Migration

architecture of human solidarity

in a COMMENTARY, Jordanian Prince Hassan bin Talal reflects on the development of international standards of refugee protection in contrast with contemporary rise in nationalism

Dec 18th 2019
Hassan bin Talal
<p>IF culture, as the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz once put it, is of “Stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”, national culture, on the other hand, is made of stories that are often told to us by schoolteachers, poets, artists, and media outlets. They are selective stories, which revolve around real and imagined golden history, unique traditions, heroic struggles and enduring sacrifices for protecting the homeland from enemies and intruders.</p><p>There is nothing wrong with the feeling of pride and attachment to a homeland. The real danger is when national sentiments generate the assumption that the world is a zero-sum game. What we are witnessing in Europe and the United States today is the rise of a type of nationalism that does resemble such a game. The values it promotes are not rooted in a universal public culture.</p><p>That people are forced to flee their homes to seek refuge from harm elsewhere is nothing new. It is an old story that has been told many times throughout history. The revolutionary achievement of the last century was to recognise universal standards of protection in the human rights and humanitarian law and more specifically, the establishment of a refugee regime to protect such people. Thus, we have had an opportunity in the last 70 years to see an approach to human displacement that is at once more focused and more expansive.</p><p>When the negotiators finished drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, they firmly rejected ethical and cultural relativity. Contentions suggesting that it is necessary to tolerate, as equal, even the most distorted notions about the freedom and dignity including degradation and slavery, were ditched.</p><h3>old architectures of solidarity</h3><p>Today, we are witnessing a record number of Internally Displaced People and migrants in the history of humanity. We cannot contain the energy of human movement by armies and police forces. We need to shift our focus to addressing the root causes which push people to seek human dignity far beyond their homelands.</p><p>The UNHCR’s core mandate to protect refugees and search for solutions has not changed since the time of the Cold War into which it was born. The range and scale of that organisation’s activities have meanwhile dramatically increased to keep up with the greatly changing contexts of human displacement and the corresponding soar in demand for its services.</p><p>The changing nature and growing complexity of population movements, on the one hand, and the evolving roles and responsibilities of the organisations and the international community in addressing such issues, on the other, must be questioned.</p><p>The late Barbara Harrell-Bond, a founder of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, did exactly that. Harrell-Bond saw with her own eyes the traumatising impact of the horrifying experiences that many refugees in southern Sudan had gone through. She subjected the “humanitarian industry”, as she called it, to unrelenting scrutiny, demanding change from those who had previously been untouchable.</p><p>It is essential for various actors including governmental and UN organizations, NGOs, civil society and individuals, to engage in joint discussion. Unless lateral organisational thinking develops between these many and varied entities, multilateralism is bound to wither away. Bilateralism cannot offer satisfactory global answers. We need to develop a more robust architecture of human solidarity at the global level, that will be universally acceptable.</p><h3>charms of radical right</h3><p>The terms human dignity or karama insaniya (in Arabic) are not selective. They embrace ethnic diversity as a lived experience. Not everyone agrees. The great recent surge of migrants escaping the horror of destructive wars in the Middle East, a region firmly caught in a web of geopolitical interests, has raised doubts of the wavering. The far right and xenophobic movements have successfully channelled anxiety of western societies away from a critique of governance into discourses of racial hatred and cultural conflict.</p><p>One of the core messages of culture warriors is the thesis that stability and prosperity can be restored once the nation-state is protected against intruders. Such tactics and rampant misinformation partially succeeded in dividing cosmopolitan Western societies along group identities. It reinforced the privilege of a more powerful group over another. The heartbreak and outrage generated by the photograph of a drowned body of a three-year old Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach, has been replaced by a fear that Western societies are being invaded by immigrants bringing chaos, terrorism and crime.</p><p>Xenophobic groups pull on different threads of domestic socio-economic frustrations in order to weave together a single narrative that will resonate with the widest possible national audience. When they succeed, many of the unemployed or financially struggling people who hear their message feel a connection to it. The message seems to perfectly capture their personal situation and feelings of frustration. By manipulating people’s emotions in this way, xenophobic groups are able to effectively communicate political messages to angry citizens. Culture has become a battlefield. The lines between in-group and out-group are thickened and fortified. Socio-cultural paranoia emerges in Western societies.