More From Alder's Ledge

August 18, 2015

Mercenary Heart

Why We Care For Some,
And Yet Neglect All Others...
(PLUCK series)

(Athens woman repeatedly kicks Romani child...)

The image of the 'humanitarian' is one that far too many try to hide behind. As for me, and most the team here, being called a 'humanitarian' is one of the greatest insults we could ever strive for. For me the term is one I have come to regard with a tremendous amount of disdain. It is nearly as much a disgraceful title to me as labeling oneself a Democrat, Republican, or by any other political or religious affiliation. For it is a title that the bleeding hearts hypocritically hide behind, an image of caring for all of humanity while tragically wrapping one's self in a given flag of their choosing. It is a term that carries no real weight or meaning. It is hollow and only serves to mask the one wearing it in much the same way cowards hide behind Guy Fawkes while reading from scripts. It's inherently heartless.

It may very well be part of human nature, and if it is then I've lost something inside, to first focus on one's own particular group before branching out to help others. We even came up with a term for it and yet rarely apply said term to it... ethnocentrism. 

Rally Around The Family

We have all heard of Gaza, the West Bank, and the rest of Palestine's many oppressed regions. We have all seen pictures and heard the stories of Palestinians suffering under Israeli occupation and oppression. Of course this is not how large portions of 'humanitarians' see it. And by me pointing out the fact that we have (those of us they spend all day preaching to) I will undoubtedly be called a Zionist or some deviation of that talking point. Yet that isn't really my intent.

Endless hashtags and real life efforts are constantly made to help bring justice to the Palestinians. This is an admirable goal and far worthwhile effort on behalf of those who do dedicate so much of their time to it. But it's often not a 'humanitarian' cause. It is more often than not a religious and/or political goal by those who so strongly defend it. While there are those who dedicate their time to this cause with the end goal bringing the recognition of Palestinians' basic human rights, there are also those who (the majority) want far more than that. 

"From river to sea, all of Palestine will be free"

This is not the slogan of a purely 'humanitarian' cause. Do I agree with the premise of it? Yes. But can I agree with the proposed belief that those who promote it are somehow humanitarians? Hell no. 

This is most evident when somebody like me, arguably the natural born enemy in the eyes of so-called humanitarians, steps out and defends the rights of Palestinians. One would expect that the people pushing the slogan mentioned above would find it relieving to see a Jewish voice speaking out for Palestinians. And one would be wrong. Because, as time has proven rather repeatedly, there isn't a place for Jewish voices that don't agree 100% with the rest of the message. The only Jewish voices allowed are those that can be groomed, maintained, and propagandized for the cause. All others that dare go against the grain are more or less the enemy.

Now, like I have stated before, the humanitarian is supposed to be a person who cares about all of humanity. Yet in "humanitarian" causes such as Palestine/Israel the root of the cause becomes rather clear when just barely scratching the surface. The less than humane responses show a more political and racial undertone to what should had remained a cause centered around the actual people it affects.

The first of these is the response that immediately questions the "Jewishness" of the Jewish voice Palestinian supporters don't agree with. This is best shown when Palestinian supporters (largely not Palestinians themselves) immediately start in with myths taken right out of Nazism. Some will go as far as to start questioning the bloodlines of Jewish people to outright proposing that no "real Jews" even exist today. Of course this is hard to combat when one is the source of their frustration. And even harder to segregate from the true supporters of Palestinian rights when they themselves will not cull the racists among them.

The political undertones are brought to the surface when Palestinian supporters routinely and intentionally use the words "Zionists" and "Jews" interchangeably. While more honest supporters of Palestine can and often do recognize that Jews lived in Palestine long before Israel was created, these problematic supporters do not. Their agenda focuses around the goal of isolating Jews on one end of the spectrum while disproportionately amplifying the voices of Muslims they agree with. To do this many will downplay the damage groups like Hamas and Hezbollah do to the already fragile peace process. And much like the Israeli leadership, they will always downplay the atrocities their side commits while exaggerating the actions of the others side. And this is where the mixing of the words Zionism and Judaism come into play. By accusing "Jews" of every atrocious act they belittle the actions of Zionists and create an atmosphere in which all Jews are the "enemy".

Of course I could use just about any conflict or genocide currently happening in the world to illustrate how people who call themselves "humanitarians" are far less than concerned with humanity. And in every scenario I could show just how their priorities center around group specific interests rather than that of all the people involved. So lets jump to another part of the globe and try this again.

In Southeast Asia the "humanitarians" we deal with on a daily basis have come to the conclusion that the Rohingya people are the "world's most persecuted people". This is of course highly inaccurate as it makes a claim that is both unfounded and incapable of being proven. Yet the focus on humanitarian issues in Southeast Asia is routinely monopolized by humanitarians dead set on centering it all on one particular group.

