Immediately after hearing about the recent troubles in Burundi, I divested myself of all my investments in the country—a few million dollars invested in uranium and cobalt mines. (Please do not send this blog to the tax authorities.) And I have stopped buying Burundi coffee. Coffee makes up approximately 93% of Burundi exports. Burundi may be one of the poorest countries in the world, but my conscience is clear.
Burundi’s President Nkurunziza has returned to the capital Bujumbura and restored order after the failed coup. His bid to be elected for a third time is regarded as an unconstitutional violation of the Arusha agreement, which ended the civil war in 2006. In addition, there are still very serious concerns regarding the possibility of an escalation of repression and another mini-holocaust (there already have been two). So, the DDBC movement, Don’t Drink Burundi Coffee, must move ahead with full steam.
Now, with a clean conscience, Thank God, I will be able to travel to Denmark as planned. I was a little concerned lest I would not be able to comply with the new Danish Conscience Regulations. For example, Article 27b states: No personage will be allowed on Public Transport without a Clean Conscience. A Danish Bus Company recently appeared with the following ad on its buses: “Our conscience is clean! We neither buy products from the Israeli settlements nor invest in the occupation industry.” In Denmark, Kierkegaard country, they take their consciences seriously.
However, I began to have second thoughts. Was my conscience playing tricks on me? Has abstaining from drinking Burundi coffee really cleaned my conscience? So before the trip to Denmark, I decided to go for a CRI (Conscience Resonance Imaging) to check the state of my conscience. And I am a little embarrassed to say that it was found to be rather cloudy—full of grey matter, in fact. I have been referred for CCCT (Conscience Clarity and Control Therapy) at the prestigious Center for Moral Reeducation in Tehran.
Where had I gone wrong? Something was obviously lacking in my education.
Conscience, for me, had always been the way of the Prophets. Take, for example, Jeremiah. He was alone one day when he heard a message from above; God appointed him as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah was reluctant to take on the role, claiming a lack of age and oratory skills. This did not impress God who told him to say “whatever I command you.” The prophet then recalls God touching him on the mouth: “There! I am putting my words into your mouth.”
Jeremiah’s message to the people was radical: if they wanted to save themselves, they had to repent. This meant that a person’s thinking and behavior had to change. Jeremiah called for radical inner personal change.
Jeremiah was chosen by God; given the message by God; and the Prophet paid the price of threats, violence, ostracism, and being ignored. “But they did not listen to me, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me and turned their backs on me.” (Rubenstein 2006) The people were not yet ready for the message of inner change.
Some 2,100 years later, with the coming of the Protestant Reformation, the revolutionary concept of personal moral responsibility appeared in the form of The Conscience. The guide to moral conduct and carrying out God’s will became an internalized system of values. No more was the intercession of a higher authority required, nor the use of reason. Each person could follow the dictates of his heart.
Lee Harris in Civilization and Its Enemies describes the appearance of conscience in sixteenth-century Northern Europe. It could have developed, he says, only in people who had long been making decisions about their own communal affairs in a respectable way.
The principle of conscience would be too dangerous to let loose among people who couldn’t care less what other people thought of their behavior, for in this setting, the doctrine of conscience would be, in practice, an invitation to anarchy. Respectability must be a behavioral norm of any community before that community can begin to entertain even the illusion of conscience. (Harris 2004)
The anarchy has been let loose on the streets of Europe, in this case, through the illusion of conscience on the side of a Danish bus—a picture of two Danish women declaring how clean their consciences are. Within four days, the ad was removed by the bus company after a number of complaints. Fathi El Abed, head of the organization behind the ads, the Danish Palestinian Friendship Association, described the bus company’s decision as “crazy.” “This is a matter of freedom of speech,” he said.
A parting question: what to do with the two bundles of socks, one made in Turkey, one in China that my wife gave me today?
By the way, if anybody has some spare Burundi coffee, please let me know. Joking aside, I am just preparing for the lifting of sanctions.
Harris, L. (2004) Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History. New York: Free Press.
Rubinstein, R. (2006) Thus Saith The Lord: The Revolutionary Moral Vision of Isaiah and Jeremiah. New York: Harcour