Saturday, January 23, 2010

Think international aid is helping Haitians? Think again.

Over the last 30 years or so, international “aid” NGOs have completely taken over Haiti. From 1990 to 2005, the international community has given Haiti over $1.47 billion in aid. International aid NGOs have taken over every aspect of government and civics in Haiti: education, security, banking, justice system, heath care, food, etc, all provided by donors. US has dumped so much subsidized rice on the country it has killed all incentive for Haitians to farm and grow crops for themselves. All this, and how has it helped the Haitian people? The 153rd poorest country out of 177. 75% of the population living on less than $2 a day. Donors have stripped the Haitian government and people of all normal responsibilities and duties. Haiti can’t stand on its own feet anymore.

This is what the international aid apparatus does. It sets up camp and starts the aid machine running. Once it gets running, it self-perpetuates and little can stop it. The mission of these huge aid NGOs is to stay in business. The NGOs need more and more money to keep up, or better yet grow, their staffs. They pitch any project, regardless of how much it will help the poor, because it can bring them money. They spin their reports, claiming success, or blaming the difficult Haitian masses for failures. They grow, and grow, making more Americans richer, and making the Haitian elite richer. The corrupt Haitian government and elite are plugged into the aid machine, who siphon off all kinds of international money. More corruption, more money for the bad guys, and the poor are left with nothing.

Now the international aid community is licking its chops now after the devastating earthquake. They’ll definitely capitalize on the bleeding hearts and try to push for even more takeover of the country. International Monetary Fund (IMF) director Dominique Strauss-Kahn wrote a piece for the Huffington Post entitled Why We Need a "Marshall Plan" for Haiti. Strauss-Kahn asserts:

A first donors' conference is scheduled to take place in Montreal next week, in preparation for a larger conference in the spring that will mobilize financing for Haiti. I hope the contours of such a plan will start to take shape through the process begun in Montreal.

Sweet! Any guesses on how many token Haitians are at that conference planning the future of their country? One or two? I’d say 50:1 ratio of donors to Haitians, if we’re lucky. This is exactly what got Haiti into trouble in the first place. How can we trust these people to plan for Haiti. We know what they’re going to say “MORE AID! Hurrah!”

The less the US medals in Haiti’s affairs, the better off the Haitian people will be. Stop influencing their elections and overthrowing leaders who won’t carry our water. Support who the people voted for, even if they don’t want to move all their people to the cities for manufacturing jobs. Quit dumping cheap American goods in the country, rendering their economy useless, and correct unfair trade laws. Start pulling all international aid NGOs out of the country and let these folks stand on their own two feet. Or, at least we need a filter to make sure only good, effective aid takes place. The kind that builds capacity instead of giving things out. The kind that provides small loans so people can start businesses.

Don’t take this as opposition to giving money for disaster assistance. That money goes directly to saving lives. But if you want to help Haitians more than that, I’d urge you to do some research on who you’re donating to and think about how it might hurt Haitians more than it helps.

References and some other reading:

Why Foreign Aid to Haiti Failed

To Help Haiti, End Foreign Aid

Monday, January 18, 2010

Follow up: Muslim women and the veil

So I was thumbing through my January/Februry Playboy and flipped to my favorite part of the magazine, the reason I continue to spend $30 a year to keep my subscription, the Forum. This month the featured a fascinating piece by Malise Ruthven called “Decoding the Veil: There’s more than meets the eye when it comes to the women of Islam.” Timely, considering my rant on the same subject. I really wish I could find it on-line so I could share it with you, but a summary should do, along with a few words about how it confirmed my opinion on France proposing to ban the burqa.

Ruthven’s history lesson started in the days of slavery. In the days of Islamic colonization, they took many slaves in the communities they conquered. These slave women, who were often hired as concubines, were allowed to bear their entire body, except from bellybutton to knee (the men had to be able to see what they were purchasing). When they got married they were no longer considered to be slaves. They would proudly wear the veil, a status symbol of respectability that told people they were wives, no longer slaves.

This symbol of emancipation is still alive in Islam today. “A thousand years of history in which women are the guardians of family honor and respectability is equated with concealment and physical display with slavery are not going to fade overnight,” Ruthven writes. He goes on to explain how the veil also symbolizes resistance to foreign conquest. This connection still stands today. Ruthven states:

In Western cultures, where personal worth is often judged by appearances, [the veil] still symbolizes a type of resistance. The veiled woman defies the tyranny not so much erstwhile colonial masters (though the associations may be there) but of a globalized fashion industry that diminished women who fail to conform to its youthful and elegant norms. Young women who don the veil in Western countries often explain that it gives them back control of their bodies, making them feel less like sex objects.

