Middle East

ANIMAL DISPLACEMENT FROM SYRIA: A STORY YET TO BE WRITTEN

Image by Bernard Gagnon (via Wikimedia Commons)

Animal Displacement from Syria: A Story Yet to be Written

During the Syrian war, which has now raged for a decade, the attention of scholars, media commentators and activists has primarily focused on human displacement. More than 60% of the world’s refugee population – over 30% of which are victims of internal displacement – reside in the Middle East, mainly due to large-scale armed conflicts. The Syrian war, which began following a popular uprising in spring 2011, has led to half a million deaths (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), nearly seven million displaced people – 70% of whom still live in the Middle East – and 14 million in need of assistance.

Due to the tragically large scale of human loss, the destiny of fauna during the war in Syria has been under-explored, and any emphasis on it has often been frowned upon in informal conversations I had throughout the years with international researchers and opinion-makers working on this geographic area. With this post, I encourage readers to reason beyond inter-species hierarchies, which instil unproductive ways of thinking, such as that a species per se is more or less important than another. The haste to set up such existential hierarchies between animals and human beings derives from a human-focused understanding of animals that share our natural habitat as well as our built environment. In this sense, animal care becomes either ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in response to our personal habits, our everyday culture and, importantly, our social and economic capacity of care. Indeed, in Western societies, the care for animals – especially pets – has widely been associated with the lifestyle of global middle and upper classes, who are able and keen to feed, care and cater for animals. So to speak, the “bourgeoisization” of animal care – where the latter is frequently viewed as the care provided by wealthy people equipped with time and resources that enable them to think beyond human survival – and the critical reactions to it have ended up influencing our external gaze on human conflict and migration and have dangerously legitimated the exclusivity of human care. To look at the entirety of this multi-species ecosystem of war and forced migration reveals a complexity that goes unheeded as a result of an anthropocentric gaze.

I encourage readers to reason beyond inter-species hierarchies, which instil unproductive ways of thinking.

Animals affected by war have mainly been discussed in terms of human survival and sustainability, but with pointed exceptions. For example, in 2012, Reuters news agency dedicated a photo galleryto animals, such as turtles and cats, that were trying to survive bombings, seeking food in almost depopulated areas and, sometimes, receiving it from armed groups who lived, occupied or briefly stopped in these neighbourhoods destroyed by war. To expand on such snippet views, I focus on the animals’ fate during the Syrian conflict and the discursive and logistic use of animal-fare in war narratives.

The omission of animals’ fate in today’s journalism and academic scholarship on armed conflict has led to ignoring a fundamental element in the lives of refugees who had to leave Syria: the incurable existential harm caused by the need to abandon their pets or, for those who had a rural lifestyle, their livestock, as it has been noted in forced migration history. In many cases that I have witnessed throughout years of research on Syrian displacement in the Levantine region, the abandonment of their animals – even a cow kept for milk or poultry kept for eggs – has generated pain and emotional disorientation in the lives of the displaced. Such abandonments are experienced as an inevitable sacrifice when leaving the war-torn country and building a life elsewhere. Indeed, most of the Syrian refugees I have met in northern Lebanon’s villages – and who often work in Lebanese farms – have a rural background. They often remember the cattle they owned and how they looked after them when they lived in Syria. Many of them say they regularly ask their neighbours about the fate of these abandoned animals; most of those who were not resold died of dehydration, starvation and disease.

The abandonment of their animals has generated pain and emotional disorientation in the lives of the displaced.

Despite this, animal displacement has been approached from the angle of the survival and proliferation of humans and the importance of exhuming Syrian agricultural production, which used to rely on the export of livestock before the conflict, making up 15% of the internal agricultural workforce. But what was the fate of these animals? Domestic, pack and farm animals alike were often killed as spoils of war, smuggled into the neighbouring countries, or were stolen, displaced, bombed or sold. As a consequence, the rate of private ownership of livestock within the country has dropped to 60% since the beginning of the conflict. Many breeders have had to abandon their profession and lifestyle and leave the country or migrate to other locations in Syria in search of new livelihoods.

Animals and animal violence have been widely discussed as a soft power strategy for shaping relations between political actors, and as a tool for gaining credibility in local and international communities while morally discrediting political enemies. For example, there is some Arabic media material illustrating this trend, with videos showing the leaders of the shabbiha – thugs loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – throw a ‘thoroughbred’ Arab horse to their lions for food, as written in the Tweet of a Syrian political opponent included in an al-Quds article. Many of these videos, accessible on YouTube, show the killing of livestock by armed groups or the theft of livestock in some Syrian regions. Some accusations are not expressly aimed at either government militias or opposition groups, but they are used as such for political propaganda. Beyond the authenticity of this type of media material, which is continually the subject of journalistic debate, the treatment of animals plays a fundamental role in shaping the political rhetoric of each of the parties in conflict. The same happens with the recent government decree, No. 221, through which Bashar al-Assad assigns the Ministry of Education to the directorship of the ‘Animal Protection in Syria’ project.

Animals and animal violence have been widely discussed as a soft power strategy for shaping relations between political actors, and as a tool for gaining credibility while morally discrediting political enemies.

