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:
I contributed with the entries ‘livelihoods’ and ’emergency’.
You can download the file by accessing this link:
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:
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?
Over the past few decades, scholars have increasingly employed the categories of ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ to explore different political geographies and economies in development cooperation and humanitarian aid provision. Without doubt, whether and how these denominations make sense are not merely dilemmas of terminology. The Global South has been historically referred to in a number of ways: as the ‘Third World’, coming after the First World, including the US and its allies, and the Second World, including the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc partners; as ‘non-DIAC countries, i.e. not belonging to the Development Assistance Committee of Western donors; or as ‘postcolonial donors’, which, however, does not manage to capture the different positioning of Southern countries vis-à-vis donorship and aid reception.
Against this backdrop, the categorisation of the Global South has existed since the mid-1970s, effectively indicating the changing power relations of this groups of countries with the Global North. With respect to the ‘East’ – a notion tentatively incorporating diverse realities but nowadays embedding them in the Orientalistic discourse first advanced by Palestinian-American scholar Edward Said (1978) – the Global South better allows for multi-directional flows of economic, cultural, and political capital between different countries, and therefore anthropology is surely well placed to explore such multi-directional flows. However, the definition of the Global South has too often been misleadingly reduced to a marginal or anti-imperial positionality, independent from context. In particular, in a bid to learn about and consider different Souths (from an intentionally plural perspective), Global South should not be our episteme – the point of departure for enlarging our knowledge about such a concept. It is in this regard that some scholars have opted for a conception of the Global South as ‘not an exact geographical designation, but as an idea and a set of practices, attitudes, and relations’ (Grovogu, 2011) or ‘a linguistic family, a belief system and an epistemology’ (Mignolo, 2015).
It may be helpful to examine a world map and reflect on the very geographic characteristics of the countries that are included in the Global South category. For instance, given that Australia is a political pole of the Global North, just as China is for the Global South, physical geography cannot fully explain what North and South are, since these categories refer not only to places but also, more importantly, to different political projects related to development and humanitarian action.
As Fiddian-Qasmiyeh and Daley highlight in their introduction to the Routledge Handbook of South-South Relations, the present South-South cooperation and its underlying principles are historically associated with anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggles around the world: ‘The emergence of a South-South cooperation was originally conceptualized as a way to overcome the exploitative character of North-South relations through diverse models of transnational cooperation and solidarity developed since the 1950s and 1960s, including internationalist, socialist, and regional approaches and initiatives such as Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism’. Dahi and Velasco have recently pointed out that, in the decades following World War II, between the 1950s and the late-1980s, South-South trade represented roughly 5–10% of all global trade, but, by 2013, that share had risen to 54%. Over the same period, the direction of these exports shifted to other Southern countries, while global South-South financial flows also increased substantially. This shared interest in mutual collaboration in the Global South, presently championed by Northern actors (that purport to act as facilitators) is also reflected in the so-called ‘localisation agenda’ promoted by the international humanitarian apparatus, as endorsed during the 2016 Istanbul World Humanitarian Summit. At the ‘Africa Stories: Changing Perceptions’ workshop held at University College London in June 2018, Michael Amoah, from the London School of Economics, confirmed Dahi and Velasco’s findings by contending that, in its current form, regional solidarity ideologies like pan-Africanism imply a new material inter-relationality, namely a new shared political economy between African countries, rather than an exclusive political ideology.
Thinking of South-South Cooperation (SSC), which is today incorporated in the framework of the United Nations (UNOSSC), the member states own different levels of economic development (the so-called ‘Human Development Index’) and are viewed as being located at different stages of democratic transition. Many countries partaking in the SSC are, at the same time, both aid donors and aid recipients. Some of those that are also donors do not wish to be defined as such, since such terminology is loaded with negative connotations associated with the Northern aid industry. In this sense, grouping the different realities that form an imaginary South under the banner of ‘emerging’ or ‘non-traditional donors’ is anti-historical as it represents the Northern neglect of a Southern history of assistance, which has similarly been developing for a long time.
In the light of this, should we endeavour to modify the categories ‘South’ and ‘North’ and work towards new definitions that can still grasp power relations without dooming countries to essentialised geopolitical positions? Or, rather, should we liberate the ‘South’ from negative connotations and the ‘North’ from positive biases? North and South are very telling with regard to our mental and cultural maps, not always encompassing the different technical, economic, political, and cultural assets and deficiencies that these political geographies present.
