Charity at the Speed of Thoughtless Imagery

Railway in Northern Uganda

Yesterday I confronted a local newspaper column offered as a “correction” to remarks I made regarding charity and humanitarian aid seen through the marketing of narrow Hollywood frames offered by groups like Invisible Children.  I closed by questioning the proposition the column’s authors made that

The best way to understand which nonprofits deserve support is to get involved, so you can observe directly the organization’s culture and level of professionalism.

This struck me exactly the worst thing to do in such a situation.  The nonprofit culture and how it operates internally has nearly zero to do with its actual “works.”  I drew attention yesterday to the fact that the content of the column was continuing evidence that the folks involved with the lobby group Invisible Children here in Bloomington have still not engaged with the reality on the ground in Northern Uganda.  They continue to push the IC narrative.  Further, one author is an academic in the field of public administration and NOT in a field that might shed some light on the situation supposedly of concern here, the plight of children in Northern Uganda.  The column is simply evidence of the wrong kind of perspective; the perspective of a professional academic and apologist for an invasive Western ideology that promotes the “right” way to “fix” the world.  The irony is that it is imperial “progress” in the “third world” that is often to blame for the worst atrocities.

In any event, I knew that I’d read something regarding this “professional” approach to involvement and engagement as a kind of “end” in itself.  This is from Chris Hedges’ “The Death of the Liberal Class.” (200)

The creed of “impartiality” and “objectivity” that has infected the liberal class teaches, ultimately, the importance of not offending the status quo. The “professionalism” demanded in the classroom, in newsprint, in the arts or in political discourse is code for moral disengagement.

My goal in writing against the simple-minded pursuit of Western perspectives on “backward” nations in the guise of humanitarian aid was to call attention to the complexities of the situation that were not being addressed by either the lobby group (who must, in order to cash large checks, tell a very specific and clear “good v evil” story–Oprah style) or the local student and university organizations supporting them.

It was my intention to offend them in their attempts to justify what is a clear display of blinkered and perhaps willful misunderstanding.  It was my intention to force them to look again.  To read another book; to ask another question; to do what one expects of institutions that purport to advance the cause of learning and discovery.

But the status quo does not appreciate your disagreement.  It gets defensive when its self-perceived nobility of purpose is questioned.

When the standard of measure is the degree of “professionalism” in any given organization we must regard this as perilously close to the cult of efficiency that leads to a blindness and inability to judge an act or organization on its substance rather than its style; we marvel at what things the machine can do, the way the machine moves, without considering the final effects of it’s machinations.

If it’s one thing groups like Invisible Children have, it’s style and professionalism.  It looks good.

I would offer this panel discussion on AFRICOM (US Military Command in Africa) and the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the ways that Western interests are manipulating the governments and donor nations to the exclusion of local communities and the rights of the persons living in them as a ballast to the slick presentation offered by Invisible Children.

Africa Between the International Criminal Court & AFRICOM

President Obama is moving full-speed ahead with Africom, the new US military command for Africa, claiming that it will be instrumental in bringing peace, security, and development to the continent. Meanwhile, the fledgling International Criminal Court (ICC) has, despite its global mandate, focused exclusively on Africa, invoking similar promises of ushering in peace, security, and justice. Notwithstanding this high-sounding rhetoric, both Africom and the ICC have been accused by critics of undermining instead of building peace in Africa and of being tools of Western imperial interests. The speakers will explore these debates with particular emphasis on the role of Africom and the ICC in Uganda, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Panelists:
Samar Al-Bulushi, Independent researcher and co-producer, “Global Movements, Urban Struggles” on WBAI 99.5 FM
Milton Allimadi, Black Star News
Adam Branch, San Diego State University
Zachariah Mampilly, Vassar College

These are people talking and thinking in depth about an issue of historical consequence with historical underpinnings.  It is a marked contrast to the horror imagery marketed to our students in our high schools via the ambition of documentary filmmakers.

Understanding takes effort and time and an ability to see beyond the ideology of cultural perpectives.  Something not on offer in Invisible Children presentations and charitable sales swag.

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