As I wrote with Samira Usman in the past, the humanitarian mantra of ‘human dignity’, according to which every human life must be respected and protected, has indeed shed light on the importance of ensuring legal and social protection for refugees. However slow this has been to materialise on a global level, it has emphasized the importance for refugees to have their dignity recognized. In this vein, the rhetoric of human dignity, over-used by the international community as well as by activist groups, ended up ignoring the historical fact that war causes dramatic consequences to other species too. It is emblematic that only a small number of humanitarian projects (for example, Animals Lebanon) approach human beings as part of an entire ecosystem that is being destroyed by conflict, therefore actively subverting anthropocentrism.

Animals have also long been an object of debates among Muslim communities worldwide. There is a longstanding belief that Muslim-majority societies have little respect for animals, which has led scholars to speak of Islamic environmentalism only in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, namely, in the so-called ‘Global North’. In this regard, some fatawa (plural of fatwa) in the Sunni Muslim world have warned Syrian internally displaced people and refugees not to kill or eat cats, donkeys and dogs, even in situations of famine and hardship. Such fatawa generate extensive internet discussions focussing on the precepts of Islam and serve as a spiritual, legal and social consultation space for believers. Some religious authorities have denounced the act of killing and eating animals without a valid reason, while others have allowed the act of eating them provided that these animals have already been killed by bombing. Yet, this has at times become a practice in today’s Syria, owing to the famines and hardships that the conflict itself has caused. At the same time, the care and provision of food to animals, such as cats, is indeed praised and appreciated by God. The topic remains an element of animated discussion within the Muslim world.

Only a small number of humanitarian projects approach human beings as part of an entire ecosystem that is being destroyed by conflict.

The animals that have accompanied human beings during their flight and that have shared their conditions of forced migration are often unspoken; for instance, many refugees crossing the Syrian–Lebanese border brought along sheep, goats and cows, which had not been vaccinated due to their sudden departure to flee war, violence and the resulting poverty. Since 2011, some Syrian refugees in Wadi Khaled (north-east Lebanon) have told me that they crossed the al-Kabeer river connecting the two borders on the back of a donkey. They later had to abandon the animal because it fell ill and they did not have the means to maintain it, having paid a large amount of money to smugglers.

However, the ethical discourse underlying human displacement has sometimes been at odds with environmental and animal ethics. The areas where refugees are resettling are taken from the local fauna; human settlement and methods of mass-producing food often lead to deforestation and erosion of the surrounding habitat. As in such paradoxical situations, only either of the two vulnerable conditions can be protected within the ecosystem, the defenders of environmental and animal rights find themselves in tension with those who advocate for human rights. This was the case of one million Rwandan Hutu refugees, who, in 1994, relocated to the Virunga National Park of neighbouring Congo, where ten gorillas were killed after the territory was plundered. Similar to what is happening in Syria, in the case of Virunga National Park, the refugees who went to live in the protected area, considered a heritage site of humanity, were accused of committing violence against the territory. It is instead the refugees’ presence that becomes a favourable source of chaos, and some people take advantage of such chaos to carry out raids, using the refugees’ presence for dissimulation.*

The defenders of environmental and animal rights find themselves in tension with those who advocate for human rights.

In the context of the Syrian conflict, animal displacement is still a history yet to be written. I consider it important to highlight not only the anthropocentric and violent use of animals in conditions of forced migration but also the emotional bond that some refugees had with the animals they had to abandon, due to protracted political, economic, social and political instability. Remembering animals is often part of the stories told by refugees themselves; in some cases, animals explain refugee and internally displaced people’s attachment to their home back in Syria. In order to fully understand the effects of conflict, violence and deprivation on mobile ecosystems, it is indeed inevitable to unravel these important inter-species relationships.

Crisis discourse traditionally omits the relational history with animals in forced migration narratives, while human beings – both refugees and political actors, as mentioned above – often remember, thrive on, or instrumentalize animals in the real world. As long as the biodiversity of crisis goes unheeded, our knowledge of the ‘politics of living’ in displacement also remains maimed. In this sense, disrupting anthropocentric understandings of human-made crisis is not only an ethical issue, as animal-rights activists remind us through campaigns, but also an intellectual and epistemological one.

Remembering animals is often part of the stories told by refugees themselves.

Notes

This research has been conducted in the framework of the project “Analysing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey,” funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582.

*Others use the presence of refugees in these territories as an instrument for political negotiation. This is also the case for some Syrian archaeological sites; the ruins of Idlib, a cultural heritage site, have become temporary shelters for local displaced people, who could not find alternative places for protection and survival. The Antiquities Center of Idlib is in charge of this issue.

Featured image by Bernard GagnonCC BY-SA 3.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

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The damage aid workers can do – with just their words (by Tammam Aloudat)

The damage aid workers can do – with just their words

Through its language and psychology, the aid sector has divided the world into saviours and ‘beneficiaries’

Tammam AloudatTammam Aloudat

March 26, 2021

Try getting through this paragraph without becoming bored or confused:

“Our humanitarian field operations have focused on high-impact, cost-effective implementation of activities through local partners. We have provided the target population with platforms to empower our beneficiaries – particularly women, children, and other vulnerable groups – and provide them with sustainable and scalable solutions to build resilience and preserve dignity. Through the deployment of teams of expatriate staff to the front lines, our humanitarian operation allowed us to effectively address the needs and raise awareness, giving voice to the voiceless victims while building the capacity of local actors.”

If you work in the humanitarian sector, you could read through it without batting an eyelid. At first glance, it might sound like something (not particularly well-written) one finds in a report posted on a humanitarian or development organisation’s website. In this case, I invented it to illustrate a point.