The emergence of UNOSSC is only one symptom of the increasing claim to postcolonial solidarity within the South and between the North and the South. Similarly, it can partially indicate the difference of the South from the North in the way that development and humanitarian assistance are thought about and implemented. These debates go beyond the realms of global economy, international relations, and politics; instead, they relate to the way in which ordinary people conceive of, explain, and concretely manage ideas and issues related to development and crisis management. In March 2018, I had the opportunity to speak with Syrian and Lebanese aid and service providers in Lebanon, among whom were three religious authorities engaging in assistance to Syrian refugees, and meaningful ways of understanding the services funded or managed by countries in the Global North or Global South emerged.
For instance, for a Syrian Sunni sheikh from Homs (western Syria), now managing a school in Tripoli, governance and markets represent the substantial differences between aid actors. He asserted that, in the Global South, governments are more present, while, in the Global North, there are private assistance initiatives that have their own rules and independence. Assistance in the Global North therefore ends up being random (ashwa’iy), reflecting an unleashed labour market behind assistance provision: ‘paying rents, employees, careers, and so on’.
A Lebanese Greek-Orthodox priest who provides aid to refugees and vulnerable citizens on a discontinuous basis in the city of Halba (northern Lebanon) expressed his way of thinking about the South in relation to the aid he provides in terms of what is outside of the Global North. However, he pointed out that, to him, in the mind of the beneficiaries, there is no difference with regard to the source of help and they do not distinguish between actors: ‘If you do lots of sponsoring, eventually your name is going to stick in their minds, but people do not really separate out providers in terms of principles and motivations, only whether the political campaign is massive, e.g. services coming from Saudi Arabia […] in this case, the image easily sticks in their minds, but they don’t know the name of the organisations involved most of the time. I personally think that what differs for Southern and Northern providers is the funding: it is sustainable for UNHCR but certainly not for us. They have governments supporting them, [whereas] we just have the Lebanese government, which neglects us. In that sense, I would identify as a Southern provider’.
Another Lebanese Greek-Orthodox priest working for a branch of the Ministry of Social Affairs in Halba raised the issue of global power holders imagining one homogenous South while departing from the idea of several Northern perspectives: ‘The Global North is the macro-picture for the politics we mostly hear about. As Lebanese providers with few means and little funding, we’re just numbers to be taken care of: I’m a Muslim in the eyes of the West, even though I’m Greek-Orthodox, because we, Middle-Eastern people, are all Muslims in the eyes of outsiders. Instead, I don’t feel there’s a shared understanding or feeling of the East, of the South, as you prefer to put it: there’s no homogeneity outside of the North. I don’t feel any proximity to Asian or African countries, especially to the Arab Gulf, which has its own interests here. Moreover, as a Greek-Orthodox, I have little to do with Arabness’.
The Syrian director of a school in a Tripoli neighbourhood (northern Lebanon) similarly stated: ‘I don’t feel closer to the Arab states with respect to Canada just because we’re all Arabs. Arab states haven’t been supportive at all toward Syrian refugees. I think the real difference between assistance provided by Northern and Southern countries is our hijra [migration with spiritual connotations, related to the migration of the Prophet Mohammad from Mecca to Medina in 622 AD]. The South migrates, and the North doesn’t accept us, even if we are qualified and have culture’.
A Syrian service provider in Tripoli proposed that ‘Northern’ or ‘Southern’ mean something in relation to the social, political, and emotional positionality of the provider: ‘The real difference is not the country we talk about; it’s rather our human condition. It’s about sharing nationality and issues with the displaced you assist [and is] nothing to do with East and West, South and North […]. Beneficiaries identify with countries of reception primarily on the basis of their political position; for example, if I get stuff from Turkey, as a Syrian opponent, I feel closer to Turkey. If you get aid from Saudi Arabia or Qatar, you will prefer one of them if you are a salafi (a follower of Salafism) or ikhwenji (from the Muslim Brotherhood) respectively. So, there’s politics behind our proximity to a country. In this sense, I don’t think I have anything to share with the ‘other South’. As a Syrian, Syria is my Global South’.
