Europe

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South (May, 2019)

No one wants to be the “Global North”? On being a researcher across the North and South

In this blog post I would like to share my personal experiences of carrying out qualitative research in what contemporary scholars call the “Global South” (Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt) and the “Global North” (Australia and the United Kingdom). To convey my message clearly, I adopt the classical political geography of “South” and “North” with the intention of neither confirming these narrow categories nor of universalizing my personal experiences but in order to work towards an honest sociology of knowledge through such peculiar experiences.

In particular, I discuss what I think are some of the emerging behavioral and ethical tendencies in today’s research economy and its main methodologies. On the one hand, the reluctance in the “Southern” environments in recognizing their own tendency to embrace predominant ways of producing knowledge. On the other, the reluctance of “Northern” research entities to acknowledge their own positionality within the global scenario – that is, accepting the fact of conducting research as outsiders and, above all, the sociological harm of pretending localism. The result of these two tendencies is, from my perspective, a globalized impoverished attention to factual awareness, which depends on the personal involvement of researchers in the context they study and the cultivation of the capability to build and rebuild a continual relationship with the subjects and the places studied beyond the duration of fieldwork research.

The “Southern” tendency to perceive the practice of producing research as antithetical or substantially different to the North consistently builds on the universal romanticization of the research produced in the Global South, cutting across the North and the South. Indeed, while the research and academic institutions that I worked for in the Global South tended to believe that their fieldwork quality standards were inherently higher, the fact of being at the mercy of external – and unstable – sources of funding often endangered their existence and alternative ways of working. In these circumstances, fieldwork mostly took place in relatively small timeframes and, likewise, theories needed to be quickly wrapped up, making it difficult to identify any effective counter-culture of knowledge production. Studies on publishing locally and perishing globally have importantly highlighted the material constraints of localizing research. While “Southern” knowledge is barely known and mentioned by North-produced researchers (although it often marks significantly several fields of studies), it is also important to add that, in my own experiences across the Arab world, large segments of upper and middle classes tend to receive their postgraduate education and establish their scholarship in Northern institutions, thereby being trained according to Northern criteria while trying to preserve their reputation of being local researchers. In similar ways, Southern institutions often delegate fieldwork to research assistants who struggle to receive intellectual acknowledgment. (The same acknowledgment that many “Southern” research institutions have been looking for in the international arena, still dominated by Global North’s epistemologies and funding sources). In this regard, I have seen no co-authorships offered to research assistants, who undergo processes of alienation similar to those recently discussed in the context of the institutions of the Global North. Likewise, I have witnessed similarly exploitative relationships which seek to build knowledge upon the anonymity and the belittling of an underpaid workforce, whatever the latter’s passport is.

Despite acknowledging the partially ethnic character of some of these power dynamics – such as European academics versus local researchers in the Arab Levant, mostly when the former lack the necessary linguistic skills and in-depth knowledge of the research settings – I would like to emphasize some nuances. While the global archetype of neoliberal academia certainly does not stem from Southern institutions, largely due to colonial legacies, in my experience I have identified hierarchical and alienating structures of research-making across different cultural patterns of knowledge production.

Dauntingly, ethical research and decolonial methodologies are becoming tokenistic worldwide, turning into a further disenfranchisement of diversely vulnerable researched subjects, such as refugees. In this scenario, the Global North currently promotes itself as a pioneer advocate of ethical research – a phenomenon which has led to a proliferation of publications on the topic, rather than finally aiming for a radical transformation of research and for the uprooting of the vulnerabilities of the researched.

With no intention to bury unequal historical relationships, the intrinsic “non-ethicness” of such structural deficiencies needs to be observed across Norths and Souths. To ethnographers, if quality fieldwork means collecting relevant data, it also needs to mean collecting what matters at a local level and in an appropriate way. Contextual relevance and cultural appropriateness inevitably require generous timeframes. Doing less but long-term research and paying under-explored forms of respect to the researched may be the way to go.

Moreover, a pressing question may center on the tyranny of grants and funding, which is said to dictate the design of today’s projects. To what extent is this the cause of such an unacknowledged sociology of failure in academic research? The present tendency is to design methods that involve an extremely large number of interviews and what I would call the “participatory approach fever”. The result of a misinterpretation of what “participation” should mean is subcontracting scientific evidence to researched subjects overburdened with theoretical expectations and over-theorizations, a tendency which seldom turns out to provide sound empirical evidence. In this vein, Northern-led research not only tends to romanticize the South, which would not be new in postcolonial scholarship, but increasingly invites the South to actively participate in its own romanticization. Affected by “participatory approach fever”, many scholars in the Global North feel urged to depict their work as local, while also missing the fact that sharing their own conscious positionality vis-à-vis the researched would instead be an invaluable point of departure in the effort to avoid ethical and scientific failure. Indeed, such a self-acknowledgment would finally contribute to nuancing the multiple cultures in which research design, data collection, writing, and knowledge production are embedded – cultures that are hardly definable within the categories of “North” and “South”.