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The problem is not just the displeasure you experience trying to wade through the syntax. It’s what lies beyond the words – what they tell us both about humanitarians and, ultimately, the current state of humanitarian aid.

The obvious disclaimer here is that this view is neither a judgement on the character of any given humanitarian worker – I am one of them – nor a cliched “call to action” about humanitarian language (though by all means, feel free to act). It is, rather, an interrogation of the way humanitarianism teaches us to think, and what lurks beneath its surface.

The mid-20th century Martinique political philosopher Frantz Fanon once wrote about the effect of language: “To speak means to be in a position to use a certain syntax, to grasp the morphology of this or that language, but it means above all to assume a culture, to support the weight of a civilisation.”

Like every discipline, humanitarianism has developed its own language and imagery that reflects not only the means to communicate among its practitioners, but also its conception of the world and how it understands, and hence behaves, in it.

This language of humanitarianism is hardly static. It evolves with the changing contexts in which humanitarian action takes place, the pressures of donors and benefactors and the social and cultural norms of the societies – usually in the West – where those organisations are based and where western narratives are most important.

Despite the evolution, however, the abstractions, jargon, and acronyms so common to humanitarian-speak still aim for, and manage to achieve, several things.

First, it defines the field of action, humanitarianism, and draws its parameters, principles, and tactics; second, it justifies and moralises the act itself and asserts the legitimacy of its existence and consequences; and third, it sustains the power, worldview, and future of those who control the narrative.

Those goals are not explicit, that is to say they are not written in formal documents or articulated in strategic plans. They, however, can be discerned from the use of the language itself.

In my own attempt to resolve my long-standing discomfort with the language I was using every day, I posted a Tweet last month asking for words or expressions that we humanitarians use regularly but are inappropriate.

To my surprise, many answers came, and the objectionable words and phrases spanned beyond the obvious. The full list is too long to include here. However, some of them remain, and are difficult to excise from our daily professional lives. Others are widely agreed to be unacceptable now or because they are emerging as such influenced with a renewed debate about the asymmetries of power in the humanitarian sector.https://d-10335907221585136272.ampproject.net/2103240330001/frame.html

Those include “beneficiaries” to describe people who receive aid in emergencies, “capacity building” as a main NGO activity, “target population”, “speaking out on behalf of…”, “vulnerability” (especially in formulations like “women, children, and other vulnerable groups”), “resilience” as something that can be built in communities by external actors. It even includes some of what are considered fundamental principles, such as “neutrality” or the word “humanitarian” itself.

And yet, all of these words linger.

While it is optimistic to see the changes that are gradually happening to humanitarian language and the way this has been raised into collective awareness, the road to moving humanitarian action away from its still-dominant Eurocentric view of the world is just beginning. Writing glossaries of more appropriate terms to use in communication is one step. But what language tells us about power hierarchies is far more interesting because it gives a window to the current state of humanitarian action, as well as its possible futures.

A Palestinian walks past a ceramic sign of a USAID project in Hebron in the West Bank in 2019. Reuters
A Palestinian walks past a ceramic sign of a USAID project in Hebron in the West Bank in 2019. Reuters

For a humanitarian to exist and to be justified, his or her opposite – a beneficiary – is necessary. As the French philosopher Jacques Derrida once wrote, a concept is implicit in its opposite, and one cannot exist without the other.

For the humanitarian – a person defined by their highest moral impulse being to help others – the beneficiary has to exist as a helpless person with little agency, who is defined not by their communal or individual attributes, but rather their benefit from the moral action of the humanitarian.

There are plenty of other problematic oppositions: developing/developed, resilient/vulnerable, donor/recipient, and international/local. None of those is neutral or free from value judgement. They are based on generalisations and stereotypes, and all of them, as they are used today, assert the existing powers and their resistance to change.

Glossaries and style guides are unlikely in themselves to ever change the culture and power hierarchies that hide behind the language. But they are still a necessary step in going forward.

Edward Said once argued that the orientalist invents an oriental that only exists in their mind

As we have seen in growing social justice and solidarity movements concerned with racial and gender-based discrimination, the change of terms by those they dehumanise or oppress is being accepted as a necessary step in allowing people to assert their own self-perception. It also sets a threshold for response, by daring everyone else to recognise the imbalance and correct it.

Moreover, just like the Palestinian scholar Edward Said once argued that the orientalist invents an oriental that only exists in their mind rather than in reality, the humanitarian who accepts the narrative of a beneficiary without a say or agency, without knowledge or will, is prone to go to the “field” and act as if they are the only one with knowledge, will, or benevolence. In doing so, they further disempowering the very people they are meant to aid.

Forty years ago, the African-American writer and civil rights activist Audre Lorde, in talking about the lack of representation of people like her in society’s wider conversations reminded us that “the master’s tool will never dismantle the master’s house”. We need to find a new language, a world view and the tools to create the words that talk about the poor, the sick and crisis survivors as the owners of their fate, rather than an inconvenience that has to be overcome in the grand humanitarian narrative. It will not be simple to achieve, but then, no one should expect humanitarianism to be a simple matter.

Dr Tammam Aloudat is a Syrian physician and a senior strategic adviser to MSF in Geneva

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A Sociology of Knowledge on Displacement and Humanitarianism

In this post, Dr Estella Carpi identifies the main points she and Prof. Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh raise in their contribution to the recently published Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East, where they focus on the commonalities and dissimilarities across the academic literature relating to war-induced displacement and humanitarianism in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt.

If you find this post of interest, please visit our Thinking through the Global South series and the recommended reading and listening at the end of this post. 