In neighboring Bangladesh the Jumma tribes of the Chittagong Hills have suffered colonization, ethnic cleansing, and military occupation for literally centuries. Their oppressors have included the British, Indians, Pakistanis, and Bengalis. Yet the story of their persecution has largely been overshadowed by that of the Rohingya on the flood plains to their east. They are a people who's story directly mirrors that of the Rohingya and yet even Rohingya activists seem oblivious to their plight.

Venturing down the peninsula to Vietnam there are the Montagnards (Degar tribes) who suffer routine harassment for their religious and cultural beliefs. They have been through massacres since the 9th century and have seen their homeland occupied for nearly just as long. The military and politicians in Vietnam all work tirelessly to make their ghetto like villages miserable while creating discriminatory laws against the Montagnards. And over the last several years there has been an exodus taking place in the forests between Vietnam and Cambodia. Yet once again the focus on humanitarian issues is not permitted to venture away from the Arakan. And once again the humanitarians who say they care for all of humanity remain deaf to the sounds of suffering in Vietnam's hills.

Examples like these are numerous in Southeast Asia. One only has to look to the Karen, Kachin, Shan, Chin, and Kokang in Myanmar itself. This doesn't even include the tribes in the Philippines or the Hmong in Vietnam and Laos. Even with this broader picture you would have to widen it even more to focus on the tribal peoples of Nepal and how their cultures are facing extinction if nothing changes. Yet none of these are put into focus as so-called humanitarians demand the world only center it's attention on one particular group in Southeast Asia.

Now I myself have and often do focus my attention on the Rohingya in Myanmar. My team here at Alder's Ledge do a lot well beyond this blog (which has countless posts covering the Rohingya) to help. Yet we also make certain that the focus we give Southeast Asia also covers all other peoples and all other causes that arise. We center our attention on the tribal groups and persecuted minorities while also focusing on Southeast Asia's rampant sex trade and human trafficking.

The main reason for highlighting this is to bring everyone who reads this back down to reality. The world is much larger than any stretch of dirt and far more vast than any given individual group of people. The pain and suffering of people across the globe can obviously not be covered by one give person or any particular group. Yet the reasons why we tend to block out other people's stories and ignore their pain is something worth thinking about.

In Europe the popular social cause of the day is oddly focused on America's police and black communities. Yet Europeans have an entire minority that they have treated far worse for far longer a period of time... the Romani people.

In America the focus when it comes to humanitarian causes is almost always focused outward. And when it does center in on Americans it almost always gets focused on America's black population. Yet America has indigenous communities that are disappearing under a system of coerced assimilation. Many of America's indigenous youth can't speak the native languages of their ancestors. And even shift the focus to Native Americans for a minute would overlook the plight of countless immigrant groups that also suffer exclusion in American society due to a host of reasons.

So what is the answer to all of this?

Is there even a such thing as a true humanitarian?

"Fatal To Prejudice"

In all honesty there probably isn't such a thing. When it comes down to it we all have less than pure intentions when it comes to helping others. While I do believe that there are plenty of people who deeply care for others... I don't believe there are as many people out there who actually deeply care for all of mankind. But that's not to say that people can't learn to do so.

Taking time away from a given cause to focus your attention on a different one isn't the end of the world. The Palestinians will, as sad as it is, probably be just as oppressed tomorrow as they are today. And the Rohingya will most likely need just as much help even if you aren't the one there for them today. Yet you (and this is the less than "pure" intentions behind most of this work) do have a need to grow. It is the reason why people decide to reach out beyond themselves and help others. A thirst to grow and leave a mark on the world around them. And chances are that you started with groups to which you can relate and have something in common with.

One of the best ways to grow as a person is to reach well beyond the boundaries of what is comfortable and familiar. It creates in us a greater understanding of the world around us while ironically also generating endless questions about the world we encounter along the way. By helping people who we have no real connection to we come to better understand cultures and places we previously only had preconceived notions about. As Mark Twain put it, "travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness". Which is exactly why more of us need to reach out to causes beyond our own.

It would be interesting to see just how differently the approach to our own personal causes might be if more of us spent some time focused on other causes first. Yet in writing this I am more aware that it will most likely be met with hostility and resentment rather than seen as the challenge it was meant to present to you the reader. So with that said, I would hope that most of you will understand this wasn't written out of spite or frustration but rather was a blunt analysis of everyone who calls themselves humanitarians. If you consider yourself one then this is meant to show you how I personally believe we can do better.