Reflecting on the various understandings of ‘Southern-led provision’ is relevant insofar as it allows us to grasp the complex social and political positionalities of assistance providers in the global framework of development and humanitarian action. In this sense, some contemporary academic debates merely re-consign agency to the vulnerable and the disenfranchised, e.g. by seeing Southern actors and refugees as inherently ‘different aid providers’ or by aprioristically defining them as resilient. These debates are tiring at a time when ‘Southern agency’ is heralded as a human and an intellectual conquest of the Global North. Instead, a valuable point of departure may instead be acknowledging the existence of multiplicity and respecting what each side suggests – at times participating and at other times acting by oneself in the realm of development and humanitarian action.
British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) annual conference, King’s College (London), June 25-28, 2018 (http://www.brismes.ac.uk/conference/).
Panel Title: Southern-led Responses to Displacement in the MENA Region
Convenors: Dr Estella Carpi and Dr Elena Fiddian-Qasmiyeh, Migration Research Unit (University College London)
The longstanding human displacement and forced migration flows in the Middle Eastern region have invited scholars and researchers to think in new ways about the collective and individual meanings of mobility, culture-oriented models of care, and the role of transnational and local networks in mobilising people, ideas and resources in the so-called global North and the global South.
Moreover, the eligibility criteria that crisis-stricken populations need to meet in order to access aid and care have been intertwining with their diversely motivated acts of moving or remaining, adding complexity to the predominant identity politics that tends to define needs, rights, and nature of claims within the MENA region.
To assist refugees – and vulnerable local populations at a later stage – an unprecedented number of emergency aid programmes have been implemented by Northern humanitarian agencies and global North donor states in the last decade. Such Northern responses have often ignored, complemented, supported, or stifled global South responses developed by formal and informal providers, and by the so-called ‘non-traditional’ donors.
It is therefore paramount to conduct critical explorations of multifaceted Southern-led responses, especially in light of UN and Northern states’ expanding interest in ‘localising’ responses to displacement. This panel looks for contributions analysing Southern-led responses to displacement in the MENA region, which can be heterogeneously configured in terms of formal humanitarian assistance, hospitality, community care, and other significant forms of social encounter.
This panel is particularly interested in – but not limited to – the following research scopes:
Individuals who would like to contribute can send a 250-word abstract to:
(Photo taken from France24)
Over the last two months, everyone with internet access has surely come across the picture of Aylan Kurdi, the Syrian toddler drowned in Turkish waters on a beach of Bodrum last September 2. It seems the photo of Aylan, along with waves of refugees trying to cross to Eastern Europe – mainly from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan – have finally shaken the Western public from its lethargy and has made frighteningly tangible to all of us the human limit to which political crises, transnational disputes, and the controversies of a “North-South” humanitarian system have led us.
According to the studies of Lili Chouliaraki, the phenomenon that we currently witness consists of new “ironic spectators” watching the suffering of the Other: so to speak, the user of the compassionate “Facebook like” vocabulary, who celebrates and self-advertises her/his acts of charity, and exchanges the ethical consumption of solidarity for information and sustainability. Once again, the ephemeral solidarity cultivated in the media, and the compassion towards an abstract multitude of “desperate migrants”, too rarely claim back the historicity of the events, and are rather concerned with telling us their sad stories to consequently stimulate our intentions and defend them.
Once again, the solidarity that seldom questions the reasons behind the European public rapidly turning from indifference to mass sympathy, is promoted in terms of lifestyle rather than informed and responsive civic-mindedness.
After the diffusion of the picture of the lifeless body of the little Aylan, European media have offered much more space to the discussion of the (in)formal aid that civilians are providing to refugees, and their civil protests organised to express a “European spirit” of solidarity. These initiatives, until the Syrian emergency and the chronic predicament of neighbouring populations were mostly affecting the Middle Eastern region, had not been implemented in the European Union (EU) to the same extent as presently.
The public compassion in the wake of the massive “refugee crisis” – a definition that is actually able to conceal the political causes and the external responsibilities underlying such crises – has now become the driving force of transnational assistance, pushing couch spectators beyond their mere sympathy.
