Othering

I’ve spent quite a lot of this week reading and hiding comments on a boosted post on Facebook that I created on behalf of the charity I work for. It is about an appeal raising funds for humanitarian aid projects run by the tiny minority of Christians in the Gaza Strip.

The boosted post has been targeted to be seen by people who, among other things, have expressed an interest in the poverty alleviation, international development and the Middle East.

Comments I have seen include fair questions: how do we know the money doesn’t fall into the hands of Hamas? How do we know we are funding the truly needy, given there is wealth in Gaza, albeit in the hands of people doing nothing for the most marginalised and vulnerable population?

Then there’s the questions edging towards something else: Why have we chosen to support people, who over the years appear not to help themselves?

These questions are tricky to answer on Facebook (or anywhere) so we answer them through different channels.

And then there’s the other comments.

  • Tell the moslems that are here claiming benefits to send them money.
  • Donate to a country that teaches it’s children the importance of killing all Jews?
  • F*$! them. Their all the same underneath: appeasing Islam is like sponsoring your own assassination
  • BLOW IT UP IS A BETTER IDEA.
  • Every family that is scarf is because they have brought up bloody terrorist muzzrat ….so go f yourselves f’ing c’s….
  • And there was me thinking all they wanted was more guns to kill Christians and Jews with.
  • Won’t be saying that when the Muslim brotherhood are raping white women, committing XXXXXXXXX atrocities on British kids and killing non Muslims. All with the love of their prophet the XXXXXXXX*

I went to Gaza earlier this year and met some of the Christians and Muslims running the humanitarian aid projects. I sat and ate with them as they told me of their struggles living in a place even the UN state is going to be unlivable by 2020. I sat in the ‘homes’ of Palestinians of different faiths who have nothing, literally nothing, and are only alive because of the work of the projects. It affected me, of course it did, but I tell this because I anticipate one of the responses to this blog may be – you’re responding emotionally…

Two things: I’m not, I’m a professional. I am, I’m a human. Telling me I am responding emotionally to a humanitarian crisis or the cold-blooded murder of a woman in the street, and the motivators that drive those acts is small and meaningless criticism. Of course I am. Next.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks everyone should see the pain and destruction in the world, then step back and vote dispassionately, great. But there are more people voting because of greed, hatred and fear or because of love, compassion and hope. I understand both of them more.

The man who murdered British MP Jo Cox turns out to be a far-right extremist, stating clear indicators during his initial court hearing and appears to affiliated with and has campaigned for a far-right political party.

His actions are being excused by some: he’s just a nutcase; he’s mentally ill; he’s a lone wolf; there’s nothing we could have done; some people will always do things like this.

And yet, they don’t. Hardly anyone walks up to a public servant in the street and kills them. Hardly anyone takes an automatic weapon into a gay nightclub in Florida and kills 49 people.

What does happen every day is that people are othered. They are dehumanised. People are labelled every single day. Language and images are used that are damaging.

Migrants and refugees are conflated daily by the independent but influenced BBC. So-called documentaries chart the shenanigans of our benefit scrounging neighbours, our corrupt public servants.  Publicly and loudly leaders in all sorts of spheres appeal to their people  by exploiting their understandable fears – that there may not be a job, an education for their kids, help when they’re ill.   And a significant and influential proportion of our beleaguered media who report what is said, and sometimes what isn’t.

“You’ve got a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean seeking a better life.” Cameron 30/7/15. Under the  previous  Labour  government,  Home  Secretary  David  Blunkett  was  criticised  for referring to child asylum seekers as ‘swamping’ some British schools (BBC  News, 2002).

The poisonous vitriol our local MP has been on the end of over his Leave position and ClKf_zhWAAA6vz_pretty much anything else he’s ever done.

“The London Mayor – who is backing the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union – criticised the US President for his intervention in the EU referendum debate, adding his attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “dislike of the British Empire”.  Boris Johnson 22/4/16.

“Media [coverage of the migrant crisis] also differed widely in terms of the predominant themes to their coverage. For instance, humanitarian themes were more common in Italian coverage than in British, German or Spanish press. Threat themes (such as to the welfare system, or cultural threats) were the most prevalent in Italy, Spain and Britain. Overall, the Swedish press was the most positive towards refugees and migrants, while coverage in the United Kingdom was the most negative, and the most polarised. Amongst those countries surveyed, Britain’s right-wing media was uniquely aggressively in its campaigns against refugees and migrants.”[1]

Othering has always happened, it always will happen.  I have been guilty of it myself and will be again.

I’ve said a few times in the EU Ref campaign that I have spoken to people on both sides of the debate, who have realised a piece of evidence, or position they hold is wrong or tenuous at best. And they won’t change their vote. They hold on to their position above and beyond what the evidence points to. They *want* to be right about their view. Their passion to see wrongs righted has been disassociated from compassion towards  people that are going to be impacted by their choice and are already being impacted by our colonial past. That rose tinted past that never existed.

