I have been waiting for the right time to write this review, because I want so badly to be sure to write it well and to use it as a way to remind myself of all the great things I loved about it.
The Locust Effect, by Gary Haugen and Victor Boutros, takes the reader on a journey into the lives of the poorest of the poor in developing countries who suffer daily at the hands of unchecked violence against them. We in the developed world enjoy the privilege of feeling, and actually being, relatively safe, thanks to functioning justice systems, law enforcement, and healthy governments. Many might recoil against this statement, citing the current state of affairs in our world, but the reality is that on our worst day, we are more safe and more protected than the majority of the world. The thrust of Haugen’s argument is that without safety, all the financial/medical/educational/etc. support in the world does not make for true lasting change in the developing world. He compares this idea to a swarm of locust that might attack a farmer’s land and leave him with nothing, decimating his ability to bring an income, and destroying all his assets for the years to come as well. In the same way, the violence of the developing world sweeps through impoverished communities and puts them in the red. If they were struggling to climb out of poverty, sickness, or starvation before, they can easily find themselves even further behind, having suffered at the hands of slavers, rapists, corrupt police, you name it.
When there are no laws to protect the citizens of a country, or worse, those laws are ignored by law enforcement, or at its very worst, not upheld by the courts themselves, what can a single mom with four kids, who is barely keeping food on the table, do to stand up to the lions of injustice? Haugen spends the first several chapters of this book outlining actual stories and accounts of atrocious violence against many whom he has worked with personally through International Justice Mission and his time at the Justice Department. What stuck out to me most was his question to the reader (I am paraphrasing): “When the thousands of Rwandan men, women, and children were watching machetes come toward them, obliterating every person in their wake, they did not need food, shelter, education, or medicine. They needed someone to stay the hand of the murderer.” All of our humanitarian efforts fall enormously short in the light of the violence which can all too easily void the benefits of such aid. There are simply far too many poor living outside the protection of law.
Haugen is very careful not to negate the importance, effectiveness, or validity of various relief endeavours. They are, in the right doses and constructs, very helpful. But, he explains that unless there is drastic and effective reform from the top down in the court and police systems of developing countries, not much will change longterm. When the slaver has no fear of consequences (which are nonexistent), he will continue to keep slaves. When the rapist or molester endures no punishment for the harm he inflicts, he will continue to commit his crimes against the vulnerable. When the rich(er) can easily take control of the poor(er) in a small community, what is to stop them from doing so? It is vital that we who are having these discussions, we who have the ability to petition our governments and be heard, we who send money and sponsor children and attend conferences – it is our job to change the conversation.
Possibly the most impactful part of this book for me was the last half in which Haugen discusses the historical reasons many countries find themselves in these situations and details several accounts of countries who have been successful in revolutionizing their law enforcement and court systems. It can be done. It is being done in many places. Organizations like International Justice Mission are helping countries and various government constructs to change from the inside out. I particularly appreciated that this book did not offer a western solution to an everywhere-else problem. He does not submit that we should simply slap the first world systems onto the various developing countries who are in need of help. Rather, he argues that we should carefully and thoughtfully assist change that is largely guided and sustained by local lawyers, police, and government officials. There is no a one-size-fits-all solution.
To attempt to properly summarize all the information in this book would be pointless. I will be highly recommending this book to anyone and everyone who considers themselves socially conscious or interested in social justice whatsoever. The book was well researched, well written, easy to follow and understand, even for those who are not experts in these areas! I especially appreciated that, although Gary Haugen is a believer and IJM is a Christian-based organization, this book was written from a practical, socially conscious, humanitarian view point. While we as Christians should be extra concerned with this epidemic, this is a problem which concerns the entire world. We need more people, large organizations like the UN, and big governments with real power who can intercede. I believe Gary’s point may have been muted had he focused only on the biblical/spiritual reasons we should care about this issue. He would have lost a lot of very influential thinkers and doers. (Don’t hear me wrong – the biblical/spiritual reasons are valid, and they are my personal driving force! But that is not the case for everyone, so we cannot expect them to care about the things we care about. If you’re interested in a more Christian approach to this, I really loved Haugen’s other book, Just Courage.)
For me, finishing this book was pivotal. I actually listened to this book on Audible, but I think I will be purchasing a hard copy so I can go back through it, review, and highlight. An idea I’ve been toying with is pursuing law school in the hopes of one day working for IJM or a similar organization, so having an understanding of how the world has arrived at this place and what we can do to help was huge. As I’ve written in the past, I am passionate about justice. I am a justice driven person at heart. Reading the heart breaking stories of suffering and injustice around the world, in the same world that I live in, was almost unbearable. I think it’s important that we understand that these events are happening in places that we can easily step on a plane and visit within a few hours. We vacation there. We take short term missions trips there. We welcome these dear ones into our countries as immigrants and refugees. These are people that we actually do rub shoulders with. And don’t even get me started on the demand for the sex trade which largely originates right here in North America & the UK. This stuff is near you. It is affecting you. We need to open our eyes.
Who will speak for the voiceless and oppressed if we will not? Who will say, “Enough is enough?” Who will stand against the bullies of the world and say, “You’ll have to go through me, first.” If not the people of God who are called by His name and commanded to love mercy, walk humbly, and DO JUSTICE, then who?
**If you are interested in more about this issue, here are some helpful links. I recommend Gary’s talks if you know you just won’t get through the book, but still want to educate yourself a little. Well worth the time!