</p><h3>new architectures of solidarity</h3><p>A reinforcement of an architecture of solidarity must spring from a realistic conception of other cultures. Intercultural dialogue may help to rid the debate about human rights of the narrowness of ossified opinion as well as of a hegemonistic approach. As the world today is becoming increasingly interconnected and intra-dependent, it is crucial that actors from all cultures play a part in formulating its agenda. Any global proposal, in order to have legitimacy for all concerned, must be related to the various historical, cultural, legal and religious traditions.</p><p>At the same time, religious principles and traditions can promote the cause of the displaced. One such Muslim tradition is the tenet of Zakat. For many years, we have called for the establishment of a Global Humanitarian Zakat Foundation, which would not be an old-school kind of charity but would enhance the social productivity of refugees. The proposed fund could be of assistance in addressing the problem commonly referred to as donor fatigue.</p><p>Sometimes I ask myself: if there had been no world war, would we have succeeded in developing a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948? Instead of crisis resolution and crisis management, can we not speak of crisis prevention? Human rights are the common possession of all members of the human family, regardless of differences in gender, race, religion (or the opinions of immigration control officers).</p><p>There should be no contradiction between the universality of human rights and the sensitivities relating to state sovereignty. Though also in principle inviolable, the sovereignty does not give a state license to brutalise, to disempower, or, to deny the rights of its own citizens, or the rights of other peoples, to their safety and dignity.</p><p>We have to ask ourselves whether we have done justice to what we inherited from our ancestors and whether we have done our duty by future generations. The courage that has already been shown by many when building new architectures of solidarity is cause for optimism. It would be wonderful, though, if one day we could speak of contentment rather than courage: of lives lived and not only survived.</p><p><em>Hassan bin Talal is a prominent public intellectual, a committee member of multiple international organizations, a bearer of a number of honorary doctorates and the Hungarian Order of Merit.</em></p>
<p>IF culture, as the American anthropologist Clifford Geertz once put it, is of “Stories we tell ourselves about ourselves”, national culture, on the other hand, is made of stories that are often told to us by schoolteachers, poets, artists, and media outlets. They are selective stories, which revolve around real and imagined golden history, unique traditions, heroic struggles and enduring sacrifices for protecting the homeland from enemies and intruders.</p><p>There is nothing wrong with the feeling of pride and attachment to a homeland. The real danger is when national sentiments generate the assumption that the world is a zero-sum game. What we are witnessing in Europe and the United States today is the rise of a type of nationalism that does resemble such a game. The values it promotes are not rooted in a universal public culture.</p><p>That people are forced to flee their homes to seek refuge from harm elsewhere is nothing new. It is an old story that has been told many times throughout history. The revolutionary achievement of the last century was to recognise universal standards of protection in the human rights and humanitarian law and more specifically, the establishment of a refugee regime to protect such people. Thus, we have had an opportunity in the last 70 years to see an approach to human displacement that is at once more focused and more expansive.</p><p>When the negotiators finished drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, they firmly rejected ethical and cultural relativity. Contentions suggesting that it is necessary to tolerate, as equal, even the most distorted notions about the freedom and dignity including degradation and slavery, were ditched.</p><h3>old architectures of solidarity</h3><p>Today, we are witnessing a record number of Internally Displaced People and migrants in the history of humanity. We cannot contain the energy of human movement by armies and police forces. We need to shift our focus to addressing the root causes which push people to seek human dignity far beyond their homelands.</p><p>The UNHCR’s core mandate to protect refugees and search for solutions has not changed since the time of the Cold War into which it was born. The range and scale of that organisation’s activities have meanwhile dramatically increased to keep up with the greatly changing contexts of human displacement and the corresponding soar in demand for its services.</p><p>The changing nature and growing complexity of population movements, on the one hand, and the evolving roles and responsibilities of the organisations and the international community in addressing such issues, on the other, must be questioned.