The “sentimental education” that Richard Rorty was advancing may be able to cultivate at school a co-feeling of empathy among the youth and provide a new common ground to tackle international crises. While human sensitivity to differences should not be taken for granted and should rather be taught, how can we prevent the culture of rights, traditionally championed by the so-called “Global North”, from remaining ephemeral as much as the public attention to desperate exoduses and displacements? In the current media morass, the promotion of human rights through philanthropic campaigns and the proliferation of NGOs, which has long tasted of Western neoliberalism and paternalistic third worldism, still struggles to offer deeper explanations to such crises. And it is even more alarming that the average European spectator remains unlikely to accept that the stories recounting South-North migrations are not all necessarily sad.
The average European spectator has proved, once again, to mobilise and face her/his encounter with refugees and migrants in purely humanitarian terms, and not in the political recognition of their right to a new life, asylum, or protection. It is not only the fact that “they suffer like us” that should be pitied and recognised. That ”at the end of the day they suffer like us”, although being a sine qua non prelude of generosity, is still unable to give birth to informed and sustainable solidarities. As long as refugee crises and political failures are not recounted to the open public with substantial historical information and upcoming legal challenges, individual spectators will keep struggling to identify continuities between the physical presence of refugees and their need for assistance in the host country, as well as the need for politically recognising their rights and the ways in which naturalisation of rights can be dealt with in contemporary societies. The humanitarian effort, regrettably, is presented as a moral duty that remains independent from immigration issues.
Over the past months, the temporary restoration of border controls in Germany and Austria, the construction of the wall at the Serbian-Hungarian border, and Hungarian journalist Petra Laszlo tripping a Syrian refugee, all clearly point to the reinforcement of moral and material borders in the countries most affected by the refugee influx. These episodes point to something that seems to be much larger than a mere “refugee influx”, as they are rather unraveling a massive crisis of human encounters.
Moreover, recent developments have shown that EU countries cannot cope alone with these migration flows, and the overall UN commitment to the provision of relief has therefore become more consistent within their boundaries. One of the greatest challenges is now the adaption of the conventional humanitarian response, normally provided in refugee camps populated by sedentary residents, to multitudes of mobile people, who tend to remain in a place for a few days, or even for a few hours, before seeking to continue to the desired destination. The management of what can be called a “transit emergency”, especially in Italy, Greece, Serbia, and Hungary, is still an unexplored way of intervening for European humanitarian organisations. The opening of new local offices of some international NGOs – such as World Vision, Islamic Relief, and Action Aid – has therefore become inevitable.
Europeans should now reconsider their North-South neoliberal policies, embraced under the historical banner of moral responsibility, which gradually reduced humanitarianism and development to mere instruments of international security. On this purpose, it is worth mentioning that the emergency relief provision and the development projects, which followed the Lebanon-Israel war in Hezbollah-led areas, are evidently concerned with western life and security; similarly, western securitisation was pursued in Afghanistan by toppling the Talibans from power. Also, natural disasters like drought and floods in Mozambique in the 1980s were publicly discussed as an exclusive political conflict in order to enhance foreign action.
The other common challenge is realising that all individuals are advocates and actors together in different geopolitical orders that peoples on the move, and beyond, will never comply with. Facing these challenges and paving the way to understanding, rather than compassion, would not only save many lives from a bio-political perspective, but would also avert the “side effects” of such cyclical struggles for a geopolitical order from a more pragmatic angle.
Upholding and protecting the rights of asylum seekers cannot remain at the mercy of elusive and ill-informed social solidarities. Let alone in the exclusive hands of state actors and the official diplomacy. Indeed, there are still a large number of issues that can be tackled from the bottom. Some of these real challenges are to imperatively fill with deeper contextual knowledge the numerous calls for material assistance on the grounds of mere emotional piety; educate the public via media and school programmes to the legality of rights and the material hardships that displacement exposes to; and, consequently, support such rights subtending migration and refugeehood when the “fifteen minutes of fame” of the ongoing mass compassion will have come to their end.
NGOs and UN agencies issuing reports, news-makers, scholars, and researchers involved in migration issues, should rather realise their actual potential to make the general public more critical and analytic. This would already progressively mark a decisive turning point.
As a tangible result of a more responsive and informed public, grassroots’ initiatives could be advanced in coordination with state and NGO efforts.