A Sociology of Knowledge on Displacement and Humanitarianism

by Dr Estella Carpi, Research Associate, Southern Responses to Displacement Project, UCL

The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East, edited by Armando Salvatore, Kieko Obuse, and Sari Hanafi, contains my and Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh’s contribution, a chapter on the sociology of knowledge of studies on war-induced displacement and humanitarianism in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt. Our comparative analysis of academic literature on this topic suggests that similarities and differences across the academic literature are not always motivated by specific forms of state governmentality. Importantly, in the framework of how academic knowledge production relates to political order, we show how postcolonial his­tory seems to only provide partial explanations.

Our chapter, ‘A Sociology of Knowledge on Displacement and Humanitarianism’  primarily emerges from the need to decentralize mainstream knowledge by shedding light on responses to dis­placement led by organizations, governments, informal groups, and individuals from across the Global South, including refugees themselves. It also emerges from our experience with teaching displacement and humani­tarianism in several international institutions and the responses received from different cohorts of students.

In our chapter, we depart from the Syrian “refugee crisis”, started by a popular uprising in March 2011, as it has now become a crucial watershed in international scholarly literature concerned with the Middle East. Indeed, the Syrian crisis has paved the way for a large number of studies focused on humanitarian governance, forced migrations, security and borders, migrant labour, and social integration in receiving coun­tries. In countries where the central state tends to emerge as authoritarian in the organization of society (e.g., Turkey and Egypt), such themes have been addressed differently from po­litical environments where the state has been considered absent and fragile and where political power is fragmented (e.g., Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories). For instance, some forced migrants living in states where the “catastrophization” discourse is unlikely, have not always appeared in academic texts under the label of “refugees” but have instead been categorized as “migrants” since economic and climate-related migrations are both unlikely to be classified as “forced” in the global political arena. Indeed, in Egypt and Turkey, humanitarianism is not a usual analytical framework for the explana­tion of refugee governance and refugee experience.

Our chapter shows that postcoloniality does not explain such peculiar sociologies of knowledge. States like Lebanon have proved that, al­though domestic sovereignty is seemingly fragmented and delegated to more than one ac­tor, they can still curb or hold sway on assistance provision and its layered politics, for ex­ample, forbidding marches in support of refugee employment and living conditions. However, postcoloniality is a key variable in carving out a transnational sociology of knowl­edge of these localities. Identifying this sociology means meditating on the ways in which crisis is defined and understood in different political histories. In this respect, Lebanon is over-characterized by the catastrophe discourse, having a wavering political past and present during which governmental mandates have never lasted long, unlike many other states in the region. Nonetheless, we conclude that it would be incorrect to argue that Lebanon has historical­ly been more exposed to crisis than countries like Jordan, Egypt, or Turkey (also charac­terized by outbreaks of nonstate political violence and coups d’état), because “crisis” per se should have contextual and relativistic meanings and, at times, resides in the ordinary details of everyday life.

Against this backdrop, we define the “sociology of knowledge” as the relationship between the production of knowl­edge and the social context in which it develops and examine how knowledge is con­structed socially and what factors mainly influence such a construction. Since knowledge is contextual, it is shaped as much by the social and political positioning of knowledge producers as by their local, regional, and international environments. Academic cultures —not always overlapping with official “national cultures,” which are defined by the boundaries of the nation-state—frame such topics in a peculiar manner. In the effort to build a sociology of knowledge, we seek to identify the political and social factors that have been moulding international scholarship in the field of displacement and crisis man­agement. The need for a common language and to somehow embrace functional monolingualism has subtly justified the implicit demand to think and present ideas monoculturally. Such an Anglocentric mono­-culture risks emerging as the only valuable and acceptable one in defining “global knowledge” and concepts such as “humanitarianism”. As Fiddian-Qasmiyeh has argued, “exploring the principles and modalities of South–South cooperation, rather than promoting the incorporation of Southern actors into the ‘international humanitarian system’ via the localization agenda, presents a critical opportunity for studies of displace­ment and humanitarianism in the Middle East region”. As a result, the displacement and humanitari­anism literature need to transcend the state paradigm and focus on a larger variety of so­cial and political factors.

Here comes the endeavour of the Southern Responses to Displacement project: while most scholars have examined the work of the United Na­tions and of international institutions in the region, in our chapter for the Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of the Middle East, we instead highlight the need to learn from multilingual literature, especially that produced in the Global South, and from a deeper investigation of the principles and modalities of crisis management as developed by actors from the Global South. From our perspective, such con­siderations, while overcoming the nation-state paradigm, could also drive us toward an actual global sociology of knowledge.

If you find this post of interest, please visit our Thinking through the Global South series and the recommended reading below:

Carpi, E. (2021) Slavery, Lived Realities and Decolonising Forced Migration Histories: A transcript of an interview with Prof. Portia Owusu – Interview with Dr Estella Carpi and Dr Portia Owusu

Carpi, E. (2021) Slavery, Lived Realities and Decolonising Forced Migration Histories: An interview with Prof Portia Owusu (Podcast)

Carpi, E. (2019) Thinking Power Relations across Humanitarian Geographies: Southism as a Mode of Analysis

Carpi, E. (2018) Humanitarianism and Postcoloniality:  A Look at Academic Texts

Carpi, E. (2018) Teaching Humanitarianism:  The Need for a More Responsive Framework:

Carpi, E. (2018) Empires of Inclusion?[FE1] 

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2020) Migration, Humanitarianism, and the Politics of Knowledge – An Interview with Juliano Fiori

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2020) Introduction: Recentering the South in Studies of Migration

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Exploring refugees’ conceptualisations of Southern-led humanitarianism

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2019) Histories and spaces of Southern-led responses to displacement

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Thinking through ‘the global South’ and ‘Southern-responses to displacement’: An introduction.

