to choose, (s)he become a murderous accomplice, guilty by indifference – how many in New York’s former World Trade Center commodity exchanges or brokerage houses or banks worked and made profits/earned wages by ignoring or disregarding for decades the dire effects of their trades on whole so-called third world populations, the plundering of their natural resources, the speculation of the commodity market prices (now wilder then ever)?

or, as a reviewer of this 38 Witness movie quoted, “All it takes for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing”, often wrongly attributed to Irish political philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke

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