In light of these considerations, I ask myself how ethnographic studies can survive without being sociologically relevant and, at times, even culturally appropriate. Subcontracting the production of knowledge either to local researchers or to the researched themselves is certainly not a one-size-fits-all answer. Yet it looks unfeasible for many researchers across the globe to dispose of proper time and funding to conduct research over a longer timeframe and develop a localized understanding of the contexts they wish to study. I identified a similar issue when I realized that some researchers who have a poor command of the local language shy away from hiring an interpreter due to a lack of material means or because they are in an environment that frowns upon social science researchers who lack contextual skills. While peacefully sharing one’s own limits and assets would potentiate empirical analysis overall, everyone wants to be the “voice of the Global South”. Instead, no one wants to be the Global North, impeding a honest sociology of knowledge. Thus, how do we decolonize sociological and anthropological knowledge and, at the same time, the sociology of knowledge, if the drivers of epistemological coloniality, across Norths and Souths, have managed to make themselves invisible?

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My lecture at the Lebanese American University (March, 2019)

http://sas.lau.edu.lb/institutes/isjcr/news/index.php#69387

News

Beyond Humanitarianism Paradigm: The Effect of Displacement on Religious Authorities

posted on 10/04/2019

isjcr-carpi-seminar.jpg

By Fidaa Al Fakih

LAU’s Institute for Social Justice and Conflict Resolution (ISJCR) and the Department of Social Sciences hosted a seminar on “The Displacement of Religious Authorities from Syria and their Involvement in Aid Provision: Looking beyond Humanitarianism.”

The cross-campus seminar was based on the preliminary findings of Research Associate at University College London, Dr Estella Carpi.

Welcoming the attendees, moderator and ISJCR Director and Associate Professor of Political Science and International Affairs Tamirace Fakhoury said the seminar sheds light on the under-researched topic of “how the displacement from Syria has affected religious authorities and how religious authorities have had to reinvent their mission and involvement in aid provision.”

Dr. Carpi then kicked off the seminar by explaining that the field research she has been conducting in Lebanon is part of a much broader project with Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh of University College London under the framework of “south–south humanitarianism.” The research, she said, looks at southern agents of aid provision, particularly faith leaders or religious authorities who try to help their own displaced communities.

Dr. Carpi’s presentation built on her extensive research on faith-based organizations working in the Syria neighborhood, including her engagement with Syrian refugee faith leaders in Lebanon. “I relied on self-accounts of personal experiences in aid provision to the displaced communities once Syrian faith leaders became refugees themselves,” she said.

Dr. Carpi then mapped a geography of displaced religious authorities following their physical trajectories outside of Syria. She also focused on how displacement from war, violence and persecution reconfigures their spiritual role and their social status within receiving societies. By doing so, Dr. Carpi captured how the spiritual mission of such religious leaders changes in response to their own refugee status and their intent to provide aid, support and solidarity to the displaced communities.

Concluding the seminar, Dr. Fakhoury and Chair of the Social Sciences Department Marwan Rowayheb thanked Dr. Carpi for uncovering concepts of humanitarianism that shed light on new actors often overlooked by researchers when studying Syrian refugee challenges in neighboring host societies.

Dr. Rowayheb encouraged Dr. Carpi to account for the structural differences in the nature of the religious establishments in Lebanon, and to examine the competition between Lebanese religious authorities and displaced Syrian faith leaders that in some instances trigger sensitivities.

