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September 2, 2016
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The refugee

Opinion

September 2, 2016

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While there, indeed, exist true humanitarians with a clear purpose and an unmistakable sense of mission and little self-promotion, there are many others who have no identifiable purpose, aside from a fleeting interest, a sense of adventure, and an opportunity to unburden themselves from the nagging guilt.

They know well that the roots of conflict in the Middle East stems from 19th and 20th century colonialism. More recently, they know that the US war on Iraq has destroyed that country and destabilized the whole region for decades to come. They are fully aware of the horrendous implications of western interventionism – including those sold as ‘humanitarian’ interventions – on Libya and Syria and other countries in recent years.

The ongoing tragedy in Yemen, which is advertised in the media as a solely internal Arab conflict, is also rooted in the American so-called ‘war on terror’, which shattered the country to pieces and undermined its internal cohesion.

But, for many, this is too messy, too complicated, and ‘too political.’ It is far easier to declare oneself an ‘activist’ and snap a thousand photos which parade victims of war in total isolation from one’s own moral responsibility.

Personal and collective ‘moral responsibility’ is a risky notion, for it invites more than ambiguous feelings of ‘guilt’ that misleadingly spread responsibility for war equally among all; instead, it propels a moral stance, mobilization, political pressure and direct action.

Many have given ‘activism’ such a bad name that the word itself has now become devoid of meaning.

Some use ‘activism’ as a platform to serve pre-existing political and ideological notions, unable to truly grow out of the limited confines of ideas which are mostly governed by groupthink, but never by true experience.

For them, the self-bestowed title ‘activist’, is self-validating and is often used to shut out those who dare to have opposing views.

Others position themselves as saviors – for example, saving the children of the Middle East – but would shy away from ever articulating a bold political stance against their own governments and their own culpabilities in ongoing wars and tragedies.

Although they might not be constantly aware of it, such ‘activists’ hold on to the legacy of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The White Man’s Burden’. They are utterly blind to their own transgressions and perceive their victims in an apolitical vacuum, or as victims of their own wrong-doing.

Humanitarianism is not a photo op: it is not an adventure; it is not a vacation; it is not a stress or guilt reliever; it should not be an expression of cultural hegemony or driven by a sense of superiority, and must refrain from selling false hope.

A true humanitarian activist is one who is able to make a tangible difference in the lives of others – focused, sensitive to cultural sensibilities, compelled by a tug of moral responsibility, able to read political contexts and daring enough to hold accountable those responsible for war and other collective tragedies.

(Italian writer Roman Rubeo contributed to this article)

This article was excerpted from: ‘‘Activism’ and Its Consequences: Syrian Refugees Are Not Subjects for a Social Media Gallery’. Courtesy: Counterpunch.org

 

 

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