There are several examples of how grassroots’ initiatives made a real difference, accepting refugees and migrants into their own community and not merely assisting them as humanitarian victims who need to biologically survive. For instance, in the city of Kalmar in Sweden, in a bid to help refugees integrate, the Swedish migration board, after consulting with local residents, decided to offer to asylum seekers free bus passes. Provided that refugee accommodation centers are generally located on the outskirts of towns, this move materially allowed the newcomers to come outside of their communities and be given the opportunity to influence public spaces and local cultural forms.
Similarly, in the Italian region of Veneto, when a tornado ripped through the outskirts of Venice last July causing massive destruction, recent refugees and migrants were called upon by local citizens to provide help, thereforerevealing the will to include the new civic agents into the local community, and going beyond simple aid provision. Likewise, a few years ago, the municipality of Riace in South Italy took abandoned homes and made them into spaces for the homeless. The refugees brought new life to a dying town, constituting the future human capital of the small town.
Despite the widespread determinism through which wars and disasters are frequently viewed as unavoidable or unresolvable, grassroots’ action and even individual acts, to some extent, are able to influence macrocosmic legal and political trends. However, the speed at which the latest tide of compassion is already disappearing, at the moment, does not leave much hope for far more informed, far-sighted, and effective efforts.
 Crisis ist the way in which political failure and the absence of will for facing social predicament or political discontent are labeled, with the practical consequence of concealing the very social, economic, and political factors leading to such crises. The expression, widespread in the international media as well as in the scholarship dealing with politics and international relations, is able to de-agentify the source of action of refugee influxes, economic downturns, and people’s resentment.
 Rorty, R. (1998) “Human Rights, Rationality, and Sentimentality”, in Rorty, R., Truth and Progress. Philosophical Papers, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, pp. 167-185.
 Barnes, S. (1998) “Humanitarian Aid Coordination During War and Peace in Mozambique, 1985-1995”, in Studies on Emergency and Disaster Relief, Report No. 7, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
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.
This the short essay I published on “Afriche e Orienti” (Bologna) about the blurred dimension of identity and literary writing from the perspective of North African writers migrated to European countries.
Here below the link where you can find my short essay:
Prospettive etiche ed emiche: dogmi e miraggi. Uno sguardo alla lingua.
E’ il 10 novembre 2009, passeggiando a Fes, in Marocco, con un’amica, accettiamo di seguire una giovanissima guida autoproclamatasi vero conoscitore della città con un fare disponibile ed affabile a cui sarebbe troppo difficile dire di no.
Ci soffermiamo davanti ad una moschea nella speranza di poterla visitare, ed ecco che ci dice che solo io, che fino a quel momento avevo conversato con lui in lingua araba, potrò farvi ingresso.
Una risposta semplice e spontanea che racchiude un’infinità di significati, che manifesta il potere straordinario della lingua di deciderci gli spazi che ci è dato occupare, e ci schiaffa addosso l’etichetta che davanti allo sguardo altrui siamo tenuti ad indossare necessariamente. Considerata musulmana, quindi, perché parlante la lingua araba.
Dopo quanto accaduto, perseguitata dalle mie manie antropologico-linguistiche, riflettevo sul potere immane della lingua e di come questa riesca davvero a delineare gli spazi tra la Dar al Islam e la Dar al Harb (secondo la classica distinzione operata dalla giurisprudenza islamica: la Casa dell’Islam, ovvero di chi è da sempre musulmano o si è convertito successivamente, e, con alcune limitazioni, di chi professa le altre due fedi monoteistiche; e la Casa della Guerra, cioè dell’Alterità, dell’appartenente a una fede diversa e del parlante una lingua ignota).
Che nella maggior parte dei Paesi musulmani, come spesso è stato detto, sia l’Islam che continui a costituire il criterio di lealtà e identità dei popoli arabi, non sono mai stata grandemente d’accordo, perché sarebbe davvero ignorare le altre innumerevoli facce confessionali della compagine mediorientale. Io assegnerei, piuttosto, il ruolo che viene riconosciuto proprio dell’Islam alla Lingua, naturalmente concepita nelle sue innumerevoli varianti dialettali.