Categories: Europe, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, Turkey, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

The ‘Need to Be There’: North-South Encounters and Imaginations in the Humanitarian Economy (December, 2018)

I have contributed to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, edited by Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Patricia Daley (2018), which has just been published!

https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781138652002

The edited volume collects an important number of critical contributions which question contemporary political geographies of Global North and Global South. Here below you can read the abstract of my chapter which focuses on my work on humanitarianism in Lebanon.

chapter 22|13 pages

North–South encounters and imaginations in the humanitarian economy
ByEstella Carpi
Hide abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted in Beirut’s southern suburbs (Dahiye) and northern Lebanon (Akkar) between 2011 and 2013, this chapter advances a critical reflection on humanitarian lifeworlds in Lebanon and their encounters with war-stricken local citizens and refugees. Defining Southism as a structural relationship that cements the ‘global South’ as the key symbolic capital of Northern empowerment, accountability and capability, the chapter discusses the attitudes and thinking that have characterised the Lebanese humanitarian economy during the Israel–Lebanon July 2006 war and the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon from 2011. While it defines ‘epistemic failure’ and ‘material discrimination’ as the actual encounters between humanitarian providers and their beneficiaries, this chapter proposes that ‘humanitarian tourism’, ‘politics of blame’, and the ‘betrayal of the international community’ represent the local and refugee imaginary encounters with global humanitarian lifeworlds. With the purpose of problematising ethnic and political geographies in provider–recipient power relations, it finally theorises a de-geographicised notion of Southism that can better capture the complex role of international and local humanitarian workers in crisis settings, as well as the ad hoc relevance of nationality within humanitarian economies.

 

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Migration Influxes and European Compassion: How Long Do We Need to Wait for an Informed Sustainability? (by Estella Carpi, November 2015)

hungary migrants new m

(Photo taken from France24)

http://trendsinstitution.org/?p=1520

Over the last two months, everyone with internet access has surely come across the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler drowned in Turkish waters on a beach of Bodrum last September 2.  It seems the photo of Aylan, along with waves of refugees trying to cross to Eastern Europe – mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan – have finally shaken the Western public from its lethargy and has made frighteningly tangible to all of us the human limit to which political crises, transnational disputes, and the controversies of a “North-South” humanitarian system have led us.

According to the studies of Lili Chouliaraki, the phenomenon that we currently witness consists of new “ironic spectators” watching the suffering of the Other: so to speak, the user of the compassionate “Facebook like” vocabulary, who celebrates and self-advertises her/his acts of charity, and exchanges the ethical consumption of solidarity for information and sustainability. Once again, the ephemeral solidarity cultivated in the media, and the compassion towards an abstract multitude of “desperate migrants”, too rarely claim back the historicity of the events, and are rather concerned with telling us their sad stories to consequently stimulate our intentions and defend them.

Once again, the solidarity that seldom questions the reasons behind the European public rapidly turning from indifference to mass sympathy, is promoted in terms of lifestyle rather than informed and responsive civic-mindedness.

After the diffusion of the picture of the lifeless body of the little Aylan, European media have offered much more space to the discussion of the (in)formal aid that civilians are providing to refugees, and their civil protests organised to express a “European spirit” of solidarity. These initiatives, until the Syrian emergency and the chronic predicament of neighbouring populations were mostly affecting the Middle Eastern region, had not been implemented in the European Union (EU) to the same extent as presently.

The public compassion in the wake of the massive “refugee crisis” – a definition that is actually able to conceal the political causes and the external responsibilities underlying such crises –[1] has now become the driving force of transnational assistance, pushing couch spectators beyond their mere sympathy.

The “sentimental education” that Richard Rorty[2] was advancing may be able to cultivate at school a co-feeling of empathy among the youth and provide a new common ground to tackle international crises. While human sensitivity to differences should not be taken for granted and should rather be taught, how can we prevent the culture of rights, traditionally championed by the so-called “Global North”, from remaining ephemeral as much as the public attention to desperate exoduses and displacements? In the current media morass, the promotion of human rights through philanthropic campaigns and the proliferation of NGOs, which has long tasted of Western neoliberalism and paternalistic third worldism, still struggles to offer deeper explanations to such crises.  And it is even more alarming that the average European spectator remains unlikely to accept that the stories recounting South-North migrations are not all necessarily sad.

The average European spectator has proved, once again, to mobilise and face her/his encounter with refugees and migrants in purely humanitarian terms, and not in the political recognition of their right to a new life, asylum, or protection. It is not only the fact that “they suffer like us” that should be pitied and recognised. That ”at the end of the day they suffer like us”, although being a sine qua non prelude of generosity, is still unable to give birth to informed and sustainable solidarities. As long as refugee crises and political failures are not recounted to the open public with substantial historical information and upcoming legal challenges, individual spectators will keep struggling to identify continuities between the physical presence of refugees and their need for assistance in the host country, as well as the need for politically recognising their rights and the ways in which naturalisation of rights can be dealt with in contemporary societies. The humanitarian effort, regrettably, is presented as a moral duty that remains independent from immigration issues.