</p><p>The late Barbara Harrell-Bond, a founder of the Refugee Studies Centre at the University of Oxford, did exactly that. Harrell-Bond saw with her own eyes the traumatising impact of the horrifying experiences that many refugees in southern Sudan had gone through. She subjected the “humanitarian industry”, as she called it, to unrelenting scrutiny, demanding change from those who had previously been untouchable.</p><p>It is essential for various actors including governmental and UN organizations, NGOs, civil society and individuals, to engage in joint discussion. Unless lateral organisational thinking develops between these many and varied entities, multilateralism is bound to wither away. Bilateralism cannot offer satisfactory global answers. We need to develop a more robust architecture of human solidarity at the global level, that will be universally acceptable.</p><h3>charms of radical right</h3><p>The terms human dignity or karama insaniya (in Arabic) are not selective. They embrace ethnic diversity as a lived experience. Not everyone agrees. The great recent surge of migrants escaping the horror of destructive wars in the Middle East, a region firmly caught in a web of geopolitical interests, has raised doubts of the wavering. The far right and xenophobic movements have successfully channelled anxiety of western societies away from a critique of governance into discourses of racial hatred and cultural conflict.</p><p>One of the core messages of culture warriors is the thesis that stability and prosperity can be restored once the nation-state is protected against intruders. Such tactics and rampant misinformation partially succeeded in dividing cosmopolitan Western societies along group identities. It reinforced the privilege of a more powerful group over another. The heartbreak and outrage generated by the photograph of a drowned body of a three-year old Syrian boy, washed up on a Turkish beach, has been replaced by a fear that Western societies are being invaded by immigrants bringing chaos, terrorism and crime.</p><p>Xenophobic groups pull on different threads of domestic socio-economic frustrations in order to weave together a single narrative that will resonate with the widest possible national audience. When they succeed, many of the unemployed or financially struggling people who hear their message feel a connection to it. The message seems to perfectly capture their personal situation and feelings of frustration. By manipulating people’s emotions in this way, xenophobic groups are able to effectively communicate political messages to angry citizens. Culture has become a battlefield. The lines between in-group and out-group are thickened and fortified. Socio-cultural paranoia emerges in Western societies.</p><h3>new architectures of solidarity</h3><p>A reinforcement of an architecture of solidarity must spring from a realistic conception of other cultures. Intercultural dialogue may help to rid the debate about human rights of the narrowness of ossified opinion as well as of a hegemonistic approach. As the world today is becoming increasingly interconnected and intra-dependent, it is crucial that actors from all cultures play a part in formulating its agenda. Any global proposal, in order to have legitimacy for all concerned, must be related to the various historical, cultural, legal and religious traditions.</p><p>At the same time, religious principles and traditions can promote the cause of the displaced. One such Muslim tradition is the tenet of Zakat. For many years, we have called for the establishment of a Global Humanitarian Zakat Foundation, which would not be an old-school kind of charity but would enhance the social productivity of refugees. The proposed fund could be of assistance in addressing the problem commonly referred to as donor fatigue.</p><p>Sometimes I ask myself: if there had been no world war, would we have succeeded in developing a Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948? Instead of crisis resolution and crisis management, can we not speak of crisis prevention? Human rights are the common possession of all members of the human family, regardless of differences in gender, race, religion (or the opinions of immigration control officers).</p><p>There should be no contradiction between the universality of human rights and the sensitivities relating to state sovereignty. Though also in principle inviolable, the sovereignty does not give a state license to brutalise, to disempower, or, to deny the rights of its own citizens, or the rights of other peoples, to their safety and dignity.</p><p>We have to ask ourselves whether we have done justice to what we inherited from our ancestors and whether we have done our duty by future generations. The courage that has already been shown by many when building new architectures of solidarity is cause for optimism. It would be wonderful, though, if one day we could speak of contentment rather than courage: of lives lived and not only survived.</p><p><em>Hassan bin Talal is a prominent public intellectual, a committee member of multiple international organizations, a bearer of a number of honorary doctorates and the Hungarian Order of Merit.</em></p>

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