This is the first humanitarian dictionary for colleagues and practitioners in the field! And it’s open access for everyone.
I contributed with the entries ‘livelihoods’ and ’emergency’.
You can download the file by accessing this link:
This is the first humanitarian dictionary for colleagues and practitioners in the field! And it’s open access for everyone.
I contributed with the entries ‘livelihoods’ and ’emergency’.
You can download the file by accessing this link:
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?
In an attempt to reflect on some lectures I have delivered on humanitarianism in Lebanese, Turkish, and Italian universities over the last three years, I would like to advance a few reflections on the “public afterlife” of my experience of teaching, the language I used in those classes, and the response I received from different cohorts of students. Delving into the afterlife of my humanitarianism classes allows me to tease out some of the current epistemological challenges of my primary area of studies and underscore the very importance of de-centring the humanitarian discourse.
Humanitarianism was born from the will to assist crisis-stricken populations and alleviate their suffering, thus humanitarian intervention has historically been a symptom that states are not doing too well. As such, speaking of and teaching humanitarianism cannot produce the same effects everywhere, especially when the framework used to explain theories and concepts is not culturally customised, but is rather drawn on the one developed in British and Northern American universities and institutions.
The act of teaching humanitarian ideologies, policies, and practices is thus necessarily an act of social positioning. It is about positioning the social and public Self as a teacher, and it is about the teacher presupposing the social positioning of her own audience.
More generally, in order to teach, we all rely on what Pierre Bourdieu used to define as “linguistic capital”, the set of linguistic capabilities, ways of expressing oneself, and embracement of normative terminologies which characterise everyone’s speech. In that sense, we are all linguistically political when we choose a term at the expense of another one.
As lecturers in class we own the biggest linguistic and epistemic power: But is the language I use legitimate in response to different students and backgrounds? I am not a native English speaker myself, but having received my postgraduate education in humanitarianism in an Australian university, English is my mother tongue for teaching humanitarianism. This became a factor which is worth reflecting on, especially when I delivered lectures in countries diversely familiar with the English language, and where English is not the official language.
What shapes the cultural pattern of students across Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy is certainly not their very national origin, but I here refer to an overarching cultural framing of a multiplicity of backgrounds that come to forming an identifiable “academic culture” within different countries. It is in this sense that I will now compare my teaching experience in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy.
In this post, my primary goal is to explain how this long established theoretical framework, that increasingly populates academic books and media outlets, does not meet its listeners identically. I believe teaching humanitarianism particularly tests the students’ cultural dispositions – dually meant as both habitus and cultural capital – with respect to teaching something like physical quantum theory or algorithms. This is not because quanta and algorithms are bereft of imperial history: Let’s think of the way such scientific studies emerged, of the social classes in which they became objects of study, and the way these studies were funded and even traded worldwide. Rather, what I mean is that speaking humanitarianism overtly puts down the veils of the relationships between Others, breaks down the Other and the Self, demolishes certainties between the Self and the Other through the exploration of the necessarily dialogic act of assistance provision and aid reception.
Likewise, teaching exposes the lecturer to multiple encounters at once. The encounter with the students first – the immediate interlocutors of the teaching frame. Second, the encounter with one’s own society at large, which may identify with a single geographic space or more than one – as the teacher, by conveying knowledge and, hopefully, triggering critical stimuli, comes with an experiential baggage accumulated in one or more societies that historically shape the teacher’s way of thinking, speaking, and building the teacher-student encounter. Third, it is also an encounter with the multiple societies of the others, that is all of the societies “summarised” into the intellectual presence of each student in class.
It is exactly this collective moment, made of several encounters at once, that characterises the ways in which humanitarianism is both individually thought and culturally nuanced.
In light of this, each academic culture frames displacement, migration, and humanitarian action differently. The latter are undoubtedly tied up to broader politics and social processes which often intertwine, but each of them is differently thought and responded to in Lebanon, Turkey, and Italy. I experienced solipsism when I lectured in Turkey, as I realised how unfamiliar the students were with my Anglo-centric way of explaining humanitarianism-related topics. The most responsive to my lectures were the Lebanese students, who seemed to be highly familiar with the catastrophe discourse. This therefore led me to further reflections, as the fact that Lebanon has historically been more exposed to crisis than Italy and Turkey did not sound entirely convincing to me. There are, in fact, two factors that contribute to the students’ response to humanitarianism delivered in the form of an academic framework: The first is academic literature, and the second is postcoloniality – which, surely, to some extent, underlies the former. In fact, the Anglo-centric character of the humanitarianism framework – as it is globally discussed nowadays – is fully reflected in the academic literature which is delivered to students. Neither literature nor students themselves are bereft of political history.