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) The Localisation of Aid and Southern-led Responses to Displacement: Beyond instrumentalising local actors

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. (2018) Southern Responses to Displacement: Background and introduction to our mini blog series. 

Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, E. and Daley, P. (2018) Conceptualising the global South and South–South encounters[FE2] 

Nimer, M. (2019) Reflections on the Political Economy in Forced Migration Research from a ‘Global South’ Perspective


Featured image: (c) El Maks, Boustashy Art photograph, Autumn 2004

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CALL FOR ACADEMIC LEADS ON ESTABLISHING A RESEARCH PARTNERSHIP WITH OPERAZIONE COLOMBA

Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII

http://www.operazionecolomba.it/en

CALL FOR ACADEMIC LEADS ON ESTABLISHING A RESEARCH PARTNERSHIP WITH OPERAZIONE COLOMBA (APG23)

Research Proposal
The Prospect of Humanitarian Zones in Syria

Who are we

Operazione Colomba is the Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Association Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII. Since 1992 our volunteers have been operating in: protecting civilians, promoting dialogue and reconciliation between the parts, supporting local nonviolent realities, doing advocacy activities.

Since 2013, Operazione Colomba volunteers have been living in a Syrian refugee camp in Northern Lebanon, sustaining a need for international protection expressed by refugee communities. These same communities drafted a Peace Proposal to answer to the growing hardships faced in Lebanon. Their request is simple and fair: to go back to their country in a safe area where they do not risk being arrested, killed or be forcibly drafted in the army.

To support their Peace Proposal, Operazione Colomba and a group of Syrian activists have created a team of experienced volunteers, to make sure this proposal is taken to the major political platforms dealing with solutions to the Syrian conflict, reaching policy-makers at both national government level as well as within international diplomacy channels.

The research group

In order to identify a humanitarian zone in Syria where Syrian refugees abroad could safely return, the Peace Proposal team needs to be supported by an organized research group, which could scientifically and systematically monitor the ongoing dynamics of the war in Syria, the demographic changes of the country and the safe areas where a normalization could be feasible, so as to provide concrete feasibility to the realization of the Peace Proposal in practice.

The Research Group will be made of international academic staff and researchers collaborating with Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team. Academic staff based at international Universities is welcome to join the research group on a voluntary basis, and is expected to critically engage with the Peace Proposal Team in the outline of specific areas of research. Academic staff will work as main point of contact between Operazione Colomba and MA students interested in conducting specific sections of the research.

HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail: opcol@apg23.org

Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII

http://www.operazionecolomba.it/en

Focus of the research group

The Research Group’s fundamental aim is to study the Syrian conflict, investigating where and how the safe humanitarian zone could be created in order to promote a safe and just repatriation of Syrian refugees.

The research group’s strategy will be based on the analysis of modern socio-economic and political trends in Syria’s recent history, so as to contextualize the transformations undergone through the last nine years of war. Adding to the situation in Syria, research will also focus on the evolving situation in different regions of the country and in Syrian refugees’ camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey.

Moreover, past cases of humanitarian zones in other world regions will provide yet another key focus to this research, in understanding the processes and specific geo-historical causalities that brought to their formation and local/regional/international recognition. The successful case of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó in Colombia, will be used a comparative study.

Organization of the research group

To operationalize this research proposal, three distinct groups are identified for collaboration: (I) Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team; (II) Academic leads at major international universities, and (III) Master-level students interested in carrying out their research projects on topics relevant to this research proposal.

Tasks and duties of Operazione Colomba Peace Proposal Team:

  •   To provide overall guidance and support to academic leads about the specific areas ofresearch focus;
  •   To coordinate the different areas of research involved in this research project so as to avoidcross-overs and guarantee that all interest areas are covered;
  •   To provide information and access to specific data held by Operazione Colomba on thetopics of research interest.Tasks and duties of the academic leads:
  •   To identify pertinent sub-areas of research interest to propose as assignments to MA studentsinterested to carry out research on those specific topics;
  •   To supervise the work of MA students in line with the research requirements, ethics, andfinal purpose of Operazione Colomba’s research proposal;
  •   To liaise with the Peace Proposal Team with regards to changing research focus, access todata, fieldwork required. HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail: opcol@apg23.org

Operazione Colomba

Nonviolent Peace Corps of the Comunità Papa Giovanni XXIII

http://www.operazionecolomba.it/en

Tasks and duties of MA students involved:

  •   To identify a specific research area of interest within the remits of this research proposal;
  •   To liaise with the specific academic lead about the research and delivery of the research;
  •   To produce a final report on the research conducted specifically for the use of the PeaceProposal Team, summarizing main methodologies and findings.Sub-areas of research focus

This research will be based on four macro-themes:
1) A comparative study between the Peace Proposal and the Community of San José de Apartadó;

2) Examples of humanitarian zones in international law (previous cases of both “informal” and “formally recognized” humanitarian zones;

3) Examples of restorative justice (humanitarian commissions ruling on demilitarization and peace- building between warring communities);

4) Update study and monitoring of specific geographical areas of Syria (demographic engineering during the Syrian conflict, areas of return, return flows from neighbouring countries).

