Thursday, April 20, 2006

Words of Power #17: Harry Potter and the Night Commuters

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”But I haven’t got uncommon skill and power,” said Harry, before he could stop himself.
“Yes, you have,” said Dumbledore firmly. “You have a power that Voldemort has never had. You can…”
“I know!” said Harry impatiently. “I can love!” It was only with difficulty that he stopped himself adding, “Big deal!”
“Yes, Harry, you can love,” said Dumbledore, who looked as though he knew perfectly well what Harry had just refrained from saying. “Which, given everything that has happened to you, is a great amd remarkable thing. You are still too young to understand how unusual you are.”
“So, when the prophecy says that I’ll have ‘power the Dark Lord knows not,’ it just means – love?” asked Harry, feeling a little let down.
“Yes – just love,” said Dumbledore…
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and The Half-Blood Prince

“One boy tried to escape, but he was caught. They made him eat a mouthful of red pepper, and five people were beating him. His hands were tied, and then they made us, the other new captives, kill him with a stick. I felt sick. I knew this boy from before. We were from the same village. I refused to kill him, and they told me they would shoot me. They pointed a gun at me, so I had to do it. The boy was asking me, “Why are you doing this?” I said I had no choice. After we killed him, they made us smear blood on our arms. I felt dizzy. They said we had to do this so we would not fear death, and so we would not try to escape.” -Susan, 16
Human Rights Watch, The Scars of Death: Children Abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Armys in Uganda, Human Rights Watch Report, 1997

For the last few months, I have carried a newspaper clipping around in my satchel. It haunts me. I can’t let go of it.  The Associated Press story, “Ugandan rebels wage war on future,” ran in the Fresno Bee on Christmas morning, in 2005. It tells of “hundreds of children who hike through the heat and the dust, clutching their mats and blankets” to the northern Ugandan town of Gulu. They are called the “
night commuters.” Every night, they leave their families in the refugee camps and journey into town to sleep on verandahs and relief agency shelters. It is the only way that they avoid being kidnapped and forced into servitude by the “Lord’s Resistance Army” (LRA).
The crisis in Uganda, of course, is not new. It has gone on for many years.
According the story’s author, Rodrique Ngowi, the LRA has “given a whole new meaning to the term child abuse.” “This is a war on the future,” Ngowi wrote, “turning boys into soldiers and girls into sex slaves…At its peak, 4,500 children would walk into the main shelters in Gulu each night…” The UN estimates that at least 25,000 children have been abducted.

Last year, an AlertNet poll of more than 100 experts cited Uganda as second in the world’s top ten forgotten emergencies, behind only the Congo and just ahead of Darfur.  The LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony is described as “a former altar boy and self-proclaimed prophet” on “an apocalyptic spiritual crusade.”
In Chapter 3 of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban, the young wizard flees the house of his abusive Aunt and Uncle, on a cold night, and waits alone in the menacing darkness, at a Muggle bus stop on a deserted street.
He does not know where he is going, or how he is going to get there.
The Knight Bus, a “violently purple” magical triple-decker bus from the Wizarding World, arrives to whisk him away.
“The bus functions as public transportation for the wizard or witch in need everywhere in England, Scotland and Wales, bringing passengers to the destinations of their choice with seemingly no set route. It bolts through the streets, entirely invisible to Muggles and causing other objects to dodge it instead of the other way round, to cover short distances. For long ones, the Knight Bus makes hundred mile (160 km) leaps accompanied by a great bang and jolt, possibly similar to Apparating. The interior of the bus changes or is changed depending on the time of day, with chairs by day and beds by night….” (The Knight Bus, Wikipedia)
As a young boy, I rode the subways and traversed the mean streets of New York City, late at night, fleeing from one danger only to encounter others. And although no Knight Bus arrived for me, I survived those dangers, and later in life, overcame the traumas inflicted -- because of the magic I discovered within and around me.
Survival kindled in me both an indomitable trust in that magic and an ardent desire to draw attention to the plight of children who live in such dire straits with no opportunity to find their own wands.
I have written to you before both about the power of Harry Potter (Words of Power #9: The Goblet of Fire, The Deep Magic & The Giant Sequoias) and the tragedy of the world’s child soldiers (Words of Power #3: Gangstas = Child Soldiers Without A Country).
In the early 1990s, J.K. Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter books, was single mother, battling poverty and depression. But looking back on the past decade, she has arguably exercised one of the most profound cultural influences of the millennial crossing:
The Harry Potter books have been translated into more than 55 languages, and it has been estimated that more than 250 million copies have been sold around the world. The first three books have been made into films: Sorcerer's Stone made more than $950 million; Chamber of Secrets, more than $850 million; and Prisoner of Azkaban, more than $650 million, as of July 2004, when the third was still in theaters. All three are among the top twenty highest-grossing films of all time.  In February 2004, Forbes magazine estimated that Rowling had £576 million, or more than a billion dollars. This would make her the first person ever to become a billionaire from writing books.
(Monster Facts)
Within the breathtakingly paced pages of her adventure stories, Rowlings inspires her readers (whether young or just young at heart) not only to embrace the sublime (e.g., the mystical dimensions of this life) and the poignant (e.g., youth’s growing pains and rites of passage), but also to confront a plethora of social ills (e.g., racism, sexism, slavery, propaganda and terrorism). In Rowling's Wizarding World, conscience is the only unfailing oracle, and unconditional love is the only indefatigable power.
The deep, real magic within us is both incalculably ancient and utterly modern. And if we are to overcome the spiritual challenges of the 21st Century Security Crisis, it has to be unleashed. When elucidating this extraordinary convergence of risks and threats (e.g., global warming, nuclear proliferation, religious extremism, etc.) and the unprecedented demands it will make on all individuals, organizations and societies, I encourage adherence to three vital principles:
Empower those we want to reach, instead of seeking to instill fear or incite to violence.
Illustrate, by example, the immutable law that everything and everyone is connected, i.e. that whatever is done to any strand in the the web of life impacts the whole of it.

Identify the real enemies, i.e., the sources of the diseases that plague our collective psyche, e.g., ignorance, suffering and lack of opportunity, rather than futilely trying to treat the symptoms.
There is no better way to work toward establishing global security, sustainability and spiritual renewal than making personal, organizational and national commitments to the realization of the UN’s Millennium Goals by 2015:
1. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
2. Achieve universal primary education
3. Promote gender equality and empower women
4. Reduce child mortality
5. Improve maternal health
6. Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases
7. Ensure environmental sustainability
8. Develop a global partnership for development
There is no greater spiritual imperative.
There is no greater national security issue.
If enough individuals, organizations and governments accept this portfolio of responsibility, the “Night Commuters” of Uganda, and many millions more, will find their way to the Wizarding World.

Richard Power is the founder of GS(3) Intelligence and His work focuses on the inter-related issues of security, sustainability and spirit, and how to overcome the challenges of terrorism, cyber crime, global warming, health emergencies, natural disasters, etc. You can reach him via e-mail: For more information, go to

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