Lebanon, having become home to several refugee groups, has often been studied in international academia in the context of the catastrophe discourse. Thus, humanitarianism has framed a large part of local learning about external interventions, especially since the years of the 1948 Palestinian Nakba. In this vein, even local infrastructures and local populations in Lebanon have drawn greater academic attention when turning into humanitarian spaces, host communities, displaced people, or migrants. Contrarily, Turkey is a country where catastrophe does not need to be there to justify tough security, anti-democratic measures, and political states of exception. Therefore, Turkish scholars have set up a mostly legal and policy-oriented framework for discussing refugee influxes and humanitarian practices,. The catastrophe narrative neither needs to strengthen a state which is already centralised and has rather enhanced domestic accountability by carefully gate-keeping refugee-populated areas, international support and involvement in domestic humanitarian affairs. In other words, in Turkey refugee influxes have been studied as a means to capture domestic changes, e.g. in market, employment, and housing. In Lebanon, however, the very goal of humanitarian research has long since revolved around refugees and NGOs themselves. Scholars of humanitarianism now increasingly address Lebanese people, governance, and services in light of the Syrian crisis. However, local people and services are still approached in the light of their response to crisis and given their relationship with refugee-related issues. In Italy, humanitarianism-related issues start stimulating academic curiosity in the wake of the Kosovo war in 1999, the 2001 western intervention in Afghanistan, and more recently, the migration flows from African, Asian, and Middle Eastern countries. Often unfamiliar with the anglo-centric ways of setting and naming the humanitarian framework, Italian students increasingly find themselves in the need to manage a foreign language and tackle diverse conceptual universes (mainly published in English) before encountering humanitarianism in their own language and academic culture. It is indeed meaningful that domestic emergency crises and humanitarian management – such as the earthquakes in central Italy– have primarily been tackled through the lens of disaster and risk reduction.
The postcolonial character of Lebanon vis-à-vis Turkey and Italy also sets up different student responses to learning humanitarianism in class today.
The French colonial mandate in Lebanon between 1920 and 1943 consistently shapes today’s student response to humanitarianism; familiar with postcolonial governance and catastrophisation as a way of understanding the current humanitarian discourse, my Lebanese students seemed to rely on categories of thinking which easily suit the humanitarian framework. The colonial mandate and the intervention of international assistance providers to back domestic parties and local communities gradually overshadowed the pre-existing thick network of local community services in academic literature. The present literal inundation of international crisis managers in Lebanon makes local students suitable interlocutors on the humanitarian mainstream narrative as well as its critiques.
In Turkey, humanitarianism has been acquiring international colours way before the beginning of the Syrian refugee influxes and the latest intervention of several humanitarian agencies. The 1915 Armenian genocide and deportations from Ottoman Turkey prompted the first cases of foreign charitable assistance in the region, in addition to the international refugee regime set up to deal with the massive displacement caused by the First World War. Overall, Ottoman authorities were reluctant to accept unconditional international assistance because they did not want to see their political power undermined. Traditionally decentralised and domestically managed, humanitarian services to forced migrants during the Ottoman Empire were mostly delegated to local communities, making the contemporary humanitarian approach to crisis and assistance unsuitable in the Turkish context. Nevertheless, while the Turkish government has already been pursuing a politics of intervention in Somalia since 2011, the recent intervention of international humanitarian agencies inside Turkey in response to the Syrian crisis is unprecedented.
Italy seemingly looks to humanitarianism with an ambiguous gaze. Past colonial governors in the Horn of Africa, and historically imbued with the Christian Catholic culture of assistance to the vulnerable, Italian students responded to my humanitarianism classes with the curiosity of the potential missionary. Approaching the catastrophe discourse to understand how new migration flows are shaping politics and ethics in the Mediterranean doorway, Italian students tended to associate humanitarianism either with human rights – which would require several political steps ahead – or with philanthropic charity. Italian students were rather inspired by the future possibility of doing good, and focussed on humanitarian sentimentalism, such as the pros and cons of compassion: Humanitarian governmentality, managerialism, donorship, and bureaucracy seemed to scarcely inhabit their humanitarian imaginary.
