The Other Jackson
For many years I heard nothing of Jermaine Jackson. My only memories of him were early ones, growing up in the seventies with the joyfulness of the sound of the Jackson Five, arguably the best known band of performing brothers out of the United States there ever was.
Then out of the blue, late 2006, I had to look twice at my TV screen when I saw J. Jackson appearing in Celebrity Big Brother on Channel 4 in the UK. March 2007: I find myself visiting Bogra , on a short tour of north central Bangladesh. As I depart, I learn that J.J. is also visiting Bogra, that same day. I return to Dhaka and the following day find myself being asked to interview the by now famous-again Jermaine Jackson for World Report CNN, broadcast on Channel I.
Dr Fazlul Alam of Channel I fame briefed me on protocol and procedure and it was agreed that the interview be divided into two parts, the first conducted by the good doctor himself after which I would have the chance to field some questions.
Firstly I wanted to know if there was any link between Jackson's appearance on Channel Four's money-making hollowness which passes as entertainment, and the promotion and founding in the U.K. of his worthy and sound Earthcare International Foundation. It transpires, Jermaine calmly rebuffs, that there is only a coincidental connection. His father had a bet with him to go on the programme. Maybe the two represent the frivolous and the serious sides to Jermaine's well-balanced personality.
Having travelled throughout Africa as a younger man, having seen the seemingly irreparable damage inflicted on the cradle of civilisation by the fat nations of the world, having witnessed the hopelessness and despair in which countless millions of people exist for their often short-lived wretched lives, Jermaine determined, later on in life, to exploit his privilege and celebrity to make a change, to act, to do something. He could. He would.
Guided by the charity, compassion and humanitarianism deeply embedded in the message of Islam, he set about creating his own foundation, Earthcare International. These are the founding principles on which Earthcare stands and the terms under which its future must be guaranteed.
The fact that countless successions of governments have discarded their due responsibilities and left the fates of their peoples to chance is something that Jackson sees he must live with. The fact that governments in Africa and Asia consistently fail to deliver their children from unimaginable poverty and fail with the same degree of acumen to provide proper social and civic infrastructure is a fact of life, an unalterable truth.
Photo: Kir Vieth
Jermaine sees that his Foundation can make a difference in practical terms. The foundation aims to fund schools and health facilities, to reintegrate children with no parents into their families and provide a lifelong support network which ensures health and education from childhood to adulthood. Furthermore Earthcare will support projects aimed specifically at destitute women.
Jermaine responded to questions with restrained conviction. He talked about his trip to northern parts of Bangladesh. He was moved by the happiness of the children he visited and saw. He found it difficult to reconcile the conditions in which so many children and adults survive with this innate sense of happiness. How was it possible that such children could laugh and smile in the face of the hardship of their daily lives? Who can say? Jermaine compared the conditions in which people live in the Bronx or in Sowetto, though while an indictment of those societies, as more favourable than anything he saw here in Bangladesh. Witnessing, albeit fleetingly the lives of a handful of the people of this lush and beautiful country, Jermaine is deeply affected and even more resolved in his philanthropic quest to change lives, to educate a healthy young population, to teach them the goodness inherent in the human condition, so that they in turn pass on these values.
Jermaine spoke naively about people. I am convinced that Earthcare will bring vast improvements to the lives of many families throughout the developing world. I am not convinced that the goodness of his heart will be transmitted into the hearts of others. Goodwill and charity seem to be luxuries only of the wealthy or wise. If charitable foundations and organisations continue to work in a vacuum, so to speak, without the moral and spiritual backing of political leaders and their governments, the tasks they set out to accomplish will remain insuperable. It seems to me that they need to have parallel agendas. They don't. There must be a link between the religious, the emotional and the political. We are being swept away by the tides of panic of fast growing, highly competitive economies. Our time and our lives are being taken from us and no one is doing anything about it. Instead of slowing down this vast, global, overwhelming machinery, governments encourage its even more rapid expansion. We don't count.
Maybe we never have counted. Who can say? But what we all have is a faculty, a facility that we call conscience. We know that any action we make will have an impact on someone else. If we do not care for and about each other, then who will? If our actions and our words exist in parallel universes is it any wonder that we fail to understand why we can no longer communicate with each other, not to mention the next generation. It is not surprising that the next generation should want to reject the models we claim to be tried and tested. Our examples must always be open to question, never indubitable.
Muslim Aid (www.muslimaid.org) is an NGO, working in several countries, and will act as implementing agent for the projects taken up by Earthcare. The two bodies will work in partnership in certain areas where Muslim Aid is established and in joint venture on Earthcare initiatives. A 0800-number will be set up for receiving donations into Earthcare from the public.
Jackson strikes me as a man of determination and sound spiritual basis. He tackled his questions with calmness and gave off a sort of serenity that I recognised from the way he conducted himself through the Big Brother ordeal. Beneath the seriousness, I sensed a sparkle of the lighter man and just as he had seen the glimmer of hope in the eyes of the children of Bogra, so too I saw it in his eyes.
Kleist Rashid is a freelance contributor to The Daily Star
(R) thedailystar.net 2007