Essay: Humanitarianism

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Edkins, Campbel and Malkki all discuss issues of humanitarian principle, contrasting the ideal of humanitarianism with the reality of real affirmation of the human in the humanitarian aid experience. Each in his or her own way argues that the only real way to provide humanitarian intervention is by separating such from the idea of the political, or in one case mapping the political so as not to reaffirm the issues of political conflict that are associated often with historical race and ethnic subjugation and discrimination (Campbell). (Edkins) (Campbell) (Malkki) Campbell probably offers one of the most logical discussions with regard to his desire for humanitarian aid organizations to take a sort of Hippocratic Oath where they first propose to "Do No Harm" (1998, p.500)

An example Campbell provides is the common need to provide security in humanitarian crisis, where many people, often of an ethnic minority or disenfranchised political identity (therefore commonly discriminated against and harmed by others around them) must move in mass to areas of relative safety, to receive assistance. Campbell uses the example of the need for humanitarian workers to "hire" local security forces, such as members of local militias to ensure safe passage as well as safety, food and shelter on arrival, but in doing so they legitimize a local militia and give it power it might not have otherwise gained, thus making the situation harmful in the short- and long-term of it. Campbell then goes on to use an example where mediation with the locals resolved the conflict without hiring guards, yet he also points out that there were unquestioned pitfalls in this tactic as well, given that the alternative proposal legitimized the sovereignty and authority of the local tribal leaders. Campbell stresses that short of humanitarian efforts arriving with "neutral" security forces, a difficult scenario for most, as it goes against their principle and the logistical speed with which they can respond to need but most importantly is not offered by any outside "force" as this would require additional accountability and responsibility on the part of some "neutral" state entity. (1998) Edkins offers a critique of a larger work that goes through the history of humanitarian response through several crisis and evolves into what it is currently, i.e. highly polticalized and state sponsored humanitarian relief agencies, where Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) end up acting as "state sponsored" or contracted organizations.

The changes in humanitarian practices and discourse from then onwards can be seen as a succession of radicalizing critiques and moderating or reactionary responses (Edkins 2000). A series of boundary debates -- about the relief-development continuum, about the degree of political involvement or 'human rights advocacy' that humanitarians should engage in, about questions of 'coordination' of humanitarian and military action -- marked stages in the movement from the relatively independent, poorly resourced and fairly marginal humanitarian groups of the cold war period to today's hugely well-resourced state humanitarianism, where the 'non-governmental' sector is more central but as a subcontractor to state agencies. (Edkins, June 2003, p. 254)

In this argument Edkins surmises that the state of being a refugee and the situation of humanitarian intervention from Biafra to Afghanistan have fundamentally evolved into a highly political area of relief, where NGOs rarely if ever act without some guidance from a state authority and do not do so simply as an outpouring of humanitarian ideals.

On the converse, Malkki argues that the current "ideal" of humanitarian organizations and individuals that populate them, likely trying to reassert its altruistic ideal in the face of the real "political" situations are attempting to dehistoricize or remove the refugee from the very real and individual political/ethnic/human popualtion that has been wronged in numerous ways, simply attempting to make them "universal" man or "universal" woman.

Refugees stop being specific persons and be-come pure victims in general: universal man, universal woman, universal child, and, taken together, universal family (Barthes 1980).3 of course, refugee popu-lations usually consist of people in urgent need who have been victimized in nu-merous ways. The problem is that the necessary delivery of relief and also long-term assistance is accompanied by a host of other, unannounced social processes and practices that are dehistoricizing. This dehistoricizing universalism creates a context in which it is difficult for people in the refugee category to be ap-proached as historical actors rather than simply as mute victims. (Malkki, August 1996, p. 378)

No matter how well intentioned it is to see refugees as "human" above all else and therefore deserving of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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