So, as in most issues, there is much more to the story than we might have thought. This all reinforces my point that the veil is not strictly religious; it’s also a powerful cultural symbol with multiple meanings. France can talk a mean game about keeping religion out of the public sphere, but do they know, or do they care, that they’re also keeping other’s culture out of the public sphere? It also explains why so many Muslim women want to wear the burqa. It’s not that all of them are brainwashed by their religion or forced by their husbands. Because of the deep history of the veil, many women in Islam are proud to wear it. They should have the choice to do so.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Banning the burqa: progressing freedom or limiting it?

It’s been a while since I ranted. I read a stat the other day that 70% of blogs in the US haven’t been updated in 4 months. Better make sure that freshconsciousness doesn’t fall into that category.

You might have heard about how the French government is considering a law that would ban the burqa anywhere in public.

France Moves Closer to Banning Burqas

It wouldn’t ban the Muslim headscarves, just Islamic dress that covers the face. The proposed law states, "No one may, in spaces open to the public and on public streets, wear a garment or an accessory that has the effect of hiding the face.”

The French see it as a religion in the public sphere and as symbol oppression of women. “Here, it is widely viewed as a gateway to radical Islam, an attack on gender equality and other French values, and a gnawing away at the nation's secular foundation.” This isn’t unprecedented in Europe. France previously banned Muslim headscarves and other "ostentatious" religious symbols in the classrooms of French public schools, and Switzerland recently banned minarets.

This is a complicated topic and I’m somewhat conflicted. Ultimately, I think banning certain clothing is an affront to liberty and the freedoms western democracies were founded on. If I certainly can’t agree with Muslim women being forced to wear the burqa like they are in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, I also can’t agree with a government forcing women to not wear them.

The burqa may be a symbol of oppression to some people inside and outside of Islam, but not to everyone. And while some claim the burqa is a religious symbol, it’s also a cultural symbol to some. Some women claim they like to wear one, to show their pride in their culture, or to be more spiritual.

It seemed like most people who commented on the Huffington Post article agrees with the ban. Some raise the point that all governments regulated dress to some degree, and Germany even banned Nazi symbols. Good point; the issues are similar. Even though the burqa might not carry the same hate, violence, and evil, it does to some degree. So if you forced me to be consistent, even though banning swastikas is easier to digest, I guess I wouldn't support that either. The article states that the proposed law to ban burqas “cites public security concerns, thus includes all face-covering clothes, in a bid to head off challenges from those who might claim such a law would violate constitutional rules on individual rights…” So now we’re banning things out of fear? That makes it even worse. If fear for public safety is the reason they’re banning burqas or Nazi symbols, I can’t support that.

One poster commented that “Ban the burqua and ban all fundamentalist religious sects which express hostility to secular Western values and democracy.” Excuse me? Since when is BANNING things is “Western values?” Where does this stop? This puts liberty on a slippery slope where governments get to decide what constitutes “Western values” and force society to comply. That sounds more like fascism than democracy. It’s also an affront to diversity. In the name of assimilation and conformity, the French aren’t willing to accept people that are too different, cultures that challenge their secular world-view. They want to maintain their “French flavor.” Coming from a melting pot country, that sounds elitist, intolerant, and bigoted. Slip any further down this slope and you’re talking about banning religious or cultural practices. Additionally, as far as liberating women goes, it might have the opposite effect, keeping Muslim women even more hidden:

"We won't be able to leave the house," said Oumeima Naceri, a 19-year-old convert draped in black garments, including a filmy "sitar" veil covering even her eyes. "That frightens us enormously ... It's like asking us to go naked."

Muslim women should have the freedom to wear what they want. In progressive Muslim cities like Cairo and Istanbul, women can wear a scarf, a burqa, or nothing. (Granted, there may be some bad stigmas attached to women who don’t cover). We should help fight for this right, as way too many Muslim women don’t get a choice. We should assist Muslim women in their fight within Islam to force this change. Forcing a change from outside only increases atomicity and can sometimes lead people to dig their heals in and resist the outside pressure.

I think I’ve put forward a pretty good case that banning the burqa slights liberty, it does not expand it. However, I will leave you with a comment that almost made me change my mind:

IF you had been born female into a family that believes that you cannot go against Islam in any way--for instance the kind of family where one goes into the streets to protest against a cartoon drawn by some Danish guy (and how many thousand did exactly that?)

THEN you would have learned from a very young age that you don't challenge a religious obligation, you don't show any religious dissent whatsoever

THEN you would know that the person who feeds you and keeps you has all the power and could go ape-shit on your ass at any time

THEN you might be talked into a burka and feel safer with it than without it


If France--where I live--we believe in religious dissent and freedom FROM religion in the public sphere. We know damn well that as soon as young Muslim girls go home they are subjected again to a steady regime of ask no question, comply, pray and obey. But we demand to see their faces and look into their eyes because they are people, not shadows.