Contacs: opcol.ls@apg23.org http://www.operazionecolomba.it/en/wethesyrians/ HQ: Operazione Colomba – Via Mameli 5 – 47921 Rimini (RN) Tel./Fax (+39) 0541 29005 E-mail: opcol@apg23.org

Categories: Middle East, Syria | Tags: , | Leave a comment

Webinar with the AAA Interest Group on NGOs and Non-Profits (March 1, 2021)

Last March 1, 2021, I and Dr Chiara Diana (Universite’ Libre de Bruxelles) have presented our chapter The Right to Play versus the Right to War? Vulnerable Childhoods in Lebanon’s NGOization for the volume edited by Kristen Cheney and Aviva Sinervo (More information about the book Disadvantaged Childhoods and Humanitarian Intervention: Processes of Affective Commodification and Objectification can be found here: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030016227).

For those who would like to review the webinar or who registered and were unable to attend, here is a link to the video of the eventhttps://youtu.be/IM17PpE2aFE

One of the questions that came up during the webinar was regarding the ethics of doing research with children. Here is the website (as well as an attached PDF) recommended by María Claudia Duque-Páramo in response to questions about the ethics of doing research with children: ERIC Ethical Research Involving Children: https://childethics.com/
To learn more about the AAA Interest Group on N​GOs and Non-Profits you can visit our website http://ngo.americananthro.org, like the IGNN on Facebook and follow @ngoanthro on Twitter.

Categories: Africa, Lebanon, Middle East, Syria, United States, USA | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon

Spaces of Transregional Aid and Visual Politics in Lebanon*

11/23/2020

http://www.ror-n.org/-blog/spaces-of-transregional-aid-and-visual-politics-in-lebanon?fbclid=IwAR28bE0VE_wnhDj5mM1azpWnImqg0LQ1I56v3JViic8PIMCDaipfM96PMN8

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By Estella Carpi

… Everyone was there and wanted their logo to be known… it’s a brand. And in the July 2006 war [of Israel on Lebanon] there were definitely more international brands than ever.
(Author’s interview with the Manager of the Social Development Centre, Office of the Ministry of Social Affairs, ash-Shiyyah, Beirut, October 30, 2011)

The visuality of symbols, buildings, and icons can powerfully mark spaces and make such spaces political, culturally oriented, spiritual, and even human. In times of crisis, it is particularly employed to exhibit the presence of humanitarian work. However, such a visuality can take different forms, and humanitarian logos are only one means of expression. Humanitarian logos communicate to the public that the labelled organizations are there assisting the needy, alleviating their predicament, witnessing human suffering, or rescuing lives. During the years I spent researching aid in Lebanon (2010-2020), people have often spoken of the ‘war of logos’ to emphasize the competition between different humanitarian actors intervening in crisis-stricken areas. 

In such areas, where migrants and refugees often reside, new local understandings of physical space have arisen. However, aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war. In this blog post, I show how they can become stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life, inviting dwellers to rethink these spaces of coexistence. Aid, therefore, going beyond official humanitarianism, turns out to be a politics of space, changing people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and inducing them to rethink their spatial margins.

​After the arrival of refugees from Syria (2011), the aid coming into Lebanon from the Arab Gulf increased, involving both in-kind assistance (i.e. food and school material kits) and cash-based programmes. Traditionally, Islamic charity work objects to iconic politics, adducing Prophet Mohammed’s hadith “the left hand does not see what the right hand gives” (la ta‘lamu shamaluhu bima tunfiqu yaminahu). However, some Arab Muslim philanthropists provide humanitarian aid by making their relief provision visible and, at times, even displaying their own face, their national flag, and their logos. Individual philanthropists in the Arab Gulf often opt to show the national flag and the faces of charity founders.Aid distribution by Khalaf Ahmed al-Habtour Foundation (United Arab Emirates) in an Akkar village, North Lebanon. March 2019.​During my most recent fieldwork for the Southern-led Responses to Displacement project in North Lebanon, many Syrian refugees emphasised that they do not support the politics of some foreign governments in the Syrian conflict and, at times, are reluctant to accept the donations. A Syrian refugee friend told me in Bebnin in the spring of 2019, “We’re using the plates with the Saudi logo to show you we are given this stuff… but we normally don’t like using them as we don’t think Saudi politics helped Syrians in any way…”.
Saudi Arabia NGO’s plates for Syrian refugees. Bebnin, Akkar. March 2019.Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s symbol on jumpers. Kweishra, Akkar. April 2019.School bags distribution from Saudi Arabia. Al-Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​NGOs and UN agencies from the ‘global North’ similarly use logos to mark their humanitarian space, although the space is often shared with other humanitarian actors. I often met refugees who stressed how ephemeral and punctuated (appearing, disappearing, and reappearing over time) humanitarian assistance is: humanitarian logos always remain there, while aid workers show up to provide help only once in a while. Beneficiaries generally interpret logos negatively, as a sign of an increasingly prominent humanitarian-business nexus where assistance needs to be branded to be funded and supported. Yet some refugees I spoke to view the logos positively, as they visually convey the politics that relegate their lives to the margins and make their living conditions precarious and unjust. Such acts of ‘self-visibilization’ enable people in need to battle against the discriminatory and unequal politics of some aid providers.UNICEF’s and Solidarités International’s logos on the toilet of an informal tented settlement (one for more than a hundred people) in an Akkar hamlet. March 2019.UNHCR tarp covering construction material in front of al-Bahsa new mosque in Akkar, North Lebanon. March 2018.​Logos also inform us about the cooperation between humanitarian agencies which, generally, we would not associate with each other, such as Polish Aid and Australian Aid co-funding a dispensary for Syrian refugees and vulnerable local residents in the village of al-Bireh in North Lebanon.
Ophthalmology clinic in Bireh, Akkar. March 2019.​Spaces of aid are usually remembered by the nationality of the funders, whose logos – often displaying their national flag even for non-governmental funding – are placed on street signs, entrance gates, and indoor walls.
Turkish government-funded clinic in Kweishra, North Lebanon. March 2019.​In the sign above it is evident that the funding for what is commonly known in Kweishra (Akkar) as the “Turkish hospital” (al-mustashfa al-turki) is a donation from the Turkish state to the Lebanese state. However, the local residents and Syrian Arab refugees point out that only Turkmen Syrian refugees and a small number of Turkmen Lebanese have access to this clinic.

