“Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person to die of Ebola in the United States, was not the right kind of victim for the west” – because he was black, poor and African.

This argument is made by black feminist writer Hannah Giorgis (@ethiopiennesays) in an article in The Guardian, titled The problem with the west’s Ebola response is still fear of a black patient.

The former Independent MP Rob Oakeshott writes below, however, that Duncan’s death has shown up the “unprincipled, muddled state of global citizenry” where military crises are met with all hands on deck while health crises are met with “all for themselves”.


A letter to a dead man from Rob Oakeshott

Dear Thomas

Thank you. For dying of Ebola.  In America.

You have done what 3000 deaths in West Africa couldn’t do.

You have scared the ‘advanced’ world into lifting its head, and finally looking at the enormous tragedy unfolding.

You have now forced pressure onto first world Governments. Those same Governments wanting to look strong and in control through military might in Iraq and Syria, yet questionably weak when juxtaposed with Ebola.

Australia’s all-rhetoric, ‘shirt-fronting’ Prime Minister Tony Abbott had been silent on Ebola until your death.  Now, at the very least, he is getting asked about it, and is being forced to talk about it.

His initial reaction is a typically insular one.  He says Australia will not send health workers to West Africa due to their personal risk of infection. This plays as a typically coded message to his ‘Team Australia’, that infectious disease outbreaks are for the West Africans to deal with alone.  Clean, white Aussies wash their hands and have toilets, after all. Not our problem.

On its own, this view makes perfect sense as part of an on-going Government theme built on dismissing ideas of global citizenry.  The inward nails of climate change, refugees, and Internet connectivity, have all been driven into our new Fortress Australia.

That Ebola is someone else’s problem fits nicely as the latest plank to this fortress.  Who said neighbours were for loving anyway? The world’s just too complex for any of that warm and fuzzy relationship stuff.

And this is where your death helps. It is timely in exposing this fortress as tough on rhetoric, but weak on reality.

Because now, in the very same press conference, Prime Minister Abbott is staunchly promoting Australian military involvement in Iraq and Syria, yet denying Australian health support for West Africa.  Change the topic and he flips the argument.  There are no principles behind the rhetoric of a principled stand.

What your death is doing is showing-up the political tough-talk on Islamic State as militaristic and muddled when compared to Ebola.  Why one, and not the other?

Military crisis?  All hands on deck.

Health crisis?  All for themselves.

The unprincipled, muddled state of global citizenry.  A good ol’ fashioned conspiracy theorist has never had so much ammunition to argue the military establishment is running the show.

If only Ebola was worshipped as some kind of fundamentalist religion, or the disease outbreak occurred in the oilfields.  I suspect either of these might draw a more determined response.

This is exactly why your death matters.  You engaged the media.  And by doing so, you engaged the first world.

By dying of what you did, where you did, you have reaffirmed that disgusting formula of modern news – one death in America equals 3000 deaths in Africa.

And Governments will now respond.

Prime Minister Abbott will not be able to hold his selfish health position of turning a blind eye to Ebola.  Ebola is leaving Islamic State for dead when it comes to threats on humanity. People pressure, and more and more horrific deaths, will demand greater action.

So thank you Thomas.  You have saved many lives through your unfortunate death.  You have engaged those with the power to stop Ebola spreading into the millions forecast.

Now, along with your death, the only thing missing is a graphic Ebola death on YouTube. Shared and liked, we’d then see the ‘advanced’ world moving in a way it should have long ago.

RIP Thomas Duncan, and all the unnamed like you, who have died from a highly contagious, but preventable disease. Yes, preventable.

• PS from Croakey: Readers may be interested in Ebola Deeply, an independent digital media project based in New York City.


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