Nonostante io pensi che non vi sia mai un elemento omogeneo che funga da matrice culturale coesiva, alla luce delle mie esperienze ritengo vero che attraverso l’Islam, come tramite qualsiasi altra fede in generale, passi spesso la distinzione tra sé e l’altro, tra chi sta dentro e chi sta fuori, tra “fratello” e “straniero”. E’ in questa dicotomia tra chi abbraccia una data fede e chi la rifiuta – e si “autocondanna” quindi ad impersonare il diverso – che si riscontra una ricorrente tendenza a delineare l’identità propria e più “autentica”. E mi chiedo quale sia il nostro di sostrato accomunante – e perché mai ci “debba” essere – che permette oggi al cittadino immigrato di subentrare all’italianità o all’europeità, e quando questi tratti accomunanti invece non siano sufficienti. La religione, la lingua, o l’etnia forse?? Mi parrebbero tutte asserzioni prive di senso… dal momento che, dal canto nostro, il cattolicesimo di alcuni sudamericani non è mai stato abbastanza fino ad ora affinchè riuscissimo a chiamarli toutcourt italiani, e non lo è mai stata neanche l’ottima produzione linguistica in lingua italiana di migliaia di “stranieri” d’origine; quanto all’etnia… mi domando davvero come si possa ancora pensare che tra un francese, un italiano ed uno slovacco vi sia una benedetta differenza biologica. E in particolar modo mi chiedo come quest’ultima, tra l’altro inesistente, possa essere utilizzata come criterio gerarchico ed etico in seno alle cose umane.
Parlare di “razza” come di qualcosa di incontaminato è un controsenso. Tutto è ibrido. Non integrato ma ibrido. “I frutti puri impazziscono”, sosteneva brillantemente Clifford. Eppure si continua a venderli come tali e a comprarli con la fame del segregazionismo purista e di una maniaca categorizzazione di esseri animati ed inanimati. I gruppi etnici sono il risultato di deviazioni ideologiche e invenzioni politiche fatte passare per differenze genetiche. Gli studi scientifici e culturali al riguardo sono “accertati” da tempo, eppure ancora informazioni così cruciali nel determinare i fondamenti epistemologici del nostro avvenire non sono affatto state diffuse, ed anzi accuratamente snobbate.
Tra i mali d’Europa oggi segnalano spesso l’anti-semitismo, e nella radice del termine, inflazionatissimo sui giornali, grazie a fior di linguisti e filologi scorgiamo il suo stesso paradosso: “gli Arabi sono antisemiti”; che significa quest’espressione se l’Arabo, assieme al Tigrino e all’Ebraico, fa parte delle lingue, secondo i libri “sacri” delle tre religioni monoteiste, appunto semitiche (letteralmente discendenti da Sem, figlio di Noè)?
La paura del diverso induce ad usi traditori del linguaggio e fuorvianti, di cui oggi siamo davvero vittime e carnefici allo stesso tempo: non a caso i friulani chiamano “vent sclàf” (vento slavo) la bora, appioppando un’accezione negativa al popolo confinante. Ancora più illuminante nel denunciare il paradosso vigente nell’uso della parola è l’esempio di “andarsene senza salutare”, che in italiano viene identificato in un costume eticamente negativo assegnato ai britannici: “andarseneall’inglese”. Mi sono personalmente divertita alquanto poi nello scoprire che i britannici, a loro volta, appioppano quest’uso ai francesi solendo dire “to take French leave”, così come i Tedeschi con il loro “Sich auf Franzosisch verabschieden”; e i Francesi ricambiano la cortesia ai Britannici dicendo “s’en aller à l’anglaise”.
Se solo ci ricordassimo più spesso che gli Inglesi ci chiamavano wopso accomunandoci a tutti gli altri popoli del Mediterraneo, e che quella sigla volesse dire “without official permission”, le nostre idee sull’immigrazione sarebbero fabbricate da una mano affondata nella terra ed una sulla fronte che ne asciuga il sudore, piuttosto che da una grondante di ipocrisia sulla bandiera e l’altra in segno di ALT.
Heinrich Boll evidenziava quanto le parole e le espressioni divenute “tipiche”, se lasciate in mano agli opportunisti e ai demagoghi senza coscienza, possano essere causa di morte di milioni di uomini. D’altronde anche io mi sto chiedendo se il senso del mio messaggio sia passato. E non a caso, per l’appunto, parlo Arabo.
Birlikte Mücadele, Birlikte Tasarım
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"... chi parte per Beirut e ha in tasca un miliardo..."
[was] appunti e note sul mondo islamico contemporaneo
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)