Over the past months, the temporary restoration of border controls in Germany and Austria, the construction of the wall at the Serbian-Hungarian border, and Hungarian journalist Petra Laszlo tripping a Syrian refugee, all clearly point to the reinforcement of moral and material borders in the countries most affected by the refugee influx. These episodes point to something that seems to be much larger than a mere “refugee influx”, as they are rather unraveling a massive crisis of human encounters.

Moreover, recent developments have shown that EU countries cannot cope alone with these migration flows, and the overall UN commitment to the provision of relief has therefore become more consistent within their boundaries. One of the greatest challenges is now the adaption of the conventional humanitarian response, normally provided in refugee camps populated by sedentary residents, to multitudes of mobile people, who tend to remain in a place for a few days, or even for a few hours, before seeking to continue to the desired destination. The management of what can be called a “transit emergency”, especially in Italy, Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, is still an unexplored way of intervening for European humanitarian organisations. The opening of new local offices of some international NGOs – such as World Vision, Islamic Relief, and Action Aid – has therefore become inevitable.

Europeans should now reconsider their North-South neoliberal policies, embraced under the historical banner of moral responsibility, which gradually reduced humanitarianism and development to mere instruments of international security. On this purpose, it is worth mentioning that the emergency relief provision and the development projects, which followed the Lebanon-Israel war in Hezbollah-led areas, are evidently concerned with western life and security; similarly, western securitisation was pursued in Afghanistan by toppling the Talibans from power. Also, natural disasters like drought and floods in Mozambique in the 1980s were publicly discussed as an exclusive political conflict in order to enhance foreign action.[3]

The other common challenge is realising that all individuals are advocates and actors together in different geopolitical orders that peoples on the move, and beyond, will never comply with. Facing these challenges and paving the way to understanding, rather than compassion, would not only save many lives from a bio-political perspective, but would also avert the “side effects” of such cyclical struggles for a geopolitical order from a more pragmatic angle.

Upholding and protecting the rights of asylum seekers cannot remain at the mercy of elusive and ill-informed social solidarities. Let alone in the exclusive hands of state actors and the official diplomacy. Indeed, there are still a large number of issues that can be tackled from the bottom. Some of these real challenges are to imperatively fill with deeper contextual knowledge the numerous calls for material assistance on the grounds of mere emotional piety; educate the public via media and school programmes to the legality of rights and the material hardships that displacement exposes to; and, consequently, support such rights subtending migration and refugeehood when the “fifteen minutes of fame” of the ongoing mass compassion will have come to their end.

NGOs and UN agencies issuing reports, news-makers, scholars, and researchers involved in migration issues, should rather realise their actual potential to make the general public more critical and analytic. This would already progressively mark a decisive turning point.

As a tangible result of a more responsive and informed public, grassroots’ initiatives could be advanced in coordination with state and NGO efforts.

There are several examples of how grassroots’ initiatives made a real difference, accepting refugees and migrants into their own community and not merely assisting them as humanitarian victims who need to biologically survive. For instance, in the city of Kalmar in Sweden, in a bid to help refugees integrate, the Swedish migration board, after consulting with local residents, decided to offer to asylum seekers free bus passes. Provided that refugee accommodation centers are generally located on the outskirts of towns, this move materially allowed the newcomers to come outside of their communities and be given the opportunity to influence public spaces and local cultural forms.

Similarly, in the Italian region of Veneto, when a tornado ripped through the outskirts of Venice last July causing massive destruction, recent refugees and migrants were called upon by local citizens to provide help, thereforerevealing the will to include the new civic agents into the local community, and going beyond simple aid provision. Likewise, a few years ago, the municipality of Riace in South Italy took abandoned homes and made them into spaces for the homeless. The refugees brought new life to a dying town, constituting the future human capital of the small town.

Despite the widespread determinism through which wars and disasters are frequently viewed as unavoidable or unresolvable, grassroots’ action and even individual acts, to some extent, are able to influence macrocosmic legal and political trends. However, the speed at which the latest tide of compassion is already disappearing, at the moment, does not leave much hope for far more informed, far-sighted, and effective efforts.

[1] Crisis ist the way in which political failure and the absence of will for facing social predicament or political discontent are labeled, with the practical consequence of concealing the very social, economic, and political factors leading to such crises. The expression, widespread in the international media as well as in the scholarship dealing with politics and international relations, is able to de-agentify the source of action of refugee influxes, economic downturns, and people’s resentment.