The Kuwaiti NGO “The Doors of Goodness Foundation” (jama‘iyyat mu’assasat abuwab al-kheir), assisting Syrian refugees, shows the national flag. Halba, North Lebanon. February 2019.

Beneficiary communities sometimes speak about humanitarian symbols with criticism and question their aid and service provision. A Syrian refugee woman from Homs who relocated to a border village in Lebanon highlighted that rent and medications were the primary needs of her family and community in Lebanon. At a time when e-food ration cards[1] had not been introduced yet, she told me with sarcasm, “I came from Syria to get packages of bread in Lebanon… I don’t give a damn about their ‘grains of hope’: it’s 2,000 Lebanese Lira… I can pay for it. Why don’t they provide medications and cash for rent instead? They provide what is easier for them” (Wadi Khaled, January 29, 2013).

Mercy Corps bread distribution in Wadi Khaled, Akkar. November 2012.

New local understandings of physical space have arisen in areas newly inhabited by migrants and refugees. For instance, in the economically disadvantaged district of Dinniye, local residents told me they used to identify the Emirs’ Castle Hotel (Funduq Qasr al-Umara’) as the luxurious holiday resort for tourists from the Arab Gulf. From 2012 onward, with the arrival of Syrian refugee families, local people conceptualised the area as a hotspot of “relief for the left-behind” (al-ighatha li’l ma‘zulin), where refugees collect aid provided by the Arab Gulf and are temporarily accommodated. 

Aid distribution for Syrian refugees at the Qasr al-Umara’ Hotel, Dinniye, Lebanon. April 2019.

Aid-marked spaces across Lebanon are not only relevant in the time of war or post-war: they can remain stable hubs of human trust and reciprocity, a normal part of everyday life. The Beit Atfal as-Sumud in the Palestinian refugee camp Shatila in Beirut’s southern suburbs[2] represents a point of call for Palestinian dwellers, providing education, play activities, and medical support and referring beneficiaries to other NGOs and specialistic services. During my visits since 2011, I realized the employees are more trusted than the United Nations Refugee Works Agency (UNRWA)’s services.[3] The Beit is the spatialization of the most effective aid in the neighbourhood, as known by other migrant and refugee groups who inhabit the area.

Entrance of Beit Atfal as-Sumud in Shatila, Beirut. September 2011.

​A large number of Syrian refugees in rural and peri-urban Lebanon reside in informal tented settlements (ITS) built on pieces of land on the side of public roads, which they need to rent from landowners, rent apartments or occupy empty depots in urban settings. Sometimes, families who were not even acquainted to each other before arriving in Lebanon end up living in the same household to be able to share expenses and make ends meet. A Lebanese resident from the city of Halba contended, “Once we know in which buildings the refugees live, we tend to avoid those areas.” We thus see new borderscapes (Lebuhn, 2013) in the making, where new margins, although not physically marked, emerge in the environment.
Building rented to Syrian refugees. South Lebanon governorate. July 2016.Some spaces are neither marked by NGO logos nor emerge as official spaces of aid provision in the public sphere. Yet, within local communities, they are understood as places where aid is likely to be given. Hairdressing and beauty salons for Ethiopian migrant workers became important points of call to weave support networks and exchange resources between Lebanon and Ethiopia or other African countries. Indeed, in Bourj Hammoud[4], African migrant workers from different national backgrounds said they frequent the same places where it is possible for them to gather information and seek support from other social groups or their countries of origin, beyond their own national belonging.

Ethiopian hairdressing salon in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Football in Lebanon is known to be an activity people are passionate about, a way of connecting them to the world outside, and also a reason for gatherings and social mingling. National flags of other countries are often used to show support to national football teams. However, during my research in Lebanon, I realized there is sometimes a more complex story about the different national symbols exhibited in public space. A Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud told me how they not only support Brazil in football world leagues, but they also cherish the generosity of their relatives who resettled in Brazil in the 1970s and sent material and moral support during the Lebanese civil war (1975-90). Showing the Brazil flag outside their balcony became a way to show their gratefulness. 

Brazilian flag outside the balcony of a Lebanese Armenian family in Bourj Hammoud, Beirut. February 2019.​

Similarly, a taxi driver, in the municipality of Minieh in North Lebanon, spoke of Argentina not only as his favourite football team in the world leagues, but also as the place which welcomed and supported him, his family and friends during the 1980s. After returning to Lebanon after the end of the civil war, he still preserves his childhood memories of Argentina and hopes his own children will get to know the country at some stage.

