EDITOR’S NOTE: The following are remarks delivered before a Roundtable on Globalization and International Development at the “Global Governance and the Politics of Development” conference sponsored by the Vatican Foundation Centesimus Annus Pro Pontifice on May 1, 2004.
VATICAN CITY–Permit me to take a moment to honor the 40th anniversary of the death of my younger brother, Father Richard Novak, C.S.C., a missionary of the Congregation of Holy Cross, who on January 16, 1964, was slain during religious rioting just outside of Dacca, (now) Bangladesh. He had been teaching at Notre Dame Academy for two years, and was studying Arabic at the University of Dacca. His aim was to become an expert on Islam, so that he could help generate a Muslim-Christian dialog for our time. We had both been inspired in our younger years by the intense conversation among Muslims, Jews and Christian scholars during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but Father Richard made that his vocation. He was 27 when he died.
To salute his memory, I want to call attention to the world’s “forgotten one billion” in the efforts to promote human rights and human dignity and opportunity for the poor around the world–I mean, the world’s one billion Muslims. When I served as United States ambassador to the Human Rights Commission in 1981 and 1982, I regret to say, we did not in those days attend to the human rights of Muslims, preoccupied as we were with human-rights abuses in the Soviet Union and its satellites, in Africa, in Latin America, and elsewhere. Alas, we all tended to forget the dignity and rights of the Muslim world.
When we look around today, we see that most Muslims still live under repressive regimes and severe secret police surveillance. Most live in considerable poverty, and with an astonishing lack of opportunity, even a lack of work. All this is neither right nor necessary. Given great oil wealth, many Muslim nations could be among the richest in the world. Given all that is now known about how universal wealth is created, and also opportunities for enterprise, economic creativity, and new forms of employment, it is not necessary that so many should languish in unemployment and poverty. And it is not right.
It cannot be true, as some of my Muslim friends have told me, that only Christians and Jews are entitled to the dignity of having their rights as individuals respected, and their personal dignity honored, and their civil and political liberties secured, while the rights of Muslims go unprotected and even ignored.
We have to do better than this. One of the three great steps during the 21st century must surely be to champion the cause of democracy, human rights, and economic opportunity in the Muslim world. Without such efforts, the creative opportunities intended by human nature will not be available to young Muslims. Temptations toward despair and destruction will be strong. We owe better than that to the “forgotten one billion Muslims” on this planet.
The second point I mean to bring to your attention is a chance to rejoice in one of the greatest leaps out of poverty–by a half-billion persons–in human history. This leap was achieved by a turn toward enterprise, private property, and low taxation in two of the then poorest nations in the world, China and India, beginning just over 20 years ago. Beginning in 1978, China reduced its proportion of poor persons from 28 percent to 9 percent, and India from 51 percent to 26 percent by the turn of the new millennium. This is a tremendous step forward for the human race.
Whereas Asia was home to nearly 76 percent of all the poor people on earth in 1970, thanks to advances in the Philippines, Malaysia, and above all India and China, today the proportion of the world’s poor to be found in Asia is around 11 percent.
You can see the human face of globalization in the glance of every father of a family in the Philippines (such as my colleague Jesus Estanislao has just described) or in China or India who has started a new business and begun to see it prosper, much to the good of his family, and his village, and his region, and his whole nation. Every successful new business benefits many persons at once, not only its employees and their families, and its customers and its suppliers, but all those around it who feel its good effects. Small creative economic developments radiate outwards. You see their good effects in the erect way in which successful people carry themselves, and in the confident and imaginative eyes of their young sons and daughters. You see these effects in more than a half-billion new sets of eyes in China and India alone.
We need to take joy from the successes of human development and globalization, for there is always much bad news to absorb, and heavy new tasks await us on every hand.
That brings me to the third step that lies ahead of us in the 21st century: Now that China and India have succeeded so well in lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, nearly two-thirds of all the poor in the world remain behind in Africa, the one continent that so far has not made the great breakthroughs that Latin America, Eastern Europe, and now Asia have made.
Although there is sufficient water in Africa, its distribution is poorly managed, much water is wasted, even more is carelessly polluted, and many regions are in chronically short supply, especially of clean drinking water. Nature has been sufficiently kind to Africa in this respect, but human administration, for many reasons, has failed to take benefit from it and to improve it. In addition, partly abetted by uninformed practices, the AIDS epidemic has severely wounded tens of millions of lives and precipitates many early deaths. Africa needs manifold forms of help.
Let me summarize. The forgotten billion Muslims, the dramatic successes in scaling back poverty in India and China, and the bitter needs of suffering Africa–these are, I think, three main focal points for our efforts in the 21st century to carry everywhere the lessons of that most marvelous of the economic encyclicals, Centesimus Annus, for which our institute is happily named. These lessons are at one and the same time cultural, political, and economic. In all three spheres, C.A. celebrates the creativity hidden by the Creator in the human brain and hand. (You can see this hidden strength in the touch of the Creator’s hand reached out to Adam, on the Sistine Ceiling, across from where we sit.)
Thank you for the privilege of taking part on this distinguished panel.
–Michael Novak is the winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion and the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Novak’s own website is www.michaelnovak.net.