These reflections of mine also suggest that alternative humanitarianisms should be taught at school to unlearn their “alternative” – that is non-mainstream – character. This can be done if students are also allowed to develop contents and critical consciousness in their first language too. Skipping these stages leads to the imposition of one among many possible understandings of – and ways of teaching – humanitarianism. Individual responses, cultural patterns, ideologies, and material circumstances will always colour humanitarianism differently. The teacher’s challenge should be expanding the students’ gaze across political histories, human behaviours and moral expectations, while conveying one’s own identity peacefully. This is certainly not an easy job.
Cambridge, 10th November 2017
We, the undersigned, categorically reject the malicious and totally unfounded allegations made against Dr Maha Abdelrahman in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica on 2 November 2017. Dr Abdelrahman, an internationally highly-regarded scholar at Cambridge University, was the supervisor of Giulio Regeni, an Italian PhD student, who was conducting research on Egyptian independent trade unions when he was abducted, tortured and murdered in early 2016. There is overwhelming evidence that strongly implicates the Egyptian security forces in Giulio’s murder. Indeed, Declan Walsh, the Cairo correspondent of the New York Times, wrote in August 2017 in a detailed account that the US had ‘incontrovertible evidence of official Egyptian responsibility’, but was unable to make the evidence public without compromising their source. Despite a cumulative body of facts pointing clearly to the Egyptian police, La Repubblica attempts to apportion some of the blame for Giulio’s murder to Dr Abdelrahman. The article lists the following questions that the Italian prosecutor wants to put to Dr Abdelrahman:
1. Who chose the specific theme of Giulio’s research? 2. Who chose the tutor to supervise Giulio’s fieldwork in Cairo? 3. Who chose the participatory research study method that Giulio pursued? 4. Who devised the research questions that were posed to the street vendors whom Giulio was interviewing? 5. Did Giulio submit the results of his research to Dr. Abdelrahman?
While we understand that some of these questions could be relevant to the Italian investigation, we find La Repubblica’s tendentious summary and analysis of them to be deliberately misleading. For example, La Repubblica alleges that Dr Abdelrahman ‘commissioned’ Giulio to work on a topic that she knew was dangerous and that he was reluctant to pursue. Furthermore, that she was the one who chose Giulio’s research topic, research methods, research subjects and research questions for him. We find these allegations absurd. They betray a fundamental ignorance of internationally-recognised procedures in applying for and undertaking a PhD. Academic supervisors do not choose their PhD students; rather, it is the students who choose them. PhD supervisors do not impose their research agendas on unsuspecting students; the students, usually, work on a particular research area for some time before undertaking a PhD and then look for a supervisor in that area. In Giulio’s case, he had been interested in independent trade unions for years and had already worked in Egypt before he even approached Dr Abdelrahman to be his supervisor. On the issue of the participatory research method employed by Giulio, any social scientist could tell you that it would be the method of choice in investigating contemporary issues. These and other allegations in the article are characterised by wilful ignorance, misrepresentation and distortion as well as pure invention and basic lies. Moreover, there is no way that Dr Abdelrahman, or anyone else, could have anticipated what happened to her student. The most egregious outcome that any foreign researchers in Egypt could have feared at the time of Giulio’s disappearance was the revoking of their research permit and deportation. Relying on hindsight, La Repubblica is insinuating that Giulio’s tragedy could have been foreseen. This is unequivocally not true. A final important point on which La Repubblica is incorrect. Dr Abdelrahman has NOT refused to talk to the Italian authorities. At Giulio’s funeral in February 2016, she was interviewed for one and a half hours by the Italian prosecutor. On 15 June 2016, she answered in writing many supplementary questions posed by the Italian prosecutor, and indicated that she was happy to answer any further questions. There was no further communication with the Italian authorities until recently when they put in the request referred to in La Repubblica’s article. In response, Dr Abdelrahman willingly agreed to be interviewed again. Giulio was not the author of his own tragedy. Nor was Dr Abelrahman responsible for his death in any way, shape or form. The responsibility for the abduction, torture and death of this bright Cambridge student falls squarely on the Egyptian regime. And it behoves serious investigative journalists to shine their light where the real darkness lies.
