Humanitarian voices in Sittwe, Myanmar

Posted on: February 1, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces", Refugee humanitarians

“What do we want?  Justice. Equality. Peace and freedom.” –Kyaw Kyaw, Rebel Riot     Humanitarian voices in Sittwe I recently talked with a humanitarian working in Myanmar, and we chatted about some recent events in the local poetry and music scenes that give reason for cautious hope. He forwarded a link to some graphic, compelling, and highly political videos recently produced by Turning Tables Myanmar. From their web page: Turning Tables Myanmar works to empower marginalized youth by providing the means to process and express their hopes, dreams and challenges, through the Creative Arts of music and film. We strive to address the root causes of inequality and provide support to a wide range of challenges in Myanmar from gender-based violence, tribalism, extremist groups, youth in urban slums and the communities in which they reside. The five videos, under the umbrella title “Transition This”, are all extraordinarily well done and…

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Confronting the lie of civilization through poetry

Posted on: January 28, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces", Refugee humanitarians

“My words are taller than the walls put between Buddhists and Muslims. My words are stronger than the hatred designed for me…My words build bridges between ethnic communities. My words fight against injustice and ignorance. My words have no religion. My words are for humanity. My words know no borders. My words are for peace and harmony.” -from the poem My Words by Rohingya refugee, Mayyu Ali   “Humanity is the only true nation.” -Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners in Health   “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…” -Preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights         A measure of our humanity According the the UNHCR there are over 70 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.  About double that number, over 140 million,…

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Yet another head on the Hydra?

Posted on: January 27, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Note: I have now written a series of posts that were inspired by my invitation to speak at the 2019 ALNAP gathering in Berlin. All can be accessed by clicking here; it may be best to read them in chronological order, so you’ll need to scroll down to get to the first one.]   Looks matter In the 2016 movie Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Tina Fey plays an embedded journalist in Afghanistan. The phrase ‘4-10-4’ is used by a marine commander as he admonishes the Tina Fey character not to fraternize with his men. The ‘4-10-4’ phrase refers to the fairly old misogynist trope that we rate each other on attractiveness, much more so males rating females rather than the opposite, and that this rating is done on a 1-10 scale, ten being highly desirable. The commander’s point is obvious, that attractiveness is a matter of context, such that back in New York…

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ALNAP comments, Berlin 2019

Posted on: January 11, 2020 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

ALNAP comments, Berlin 2019 [Note: I have now written a series of posts that were inspired by my invitation to speak at the 2019 ALNAP gathering in Berlin. All can be accessed by clicking here; it may be best to read them in chronological order, so you’ll need to scroll down to get to the first one.] Reflections on what it means to be a humanitarian Below are the comments I made as part of the ‘Jigsaw’ session at the October 2019 ALNAP conference in Berlin. These comments are an alternate version of the blog post I made about the conference theme of ‘Relevance.’ After I gave these comments, conference participants were separated into 5 large groups and each was charged with discussing questions related to one of the five privileging forces, later to report out to the larger group. Here are the questions for each group: Patriarchy – How…

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The ultimate goal of the Hydra is genocide.

Posted on: December 9, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

“It is not power that corrupts but fear.” –Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize recipient and defender of Myanmar’s genocidal actions   This is an important week This week there is a Brexit vote in the UK and impeachment hearings against President Trump in the US. These two events are consequential, to be sure, but perhaps no more so than what will be happening in the Netherlands. Brought up on charges of committing genocide by The Gambia, Myanmar goes on trail in front of the International Court of Justice. Heavy, somber, and immensely powerful words, those. In anticipation of the hearing in The Hague, I spent part of this afternoon reading the 46 page document outlining Gambia’s case against Myanmar for the genocide against the Rohingya. It begins, “In accordance with Articles 36(1) and 40 of the Statute of the Court and Article 38 of the Rules of Court, I have…

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The gaping hole in the Hydra model: religious persecution

