Commentary: King's message is relevant to Haiti's plight

So when did evangelist Pat Robertson begin channeling Fred Phelps' style of irrational connections?

One wonders, listening to Robertson's callous commentary regarding Haiti's plight.

Robertson claimed Haitians brought the deadly earthquake on themselves due to their longstanding "pact with the devil," a twisted reference to a legend surrounding Haiti's founding by slaves who revolted against their French owners.

No, Reverend. Mother Nature shook Haiti. But the country's teeming poverty is killing now.

Poverty in a foreign land is an apt topic today as people gather to honor Martin Luther King Jr.

Our celebrations too often short-shrift King's complexity. We like his message easy to swallow, often thoughts about black/white unity that can strike as simplistically passé.

But King's beliefs about poverty and its role in world strife for all races are stirringly on point for Haiti today.

King spoke of the U.S. living in "the world house." One of his visions was a Marshall Plan of sorts for Asia, Africa and South America. Wealthy nations would unite in the aid of poor ones, to undercut poverty and the extremism it breeds.

"Sketchy aid here and there will not suffice, nor will it sustain economic growth," King said. "There must be a sustained effort extending through many years."

Scholars I tapped know of no instance of King traveling to or speaking specifically about Haiti, although he often vacationed in the Caribbean, usually in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

And this week, Haiti will slip from constant portrayal in the news. That's understandable, as other events arise and the dramatic rescues, the horrific body counts, cease.

Likewise, silly good-vs.-evil accounts of the earthquake like that spouted by Robertson will fade.

The challenge for North Americans will be to maintain a focus on the complicated analysis of how Haiti has remained so poor for so long. And what role the U.S. should play to help Haiti become a stronger, more self-reliant nation after the earthquake.

Appropriately, many King celebrations have been turned into opportunities to raise funds for Haitian relief efforts.

Choose wisely where to put your money. Haitian relief will not be just about donations. Religious, governmental and nongovernmental organizations have dicey work ahead. They must aid Haiti but not stymie the development of a stronger Haitian government in doing so.

"The large house in which we live demands that we transform this world-wide neighborhood into a world-wide brotherhood," King wrote in his last book, published after his murder, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?" "Together we must learn to live as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools."

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