[2] Rorty, R. (1998) “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality”, in Rorty, R., Truth and Progress. Philosophical Papers, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 167-185.

[3] Barnes, S. (1998) “Humanitarian Aid Coordination During War and Peace in Mozambique, 1985-1995”, in Studies on Emergency and Disaster Relief, Report No. 7, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

Categories: Asia, Europe, North Africa, Syria | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Flussi migratori e compassione europea: a quando informazione e sostenibilità? (by Estella Carpi, October 2015)

migrants2

Da Reset-Dialogues on Civilizations

Sembra esser stata soprattutto la foto di Aylan, il bimbo siriano di origini curde affogato nelle acque turche sulla spiaggia di Bodrum il 2 settembre, insieme alle ondate di profughi che tentano il passaggio dall’Europa orientale – provenienti soprattutto da Siria, Iraq e Afghanistan – ad avere finalmente ridestato il pubblico occidentale dal suo torpore rendendo spaventosamente tangibile il limite umano al quale ci hanno condotti le crisi politiche transnazionali e le controversie dell’assistenza umanitaria “nord-sud”.

Sull’onda degli studi di Lili Chouliaraki, il fenomeno che abbiamo di fronte è quello che potrebbe essere definito come l’emergere di un nuovo “spettatore ironico” della sofferenza altrui; l’utente del vocabolario compassionevole del “Facebook like”, che auto-celebra e pubblicizza i propri atti di carità, e scambia il consumo etico per solidarietà informata e sostenibile. Ancora una volta, la solidarietà effimera coltivata nell’ambiente mediatico, e la compassione di massa verso l’astratta moltitudine dei “disperati”, troppo raramente reclama la storicità degli eventi, e racconta le loro tristi storie per attivare le nostre intenzioni e difenderle.

Ancora una volta, la solidarietà che poco s’interroga sul perché del rapido passaggio dall’indifferenza alla compassione pubblica è promossa in termini di stile di vita, e non di una mentalità civico-politica davvero informata e reattiva.

Dopo la diffusione dell’immagine del corpo esanime del piccolo Aylan, i media europei hanno dato maggior spazio alla discussione degli aiuti informali e formali che le popolazioni forniscono ai profughi, e le proteste civili organizzate per esprimere lo spirito di solidarietà e accoglienza presenti nell’Unione europea. Iniziative che, finché l’emergenza colpiva soltanto il panorama mediorientale, non erano state attuate a pari livello.

La compassione pubblica suscitata dalla “crisi dei profughi” – un  appellativo,peraltro, capace di coprire insieme cause politiche e responsabilità esterne alla radice di tale crisi – si è ora per fortuna trasformata in motore di assistenza transnazionale, oltrepassando la mera compassione da spettatori in poltrona.

Un’educazione “sentimentale”, come la chiamava Richard Rorty, sarebbe forse utile nelle scuole europee per coltivare un sentire condiviso nelle nuove generazioni e offrire un terreno comune di condivisione ed empatia. Se da un lato, infatti, è indispensabile che la sensibilità verso la differenza non sia data per scontata e che ci venga dunque insegnata, dall’altro lato, come si può evitare che la cultura dei diritti umani, di cui il cosiddetto “nord globale” si fa paladino, resti effimera tanto quanto l’interesse pubblico verso il disperato fenomeno di esodi e dispersioni? La sponsorizzazione dei diritti umani, che ha già da tempo assunto la fisionomia del liberalismo di stampo occidentale e paternalismo terzomondista, stenta ad offrire una migliore spiegazione delle ragioni alla radice di tali crisi nel marasma mediatico odierno.

Il cittadino europeo medio ha dimostrato ancora una volta di mobilitarsi e affrontare il proprio incontro con i profughi/migranti in termini squisitamente umanitari e in relazione a uno stato di eccezione ritenuto temporaneo, restando tra l’altro restio ad affrontare la fase successiva fatta di richiesta di diritti.

Nel caos dei mesi di agosto e settembre, il temporaneo ripristino dei controlli di frontiera in Germania e Austria, la costruzione del muro al confine serbo–ungherese, e lo sgambetto teso a un profugo siriano dalla giornalista ungherese Petra Laszlo, sono segnali evidenti di un rafforzamento delle frontiere non solo materiali, ma anche morali nei paesi più toccati dalle ondate migratorie. Tali episodi sembrano significare ben più che un’ingente “crisi di profughi”: sembra trattarsi piuttosto di una vera e propria crisi delle interazioni e degli incontri umani.