Mahvish Ahmad, PhD student, University of Cambridge
Dr. Arthur Asseraf, Lecturer, History Faculty, University of Cambridge
Dr. Duncan Bell, Reader, Department of Politics and International Studies, (POLIS) University of Cambridge
Professor Bill Burgwinkle, Faculty of Modern & Medieval Languages, University of Cambridge
Dr. Adam Branch, Director, Centre of African Studies, University of Cambridge
Dr. Devon Curtis, Senior Lecturer, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Manali Desai, Lecturer, Sociology, University of Cambridge
Farida El Keiy, Language Teaching Officer, FAMES, University of Cambridge
Professor Khaled Fahmy, Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies (FAMES), University of Cambridge
Dr. Mónica Moreno Figueroa, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Cambridge
Dr. Iza Hussin, Lecturer, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Solava Ibrahim, Affiliated Lecturer, Centre for Development Studies, University of Cambridge
Saussan Khalil, Lector in Arabic, FAMES, University of Cambridge
Professor Charles Melville, FAMES, University of Cambridge
Dr Perveez Mody, Lecturer, Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Professor Clément Mouhot, Department of Pure Mathematics and Mathematical Sciences, University of Cambridge
Dr. Basim Musallam, King’s College, University of Cambridge
Dr. Yael Navarro, Division of Anthropology, University of Cambridge
Dr. Rory O’Bryen, University Senior Lecturer in Latin American Literature and Culture, University of Cambridge
Dr. Yaron Peleg, Kennedy Leigh Reader in Modern Hebrew Studies, FAMES, University of Cambridge
Dr. Mezna Qato, Junior Research Fellow, King’s College, University of Cambridge
Dr. Helen Pfeifer, University Lecturer, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Dr. Glen Rangwala, Lecturer, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Sertaç Sehlikoglu, Abdullah Mubarak Al-Sabah Research Fellow, Pembroke College, University of Cambridge
Dr. Arathi Sriprakash, University Lecturer, Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge
Dr. Pieter van Houten, Senior Lecturer, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Njoki Wamai, Post Doctoral Research Associate, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Graham Denyer Willis, University Lecturer in Development Studies, University of Cambridge
Dr. Waseem Yaqoob, Lecturer, Faculty of History, University of Cambridge
Dr. Ayşe Zarakol, Reader in International Relations, POLIS, University of Cambridge
Dr. Giuseppe Acconcia, University of Padua,
Professor Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies & International Relations, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Nadje Al-Ali, Professor of Gender Studies, SOAS University of London
Dr. Lori Allen, Senior Lecturer, Dept. of Anthropology, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Francesca Biancani, Adjunct Professor, Bologna University and Postdoctoral fellow CEDEJ-IFAO, Cairo, Egypt
Anna Bilous, teaching fellow, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Sara Borrillo, University L’Orientale in Naples
Dr. Estella Carpi, Department of Geography, University College London
Prof. Anna Maria Di Tolla, University of Naples, L’Orientale
Dr. M. Cristina Ercolessi, Associate professor of African Studies at the University of Naples “L’Orientale”
Sai Englert, GTA in Politics and Development Studies, SOAS, University of London
Prof. Ersilia Francesca, Università degli Studi di Napoli “L’Orientale”
Professor Richard Fardon, Founding Head of the SOAS Doctoral School, 2012-16
Dr. Anna Maria Gentili, emeritus African history and Politics, University of Bologna
Dr. Laura Hammond, Reader, Dept of Development Studies, SOAS University of London
Emeritus Professor Mark Hobart, Centre for Global Media and Communications, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Adam Hanieh, Reader in Development Studies, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS, University of London
Safa Joudeh, PhD candidate, SOAS, University of London
Professor Deniz Kandiyouti, Professor of Development Studies, Department of Development Studies, SOAS, University of London
Professor Laleh Khalili, Professor of Middle East Politics, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Lars Peter Laamann, Senior Lecturer, History Department, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Bridget O’Laughlin , retired associate professor of Population and Development, International Institute of Social Studies, Erasmus University, The Hague, The Netherlands
Dr. Hettie Malcomson, Associate Professor of Ethnomusicology, University of Southampton
Dr. Sandro Mezzadra, Università di Bologna
Dr. Satoshi Miyamura, Senior Lecturer, Department of Economics, Faculty of Law and Social Sciences, SOAS, University of London
Thomas van der Molen, PhD Student, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Andrew Newsham, Lecturer in International Development, Department of Development Studies & Centre for Development, Environment & Policy, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Daniela Pioppi, Associate professor, Contemporary history of Arab Countries, University of Naples ‘L’Orientale’, Italy
Dr. Paola Rivetti, Dublin City University, Ireland
Dr. Ruba Salih, SOAS, University of London
Dr. Ashwani Saith , Emeritus Professor, International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, The Netherlands
Dr. Lucia Sorbera, The University of Sydney, NSW, Australia
Dr. Barbara Sorgoni, University of Turin, Italy
Dr. Fabio Vicini, Assistant Professor of Sociology and Anthropology, Department of Political Science and International Relations, Istanbul 29 May University, Turkey
Professor Lynn Welchman, School of Law, SOAS, University of London
E’ nel concreto del quotidiano che proviamo a costruire belle relazioni e pratiche di vita comune plurale: nel dialogo a tu per tu, nella comunicazione possibile, nel gusto della reciproca conoscenza e collaborazione.