Posted on: November 29, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Updated 1 Feb 2020] Religion is arguably one of the most egregious ‘othering’ forces that has ever existed. All through recorded history people have been marginalized -and in countless cases murdered- because they were of the ‘wrong’ religion.” “The normal and the stigmatized are not persons, but perspectives.” -E. Goffman, Stigma, 1963 Prologue As I write this, Myanmar’s Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and her team are preparing to respond to formal charges of genocide against the Muslim Rohingya at the International Court of Justice at the Hague. The world will be watching these proceedings, and we as a global community must continue demanding justice be served and the dignity of all humans is defended. Review and context In a previous post I talked about both ascribed and achieved statuses, how these are tied to the process of othering, and the inevitability that this process leads to the rise of various ‘privileging forces’,…

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Humanitarian principles and intersectionality

Posted on: November 2, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

[Updated and edited on 27 January 2020] All human lives have equal worth Humanitarian principles, however broadly defined, begin with the assertion that all human lives have equal worth. Given that premise, our challenge is to understand the social forces which are a threat to that assumption and frequently lead to humanitarian crises. In previous posts (see here and here) I discuss how the process of ‘othering’ is universal, and throughout history has inexorably lead to the entrenchment and ossification of many ‘privileging forces’ that continue to have massive impact on all global cultures and, necessarily, impact the functioning of the humanitarian ecosystem. I argue that fighting each of these privileging forces individually may seem both necessary and logical, but that to be most effective we must, metaphorically, fight the body of the Hydra, i.e., the process of othering itself. Othering fuels the Hydra’s body and thus all of its…

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Privileging forces

Posted on: October 23, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

“…humanitarian action is top-down, externally driven, and relatively rigid process that allows little space for local participation beyond formalistic consultation. Much of what happens escapes local scrutiny and control. The system is viewed as inflexible, arrogant, and culturally insensitive.  This is sometimes exacerbated by inappropriate personal behavior, conspicuous consumption, and other manifestations of the ‘white car syndrome.’ Never far from the surface are the perceptions that the aid system does not deliver on expectations and is ‘corrupted’ by the long chain of intermediaries between distant capitals and would-be beneficiaries.” (p. 187) “Humanitarianism started off as a powerful discourse; now it is a discourse of power, both at the international and at the community level.” (p. 190) –Antonio Donini “Humanitarianism, Perceptions, and Power” in In the Eyes of Others (Abu Sada, editor; 2012) Privileging forces   Background Earlier this month I was honored to be among the 200+ gathered in Berlin…

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The relevance question

Posted on: October 9, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: Hydra "privileging forces"

Warning:  This is a long read at 3900 words and with numerous hyperlinks.   “It seems obvious that relevance should be a basic test of humanitarian assistance. If people don’t receive what they really need in a crisis, something is going wrong.”  —Sophia Swithern, Background paper for #alnap32   The relevance question Thoughts on being a more ‘relevant’ as a humanitarian worker Being a humanitarian worker frequently involves navigating between many cultures all while responding to the needs of people experiencing some form of extreme crisis. It is tough work, in part because dealing with ‘other’ people demands intellectual and emotional effort focused on the critical goal of maintaining relevance. Critical questions related to relevance include: Are my actions appropriate, ethical, and addressing the real needs of the affected communities? Are the actions of my organization appropriate, ethical, and addressing the real needs of the affected communities? Are the actions of the…

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Bringing sandwiches to the gates of Auschwitz

Posted on: September 7, 2019 | By: Tom Arcaro | Filed under: General posts on the humanitarian aid industry, Hydra "privileging forces"

“The humanitarian imperative for me, I don’t want to use a cliché, but it’s really simple in my head: you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t. That’s it.” -30 something female humanitarian Bringing sandwiches to the gates of Auschwitz Brooding about the humanitarian imperative I recently re-read Samantha Power’s book Chasing the Flame, again drinking in every word as she chronicles in deep and sensitive detail the life, and death, of UN humanitarian diplomat Sergio Vierira de Mello. The complete title of Power’s book is “Chasing the Flame: Sergio Vieira de Mello and the Fight to Save the World.” Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. Likely because of my recent research on humanitarian workers, and, in the last several months, into the lives of ‘refugee humanitarians‘, Rohingya women and men living in Cox’s Bazar, I was struck by a phrase Power’s used, a quote from a long-ago published NY Times…

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