Inoltre, i recenti sviluppi hanno dimostrato che i paesi Ue non possono far fronte da soli a tali flussi migratori, e l’impegno da parte dell’Onu diventa quindi sempre più radicato al loro interno. La sfida maggiore consiste nella necessità improvvisa di integrare la convenzionale risposta umanitaria, offerta all’interno di strutture di accoglienza popolate da residenti intenzionati a divenire stanziali, con percorsi per l’accoglienza di quei migranti che a volte restano per pochi giorni, o addirittura per poche ore, prima di proseguire verso la destinazione desiderata. La gestione di quello che potremmo chiamare un “transito d’emergenza”, specialmente in Italia, Grecia, Serbia, e Ungheria, è ancora un ambito ignoto alle organizzazioni umanitarie europee, e ha richiesto l’apertura di nuove sedi locali di alcune grandi organizzazioni non governative internazionali come World Vision, Islamic Relief e Action Aid.

La vera sfida in ambito europeo è riconsiderare radicalmente l’approccio verticale nord-sud e comunque ‘occidente-centrico’ perpetrato nel nome degli storici stendardi della responsabilità internazionale morale, che ha gradualmente ridotto le politiche umanitarie e di cooperazione allo sviluppo a meri strumenti di sicurezza internazionale. L’altra sfida è quella di capire di essere tutti quanti soggetti e attori di uno stesso ordine geopolitico integrato. Prendere atto di tutto questo non solo risparmierebbe molte vite, ma potrebbe probabilmente evitare molti degli  “effetti collaterali” dei ciclici conflitti internazionali.

La realizzazione dei diritti di asilo e protezione in materia d’immigrazione, in quanto diritti umani convenzionalmente riconosciuti, non dovrebbe dipendere dal carattere effimero di sfuggenti e non sempre pienamente informate solidarietà sociali. La vera scommessa sarà continuare a sostenere e implementare tali diritti quando l’attuale compassione di massa verrà meno dopo la foga ‘emergenziale’ di questi mesi.

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Security and Development: Questioning ‘Righting Wrongs’ Strategies and the Role of the International Community (by Estella Carpi, March 2015)

Security and Development: Questioning ‘righting wrongs’ strategies and the role of the international community

Security and Development: Questioning ‘righting wrongs’ strategies and the role of the international community

http://trendsinstitution.org/?p=1042

March 11, 2015 12:39 pm

Last March 8, David Malone, a Canadian career diplomat and an international development and security scholar, gave a talk at the New York University of Abu Dhabi to discuss the changing role of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) in conflicts and new possibilities for development assistance in the contemporary era.

Indeed, whereas the Council is supposed to be the main transnational entity approving or rejecting requests of intervention in conflict-ridden areas, and tackling various inter-state decisional matters, it seems to have partially lost its executive force on the ground. Similar weakness points can be discussed for development assistance, towards which generalised scepticism is increasing as much as the nihilism of the aid and development workers themselves.

Thus, the broadly explored connections between security and development need to be further investigated.

Can development assistance make any difference?

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are the traditional way societies express the desire of and plan betterments, and seek to achieve them through the use of a common international code. The MDGs, however, are inherently incomplete in that they are expressed in quantitative indicators and normally address general targets: factors which are unsuitable per se to changeability.  The MDGs are therefore subject to reiterated failures.

Nevertheless, according to Malone, pessimism is not necessarily the moral approach that the international community should adopt in order to respond appropriately to crises and conflicts. For instance, history has shown thus far how in small countries development assistance does make a difference, however changing the goals that it used to entail at the beginning of the development path. Lebanon is a perfect case in point, illustrating how, on the one hand, emergency relief cannot be sufficient or successfully needs-focused. On the other, development assistance can still play a role in the reinforcement of local welfare in the contexts where the latter has historically been lacking. In big countries, by contrast, development assistance has not certainly led to economic growth, departing from the stable point that the so-called “Global South” will probably never develop big economies, despite the increasing competence of some developing countries’ governments (i.e. African governments and India), and in spite of the absence of democratic structures within a specific country (unlike China which witnessed economic growth with no democracy).

In line with his scepticism about the efficiency and the appropriateness of the MDGs, which necessarily involve predictions, Malone foregrounded the definitive defeat of one winning democratic and economic model to be followed. The multiple successful models that we witness can actually show how new waves of human optimism can be identified in a major diffusion of information, a consequently far more demanding public, and the urbanisation process, which has been able, to Malone’s mind, to mobilise resources more rapidly and raising important social issues that were previously concealed (e.g. family patterns, the social role of women, the labour force’s rights).