Per questo offriamo ILA.
ILA è l’esame per certificare la lingua araba, canale privilegiato di riconoscimento di identità e di culture.
ILA è ‘verso’, una chiave di accesso all’incontro, allo scambio, a sinergie e progetti condivisi per contribuire a disegnare una realtà cosmopolita come spazio abitabile.
Sr. Sara Brenda
per l’Istituto di Cultura e di Lingue Marcelline
On April 26, 2011, a meeting that can only be described as sinister took place between the then Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, and French President, Nicolas Sarkozy. The most pressing issue discussed at the meeting in Rome was how to deal with African immigrants.
Sarkozy, who was under pressure from his right-wing and far-right constituencies to halt immigration originating from North Africa (resulting from the Tunisian uprising), desired to strike a deal with the opportunistic Italian leader. In exchange for an Italian agreement to join a French initiative aimed at tightening border control (Italy being accused of allowing immigrants to cross through its borders to the rest of Europe), France, in turn, would resolve major disputes involving a series of takeovers, involving French and Italian companies. Moreover, Italy would then secure French support for a bid by Italian Economist and Banker, Mario Draghi, to become the Head of the European Central Bank.
Another point on the French agenda was active Italian participation in the war on Libya, initially spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States, and later championed by NATO.
Initially, Berlusconi hesitated to take part in the war, although certainly not for any moral reasons: for example, because the war was deliberately based on a misconstrued interpretation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011. The Resolution called for an ‘immediate ceasefire’, the establishment of a ‘no-fly zone’ and using all means, except foreign occupation, to ‘protect civilians’. The war, however, achieved entirely different objectives from the ones stated in the Resolution. It achieved a regime change, the bloody capture and murder of Libyan leader, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and resulted in a bloodbath in which thousands of civilians were killed, and continue to die, due to the chaos and civil war that has gripped Libya since then.
Berlusconi’s change of heart had little to do with common sense and much to do with oil and gas. He was walking a tight rope. On one hand, about a quarter of Italy’s oil was imported from Libya, in addition to nearly 10 percent of the country’s natural gas. Destabilizing Libya could interrupt the flow of Libyan energy supplies, at a time when Italy was desperately attempting to recover from its deep economic recession.
On the other hand, having France (which seemed to be in the mood for intervention because, following the Libya war, France marched on to Mali) hold all the cards in Libya could be devastating for Italy. “The Franco-Italian spat over immigration follows sharp differences over Libya, where Rome has been dragged into a war it would rather avoid, fearing a Paris-Benghazi nexus will freeze out its substantial interests in Libyan oil and gas,” the Financial Times reported at the time.
The successful meeting between the two leaders paved the way for Italian intervention, which took part in earnest in the war on Libya on April 28. Meanwhile, France kept its part of the bargain, and on November 1 of that same year, Mario Draghi succeeded Jean-Claude Trichet as the President of the European Central Bank.
Both countries benefited, albeit Libya was destroyed.
It is difficult to imagine that Berlusconi, a repulsive and corrupt politician even by the low standards of Italian politics, operated on the basis of any moral standards, aside from personal gains and self-interest. Indeed, neither his ‘friendship’ with Libyan long-time ruler, Qaddafi, nor the many perks and massive profits he received from Libya were enough to honor his commitment not to participate in a war that was clearly not aimed at saving lives, but maintaining access to Libya’s energy supplies.