Sticker of Argentina on a taxi cab in Minieh, North Lebanon. April 2019.

​Humanitarian aid, ultimately, turns out to be a politics of space. It changes people’s perceptions of the places they have known for long and induces them to rethink their spatial margins. Moreover, the material manifestations of aid are not exclusively to be found on logos and brands that indicate distribution spots or offices. Symbols, material objects and shops can give rise to different aid imaginaries. While those who believe in a no-profit humanitarianism commonly criticize the logo-marked bond between aid provision and business, alternative spaces of aid do not need to be marked by logos, as they are the result of entangled stories, personal relationships, and transregional trajectories of human support. Intimate memories do not need logos to have their presence acknowledged; it is generally in people’s mental spaces that they are preserved. 


Notes

[1]
 At the outset of the Syrian refugee influx into Lebanon (2011-12), many of the ‘global North’s’ humanitarian actors were reluctant to provide cash assistance to refugees, preferring to prioritise the delivery of food, medical, and other items. In 2013 e-food ration cards began to be distributed to refugee households, replacing the old food vouchers. Also, over the last few years, especially after the 2015 Lebanon Crisis Response Plan, NGOs and UN agencies agreed on reducing the delivery of in-kind assistance in order to enhance cash assistance. Nowadays, Arab Gulf funded NGOs in Lebanon mostly provide material aid, such as mattresses and food, and, during Ramadan, iftar baskets and dates.

[2] Established in 1984 after the 1982 Sabra and Shatila massacres.

[3] UNWRA services are seen as decreasingly sympathetic with the Palestinian cause.

[4] An independent municipality located at the East of Beirut, historically marked by the Armenian forced migration, and today populated by different migrant groups.


* This research has been conducted in the framework of the project “Analysing South-South Humanitarian Responses to Displacement from Syria: Views from Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey”, funded by the European Research Council under the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation agreement no. 715582.

Estella Carpi is a Research Associate in the Migration Research Unit (Department of Geography) at University College London, where she works on Southern-led responses to displacement from Syria in Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan. She received her PhD in Anthropology of Humanitarianism from the University of Sydney in Australia (2015). After studying Arabic in Milan and Damascus (2002-2008), she worked in several academic and research institutions in Egypt, Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates. She is an instructor of Humanitarian Studies and Anthropology of the Middle East at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Milan. She is the author of Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo, published in Italian with Mimesis (2018). Estella is a 2020-25 Global Young Academy Member. She can be contacted at: e.carpi@ucl.ac.uk.  
  

Categories: Argentina, Brazil, Lebanon, Middle East, South America, Syria | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Boderwork of Humanitarianism During Displacement from War-Torn Syria (September, 2020)

Mobility and Forced Displacement in the Middle East edited by Dr Zahra Babar, from CIRS-Georgetown University in Qatar and published with Hurst/Oxford University Press, has now been published!

This book is a project based on a series of meetings in Doha with the 2016 grantees. You can read my chapter on the borderwork of humanitarianism in northern Lebanon and Southeast Turkey and the identity politics of livelihoods, which I have uploaded on Researchgate:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344311123_The_Borderwork_of_Humanitarianism_during_Displacement_from_War-Torn_Syria_Livelihoods_as_Identity_Politics_in_Northern_Lebanon_and_Southeast_Turkey

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

Humanitarianism: Keywords, edited by Antonio De Lauri (September 2020)

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:

https://brill.com/view/title/57214?fbclid=IwAR2-Rg3F0iOHsuNELwqgWVDsdehRl-1Gj5kqK372buAQkMIrSyjoBJqyzUg

Categories: Africa, Arab Gulf, Arabia Saudita, Asia, Australia, Bahrain, Central America, Egitto, Egypt, EmiratiArabiUniti, Europe, Giordania, Golfo Arabo, Haiti, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Israele, Italy, Jordan, Kurdistan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Levant, Libano, Medio Oriente, Middle East, Nord Africa, North Africa, Palestina, Palestine, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Siria, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, Turkey, UAE, United Kingdom, United States, USA, Yemen | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Different Shades of ‘Neutrality’: Arab Gulf NGO Responses to Syrian Refugees in Northern Lebanon (July, 2020)

The Refuge in a Moving World. Tracing Refugee and Migrant Journeys Across Disciplines edited volume is finally out! UCL Press is open access, you can access the whole book online.

My chapter “Different shades of neutrality” attempts to go beyond debates that discard or acknowledge neutrality as possible in aid provision. I show how humanitarian neutrality is not one, as many western organizations believe. Neutrality is culturally nuanced, and it’s also discursively embraced by Arab Gulf NGOs in northern Lebanon. By advancing the idea of political realism, I explain how these NGOs not only bring politics into humanitarianism – as it’s widely discussed already – but they also have peculiar ways of parading their humanization of politics.

Access the whole book at:

Refuge in a Moving World

Categories: Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe, Middle East, North Africa, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Presentazione a IT.A.CA’ di Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (Mimesis, 2019)

Ringrazio la Biblioteca Cabral di Bologna, Hayat-Bologna, e IT.A.CA’-Migranti e Viaggiatori per l’invito a presentare il mio libro Specchi Scomodi. Etnografia delle Migrazioni Forzate nel Libano Contemporaneo (Mimesis, 2019).

Qui di seguito la registrazione dell’evento.

Categories: Medio Oriente, Middle East, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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