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5 Jan, 2003

2002: The Year TIME Magazine Recognised Whistle-blowers

Originally Published:  5 Jan 2003

On Sept 22, 2002, the Soul-Searching column was headlined “Let’s Hear it for the Whistle-blowers.”

In it I paid tribute to the morally correct choice whistle-blowers make, at great personal risk and doubtless after a great of soul-searching, to blow the whistle on wrongdoings in their companies and institutions. I also forecast a future alliance between the media, courts, non-governmental organisations and whistle-blowers.

Thus, I will confess, it gave me great satisfaction three months later to see TIME magazine hail whistle-blowers by declaring three women who blew the whistle on the likes of Enron, WorldCom and the FBI to be Persons of the Year.

It is nice to be proved right. There’s more. I have consistently criticised the fact that currency speculators like George Soros can walk free inspite of causing the 1997 economic havoc in Asia. I have criticised the Israeli occupation of Palestine and opposed the war in Iraq. I am in good company in these areas, too.

In announcing its award to the whistle-blowers, TIME magazine said, “These women were for the 12 months just ending what New York City firefighters were in 2001: Heroes at the scene, anointed by circumstances. They were people who did right by just doing their jobs rightly… with the bravery the rest of us always hope we have and may never know if we do.”

Where the magazine erred, perhaps, is in claiming somewhat curiously that whistle-blowing is related to American values, as ridiculous a comparison as suggesting that the former heyday of Asian economic growth was linked to Asian values.

In fact, the reward would have had a much richer symbolic value had it celebrated ALL who act rightly and courageously, allowing the ethical clarity of their decisions to triumph over the odds, criticism and personal risks they face. “American values” have no monopoly on this.

It was a French court which on Dec 20, 2002, convicted Mr Soros, the billionaire financier and “philanthropist,” and fined him 2.2m euros ($2.3m) for insider trading. The court found him guilty of profiting from inside knowledge of a 1988 takeover bid for Societe Generale, a French bank. Naturally, Mr Soros, who was not in court, had denied the charges. And his lawyers argued that the incident was too far in the past to achieve a fair trial.

Mr Soros has a lot to answer for in Asia, too. Many would like to see him stand trial for his role in the 1997 crisis economic but fear the wrath of “foreign investors” and their favourite newspaper, the right-wing Asian Wall Street Journal whose op-ed pages would rain fire and brimstone upon any miserable, investor-hungry Asian country brave enough to take on Mr Soros.

We now await a courageous whistle-blower to come forward with the inside story about how Mr Soros planned and executed the attack on the Thai baht. I also would be very keen to know more about some of these “foundations” he operates, supposedly to promote democracy. Some of them sound as suspicious as the charities operating out of the Middle East.

At a more global level, religious leaders were inspired by the soul-searching spirit of Christmas to take a stand against the root cause of the long-standing conflict in the Middle East. The highest-ranking Roman Catholic clergyman in the Holy Land, at the heart of the conflict, spoke out publicly for the first time, making clear which side he feels to be responsible for the festering crisis.

Addressing the Christmas Midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, a Palestinian, called on Israel to “alter its vision”. As reported in the Bangkok Post, he said: “It is not impossible for the faithful to feel love for all our brothers, whether they be Muslims, Christian, Jews or Druze.” Addressing Israel directly, he added: “Blood has been flowing in your cities and streets but the key to solving this conflict is in your hands. By your actions so far, you have crushed the Palestinian people but you still have not achieved peace.”

Christmas is over, and now the clergy is doing much soul-searching about the blood set to flow in Iraq.

The Bishop of Bath and Wells The Rt Rev Peter Price appealed to the UK prime minister, Tony Blair, to consider the sanctity of human life, soon to be referred to again as “collateral damage.”. As reported on the BBC website, he told the Today programme in the UK:

“I think the issue really comes down to this: it’s a question of every time we go to war the sanctity of human life continues to be threatened in a very serious way. And I am concerned that having been to Iraq myself and seen the aftermath of the Gulf war – the effect upon children traumatised, families destroyed – one can only imagine this will continue to be the case and there will go on being a danger that those who suffer most will not be the people who have the most influence and power.

“I don’t doubt for a moment that evil should be confronted, but there is a way of confronting evil that doesn’t involve even more evil. And the real question that we have to face in going into a conflict situation in the Middle East is just what evil will be unleashed?”

Rt Rv Price was not alone. Archbishop Renato Martino, the prefect of the Council for Justice and Peace and the Vatican’s former U.N. envoy, told reporters in the week before Christmas that a preventive war in Iraq was a “war of aggression” and therefore not a “just war.” On December 23, the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, warned of the consequences a war on Iraq could ignite in the Islamic world. “A type of anti-Christian, anti-Western crusade could be incited because some ignorant masses mix everything together,” the Rome daily La Republica quoted Tauran as saying.

Indeed, it would be fair to say that more people spent the past holiday season truly praying for peace and the future of their children than ever before. Sadly, the new global dictatorship and its geopolitical power games seem set to ensure less peace and more violence.

The ominous warnings by people with impeccable moral credentials reflect a serious soul-searching that is becoming more mainstream, confronting the mighty forces trying to shout them down.

In a small way, I am proud to be echoing these views in pursuit of the hope that universal values will triumph. No nation, religion, society or community has any monopoly on these values which I hope to continue to focus debate on in what is clearly going to be an earth-shaking year ahead.

As for my critics, I will do what George Bush and Ariel Sharon do to their critics: Ignore them!