To deny that othering happens is to be complicit in the consequences of it. Complicit in all of the mess and murder that happens as a result. Harsh? Yes, and I include myself in that condemnation. To say we can’t do anything about it is to give up on each other – the other who might not be my colleague/friend/family member who thinks the same way I do about everything. and who never challenges me or my world view.  The other who is a human too no matter where the luck of their birth placed them on this earth.

 

*I had to delete some words, because there is some sort of attention I don’t want my blog to attract.

[1] UNHCR: Press Coverage of the Refugee and Migrant Crisis in the EU: A Content Analysis of Five European Countries:  http://www.unhcr.org/56bb369c9.pdf

Extra reading: Our health and theirs: Forced migration, othering, and public health. Natalie J. Grove, Anthony B. Zwi School of Public Health and Community Medicine, The University of New South Wales https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7524802_Our_Health_and_Theirs_Forced_Migration_Othering_and_Public_Health

 

 

Reblog: God Is Interesting: A Mild Manifesto for Mission

Lots to like here from one of my favourite writers.

“I don’t think that finding God interesting is intellectual snobbery.  I certainly hope not.  It’s not a matter of needing to know that God is suitable for people with degrees, or of wanting to use God as a topic for cleverness.  Rather, it’s being drawn into thinking and talking about God – along with the Bible, church history, philosophical theology, etc – as an activity which can change you.  Just as prayer is a way of contemplating God, and of being drawn into a relationship with the divine, and so is singing hymns or worship songs, so is learning and thinking.

I know at least two people for whom those activities – learning and thinking – seem to be a major part of their spiritual life.  They follow them as other people might practice meditation or attend a worship session.  They don’t seem to study and discuss these things in order to find the right answer, or to extract ideas that they can “apply” elsewhere, but they do so in order to be present to God, and to be fully present to other people, as their truest selves.”

quiteirregular

“God is interesting.”  It sounds like the most tepid theological declaration ever.  A creed for hesitant Anglicans, perhaps; “We believe in one God, who’s rather interesting really, when you come to think of it…”  Hardly very inspiring, and a bit lacking in theological rigour.  (I certainly don’t let my students get away with the word “interesting” in essays…)

But I was recently asked to explain what specific thing about God people needed to know, and I chose the fact that God is interesting.  Having started out mild, I hedged further: this isn’t the most important thing we could ever say about God, or the most urgent aspect of God for the world.  God is love, God is truth, God is beauty – all these have a far more central part in our understanding of God, and in our grasp of what the world (and our lives in it) might look…

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Photos from Palestine and Israel

Just a quick note to say I’ve been uploading images in the galleries here (see menu above) but also on my Flickr site. Please do have a look.

Capacity building

mum smilingI spoke to my husband on the phone last night and we talked about what we’re going to do when I get back. I said I want to go and see my Mum on Sunday. He’s a wise soul my hubby and said: Well, let’s see shall we? I’m expecting you to have a bit of a boo and fall apart a bit on Sunday.

He’s probably not wrong. It does feel like I’m keep a lot at bay at the moment, inevitably when you’ve seen and heard things and been to places that are so desperate and upsetting. Things that make you so angry you want to tear your own hair out.

But my colleague Neil and I were discussing how we both feel like the ping ponging around the region, moving from the West Bank and Jerusalem, to Galilee to Gaza then back to Jerusalem has been hard going but the contrasts have helped us not become too overwhelmed in one place. Before we know it we’re in another area so different it makes it feel like the previous location was another world. It all adds to my sense of dislocation and distance from the time and place. I was in Gaza the day before yesterday but it seems like weeks ago.

But sadly they’re not another world.  I’ve been in refugee camps in Gaza and the West Bank and I’ve been in plush restaurants and shopping precincts in Israel. I’ve seen fear and trepidation on a young IDF soldier’s face. I’ve been taken to a rather nice fish restaurant in Gaza. It’s a mass of contradiction. It’s a mess of corruption and occupation.

But nothing is simple. My reaction to it isn’t simple.

let all you doI spent yesterday meeting people at two different projects Embrace funds. The first is the Princess Basma Rehabilitation Centre in East Jerusalem, a highly esteemed facility for Palestinians, specifically disabled children and their families. Disabilities exist in high numbers in the region for many reasons including lack of education about inter-marriage. Small farming communities still promote the marriage of close cousins to ensure land stays in the family. Stigma is also still there – the disabled aren’t disabled but lazy, the parents are the cause of the disability. But the Centre is doing amazing work to help those with disabilities, their families and is equipping parents, especially mums to go back to their communities and change the way people see their children. They’re hoping to extend their capacity by building relationships with community based organisations who can deliver similar programmes in their own areas – which would be extremely helpful given the restrictions on movement for many Palestinians. There’s also a school and a vocational training facility – a sheltered workshop where the participants make the most beautiful furniture I have ever seen.