Equally interesting is the fact that UNSC Resolution 1973 was promoted by its supporters as one aimed at protecting civilians from an imminent massacre about to be carried by the Libyan Army in Benghazi. Regardless of what Qaddafi’s intentions were, the NATO war resulted in untold suffering among Libyan civilians on three different fronts:
First, thousands of Libyans were killed and wounded as a direct result of NATO’s intervention; second, the war turned Libya into warring fiefdoms, armed and supported by regional and international powers. The hundreds of militias that exist in Libya today have deprived Libyans of any sense of security, and exposed the civilian population to a war reality that, seemingly, has no end in sight. Third, thousands of Libyans, or Africans who once called Libya home, found themselves fleeing the war using every means of transport possible. Tens of thousands of them sought refuge in Europe, while thousands died trying.
Few in the Italian Government would care to remember their country’s role in the war on Libya which, despite early hesitation, was embraced with utmost enthusiasm. The refugees who are lucky enough to make it to Italy’s shores are constantly demonized by Italian media andperceived as a burden on the still-struggling Italian economy. What they forget is that, thanks to Libya’s reasonably-priced and cheaply transported oil and gas, the Italian economy was kept afloat for years. The poor refugees are not as much of a burden on Italy’s economy as Italy was a burden on Libya; in fact, on the whole of Africa.
Libya was colonized by Italy from 1911 to 1943, and was driven out along with its German Nazi partners by local resistance and eventually by the Allies in World War II. It was not until 1998 that Italy apologized for the sins of colonizing the country, which came at a terribly high price of death and destruction. Yet, eleven years later, the supposedly remorseful Italy was bombing Libya once more to ensure the flow of cheap oil and to keep African immigrants and refugees at bay.
Neither was the bloody 2011 war an exception. Four years after that war, Italy once more began calling for another war on Libya for, clearly, the desired objectives of the first war have not been met: immigrants and refugees, despite high risks and a mounting death toll, continued to pour into Italy and the flow of oil and gas has been disrupted by a civil war among Libya’s NATO allies. But there is another factor, according to Marianne Arens: “The sabre-rattling over Libya also serves to divert attention from the growing domestic social and political tensions” in Italy itself.
The relationship between war and the rising challenge of refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers cannot be overstated. It is both ironic and sad that the many thousands of war refugees are seeking shelter in the same European and NATO countries that either directly (as in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan) or indirectly (as in Syria) contributed to the destruction and destabilization of their countries.
Even Greece, which is displaying little patience or regard for humanitarian laws in its treatment of the many thousands of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, via Turkey, took part, although in a minor role, in the war in Libya (2011) and provided assistance to the US-led war on Iraq (2003).
While one strongly sympathizes with Greece as it stands on the verge of bankruptcy and having just reached a deal with the EU that could keep the impoverished country solvent for the coming months, one cannot fathom the mistreatment of innocent Syrians and Iraqis as they brave the sea to escape the hellish wars back home. The Greeks, who suffered terrible wars in the past, should know this more than anyone else. The scenes from the islands of Lesbos and Kos are heartbreaking, to say the least.
However, the countries that should be confronted most about their moral responsibility towards war refugees are those who ignited these wars in the first place. While Libya continues to descend into chaos, and Syria and Iraq subsist in a state of bedlam, both France and Britain discuss the problem of refugees attempting to cross into both countries as if the refugees are swarms of locusts, not innocent people who were victimized mostly by US-European wars. Meanwhile, the US, geographically removed from the refugee crisis, seems unconcerned by the chaotic scenes of desperate refugees, capsizing boats, and pleading families.
Those who wage war should, at least, shoulder part of the moral responsibility of addressing the horrible consequences that armed conflict inflicts upon innocent people. The Italian example shows how economic interests trump morality, and not a single NATO country, Turkey included, is innocent.
Now that the refugee crisis is worsening, it behooves NATO to deal with the problem, at least with a degree of humanity and – dare one say – with the same enthusiasm that led it to several devastating wars in recent years.
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story (Pluto Press, London). His website is: www.ramzybaroud.net.
Birlikte Mücadele, Birlikte Tasarım
Blog di Asmae Dachan "Scrivere per riscoprire il valore della vita umana"
Update on Syria revolution -The other side of the coin ignored by the main stream news
Sguardi Globali da una Finestra di Cucina al Ticinese
Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East
A blog about understanding humanity- by G. Marranci, PhD
Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East
"... chi parte per Beirut e ha in tasca un miliardo..."
Views on anthropological, social and political affairs in the Middle East
Ho sempre immaginato che il Paradiso fosse una sorta di biblioteca (J. L. Borges)