A winning strategy for each country is picking up those of the MDGs which are the most important to it. The involvement of the World Bank (WB) and the United Nations (UN) should rather be limited to the functionality of these organisations in specific domestic issues. This would invert the conceptual North-South unilateral power flow, in which the WB and other large international organisations are the ones that dictate pre-established programmes and approaches to developing countries regardless of local specificities.

In this polarised scenario between the “Global North” – bountiful enough to offer resources – and the “Global South” – chronically needy enough to receive them – the West is known to request respect of human rights, justice and development in exchange for its financial resources, which only constitute, in any case, a small funding portion to pursue development; moreover, once a country finds itself in deficit, development assistance is the first expense that is usually cut down. In this framework, élite powers are a social obstacle to development in developing countries, but, from Malone’s perspective, the fact that they gain their benefits from imported assistance does not render assistance itself unworthy for the poorer categories.

In these circumstances, Malone unexpectedly calls for a “data revolution” in development projects, where qualitative research needs to be prioritised over quantitative research. This data revolution would shed light on the qualitative deadlocks that development implies, such as the issue of political impartiality and its empirical feasibility. UNSC, for example, is believed super partes but its role is actually that of taking sides in crises, being formed itself by the most powerful states.

The UNSC and the present challenges

Even in apparent deadlocks such as Libya, Syria and Ukraine nowadays, the UNSC has reached points of agreement despite multiple confrontations. It is the case of Syria and the evacuation of the Asad regime’s chemical weapons in the wake of the August 2013 chemical attack on the Ghouta population in East Damascus.

In spite of the increasing unpopularity of the UNSC within the international community and “conflicts spectators”, the unresolved cases of the UNSC, apparently, make up only 10%. Nevertheless, Malone underlines the controversial aspects of such a percentage, especially in the case of NATO, whenever it allegedly intervenes to protect civilians and eventually contributes to regime changes like in Libya.

The historical cases of the UN failure still resonate today in the international community’s consciousness, like the 1995 massacre of Srebrenica, in which we witnessed a soft response of the UN that were largely represented in the media and in people’s accounts as shrugging off the genocide of Bosnians. Malone also provides the example of France in the 1994 Rwanda conflict, which did not know in depth the fighting parts and that, therefore, did not take a clear stance within the UNSC at that time. The effects of “state behaviours” within international entities are still hunting governments and are easily identifiable today: for example, France pulled out of the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Rwandan genocide last year, in that it was accused by the President Paul Kagame of having contributed to the large-scale 1994 massacre.

Diversely, inter-African protection has often been obfuscated by western saviours who have more powerful means of self-propaganda. Malone highlights how it was actually the Ghanaians to rescue many Tutsis and Hutu moderates in Rwanda in the 1990s by sheltering them, while the UN ordered the withdrawal of their peacekeeping forces.

The UNSC is arbitrarily defined as weak, according to Malone. What is interpreted as an increasingly big loss of efficaciousness is actually the co-presence of new factors in the international scenario. The major changes that occurred within the UNSC are the emerged influence of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs), like the abovementioned case of France in Rwanda, where the medical NGO Médecins Sans Frontières got separated from Médecins Du Monde by rejecting a politically neutral approach to humanitarian assistance.

A further change is constituted by the 2002-created International Criminal Court (ICC), which took over a part of the UNSC tasks, after being formed in quite a short time and being in charge of prosecuting international criminals. Such changes have often been undercut or ignored tout court in evaluating the action and the efficaciousness of the international actors.

In light of Malone’s considerations, the “Global North” feels threatened in terms of security and adopts defense mechanisms like asking the “Global South” to uphold human rights and democratic standards. In dealing with the global danger of having a larger number of insecure regions, poverty reduction and the development of unstable regions have become a moral as well as a political imperative, in that development contributes to guarantee worldwide security.

As English scholar Mark Duffield extensively showed in his research studies, development has become a security technology related to promoting the life of populations that are essentially non-insured in their states. Hence, development becomes a state strategy purporting to protect people while practically prioritising geopolitics over biopolitics, or, otherwise said, state security over human security. In brief, regions need to be developed in that they present a constant risk to homeland security. In turn, security has become an integral component of development discourse.