Then, I met an 11 year old girl who is supported to attend a school in the Old City through the Embrace education fund. We spent time with her at school, met her little sister in the kindergarten then went back to her home to meet her Dad, brother and see how and where they live. The young girl is shy, until we ask her what she would like to do in her future: “I want to be an actor” she says, throwing her hands in the air. Where would you live if you could live anywherewall? “America” she says again! I ask her to show me how she spends her free time – a concept she doesn’t really understand. She goes to school, she does her homework, and she works in the house then goes to bed. But she does show me how she likes to watch videos on her dad’s ancient computer so she can learn how to act.

The family told us long stories of how the conflict impacts their lives. We talked about their hope for the future and once again I was sad, but not in the least surprised to hear that the hope they have is in being able to leave the region at some point.

Seeing these things and meeting people, hearing their stories is so important. I feel I will be a better communications officer now I have visited and can even more honestly talk about the things I need to communicate. We talk a lot at work about working with our partners to increase their capacity to serve the people here. This has been capacity building for me.

Life in unspeakably hard here for so many. Many people on all sides of this conflict live in fear, not that I feel comfortable calling them sides, so complex and varied are the positions and feelings I have heard expressed.

I am also very aware this is my first time here and I am bound to have a visceral reaction. I’m not a glass half empty person but I have found myself feeling the despair more than the hope. Because there is hope here, in places. The priest who sat and cried with us also smiled and laughed and cared very, very deeply about his people. “In Jesus Christ we have hope.” I’m left dazed.

I asked Neil, who lived in East Jerusalem for 3 and a half years, if it is just because we’re here for the first time and asking them questions that all people want to talk to us about is the conflict. He says no, it is always in conversation because it is always in their lives. For the Palestinians especially whose freedom of movement, access to education, healthcare, family is limited, of course it is always there. I think back to the young woman I met in Gaza who I haven’t been able to get out of my head. “You might be alive, but you’re never safe.”

view east to wallI sit here typing away and I desperately want to finish with some happy memories. We fly home tomorrow and the day is mostly traveling and most likely having a long chat with the border guards at Ben Gurion so this will probably be my last blog from the region. Until next time. But I am very ready to go home – as I give this blog one last read over before posting, I’m already having a bit of a boo.

  • The one thing you don’t have to press people to talk about is their kids. They ask me and Neil if either of us have children. When Neil tells of his nearly 4 and nearly 2 year old the immediate reactions is “God bless them” and he replies “and yours.” I have never heard anyone ask about another person’s children without them asking God to bless them.
  • The smiles of mothers when asked if I could photograph their babies at the Well Baby Clinic in Gaza. They are incredibly proud of their children.
  • Every child wants their photo taken. The kids in Jabalia Camp in Gaza loved looking at their images on the view screen more than most.
  • Being high-5’d by a toddler in Jabalia.
  • Bethlehem – how very glad people were that we were staying there and for 6 nights.
  • “Hello, welcome!”
  • The warmth of the limestone that so many houses here are built from, glowing in the setting sun. It reminds me of the city of Bath and how we build our houses on and of the same stuff.
  • How much women are valued by so many of our partners. I think every single partner talked about empowering women, equipping them, loving them. The one time I have allowed myself to cry these past two weeks was hearing about a women’s education group in a West Bank refugee camp.
  • Our Encounter tour – a fantastic group of people. Betty’s laugh which meant you knew where she was at all times, and the yell of “cows!” every time we spotted one out of the coach window.
  • The call to prayer echoing across whatever place I’ve been in. It still sounds exotic to my ears so I know I need to spend more time here. I want to be familiar, not a visitor.
  • Felafel!
  • Makloubeh!
  • Arabic coffee!
  • All the people I have met, every single one has taught me something and I am grateful and humbled. I come away from this experience, one I never imagined I’d have, knowing that I know next to nothing and never will know enough, feeling my privilege heavy on my shoulders.
  • The peace and beauty of the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth – I was all churched out but it was beautiful. So lovely I forgot to take lots of photos which says something.
  • Being able to put locations and distances on places I have read about my whole life has been very special. I have walked from the Mount of Olives via the Garden of Gethsemane into Jerusalem and along the Via Dolorosa. I have traveled through the Judean Hills. I have seen the pass from Nazareth to Galilee and seen places Jesus very probably walked and lived. Whether you believe in His divinity or not, Jesus was an incredibly influential historical figure and being here has turned what can often be words on a page into a 3D world. For that alone I’d recommend a trip!
  • “Yalla, yalla!” (Hurry up!)
  • One of those ‘coincidences’ when on our last day in Galilee we were meant to have a communion service at Magdala but because of the gender of our leader, we weren’t allowed. Another British female church leader had passed through earlier in the day and had left her card, which we were duly given and we ended up celebrating in her church in Tiberias.
  • Spring has sprung while I’ve been here. The odd bit of oil seed rape was out two weeks ago, now there are pink and red and purple and yellow wild flowers everywhere.
  • The view of the Jordan Valley from Jerusalem. Not one of my photos does it justice, I’m not sure it is one of those views that can ever be represented through a camera lens, so I’ve spent a lot of time looking at it.