Needless to say that even too many projects have been implemented so far to develop the imaginary Global South, to the extent of reifying it in a chronic “receiving” position and turning it into an ironically “project-affected” area. Rather, much more efforts should be done to improve domestic and inter-state security within the Global South, the alleged major source of global threats. When such threats will be perceived and dealt with as such within the threatening countries rather than with respect to “the West” – the donor, the saviour, and the security-regulator par excellence – maybe, only then, we will see better days.

Categories: Africa, Europe, Middle East, United States | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

“On the Bride’s Side” reviewed (October 2014)

(Picture taken from: http://www.madamasr.com)

A Palestinian poet and an Italian journalist meet five Syrians and Palestinians fleeing the war in Syria at the Milan central station, and decide to help them to reach Sweden by faking a wedding.

It is known that violation of border-regime is a violation of orthodox transnational ethics, and, as such, it is often denigrated by citizens and feared by “aspirant” asylum seekers. In fact, illegal border crossing is widely seen as a criminal act deserving punishment. Based on a capitalist and ethnically discriminatory way of organising people and space, borders regulate human movements, and, as such, they developed an aesthetic of human resentment, fear, psychological deterrence or achievement.

The new film “On the bride’s side”, which has just launched a crowd-funding campaign, seems to me the cinematographic embodiment of unquestionably worthy deeds of human will. Therefore, the movie succeeds in speaking to the public that is neither expert nor necessarily interested in forced migration issues or, in general, the current Middle East’s “plagues”. The Nietzschan manifestation of “the will to power” is what the movie primarily conveys to the public. As a result, any sort of public will get hooked throughout the movie.

The mandatory request for the asylum seekers to provide a “legitimation” of their desires is deliberately denied in its own raison d’être by the decision of this large group of Italians, Palestinians and Syrians. They are all protagonists of a journey, which, to me, also constitutes a meaningful turning point in the bottom-up cultural production on migration and politics. Their journey from Milan to Stockholm starts as a joke, certainly with rational doubts. However, the spectator cannot perceive any emotional hesitation, develops expectations – or even a sort of anxiety – to witness either the final acknowledgment or the failure of human action.

Journalist Gabriele Del Grande, poet Khaled Soliman an-Nassiry and filmmaker Antonio Augugliaro succeed in reminding us that borders are no longer simple edges of a state. Borders are symbolical tyrants, because they manage to shape our perception of the world, as anthropologist Khosravi noticed. And, as Del Grande affirmed in several interviews, “the aesthetics of the border needs to be overturned”.

As a matter of fact, the migrants who cross the Mediterranean Sea and undertake the journey to seek asylum are victims of human laws. Once they crossed, “conflict victims” cannot be their only definition; and not even “victims of fate”, like a large part of the humanitarian assistance sector likes to argue, dealing with an agentless and depersonalised “refugee crisis”.

The movie seems to contend that the only humanitarian act that can be accomplished is taking clear sides. The sides of people who cannot freely choose, against laws allegedly designed to protect the security and the stability of the western fortress, which further feed the gap between imaginary Norths and Souths, and organise human life alongside hierarchical lines.

“On the bride’s side” is a most dignified conveyer of new “border thinking”. A thinking that not merely challenges laws, but rather the North’s consciousness, rushing over to “rescue” people in conflict-ridden sites by providing humanitarian assistance, or intervening in the name of the Responsibility to Protect. Nevertheless, the northern saviours are difficultly willing to open their own borders to embrace the product of the umpteenth political failure, which we love to call “state of emergency”.

In the western proliferation of compassion and sentimentalism around refugehood, which poorly address the European refugee regimes, “On the bride’s side” finally establishes the still missing agency of the refugees: the possibility of asserting one’s own will and develop one’s own rights. Rights that the Law has not forgotten, but has rather suffocated. In the face of this, “the bride” Tasneem Fared states in the movie: as-sama’ lal kol, “the sky is of everyone”.

Finally, I immensely appreciated how “On the bride’s side” greatly shuffles cinema with positivistic activism, where the video camera is the voicing tool that is able to replace the protest’s megaphone.

In a nutshell, the illegal journey from Italy to Sweden is the triumph of a reshaped conception of human rights, according to which the Global North, in order to support and assist the war-stricken Global South, cannot limit itself to provide relief or tell human stories on behalf of unspoken victims to raise compassion. The Northern fence sitters, at some point, connive in the “South’s” predicament.

We have the duty to take a clear stance, speak up and act accordingly. Otherwise, as Iranian lawyer Shirin Ebadi affirmed, laws will always remain behind us.

Estella Carpi

Categories: Europe, Syria | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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