Humanitarian Exchange articles tagged:Religion

Koenraad Van Brabant, outgoing HPN Coordinator, interviews Christina ter Braak, MSF-Holland, Uzbekistan Koenraad Van Brabant Christina, how does a young woman from Holland end up working in Uzbekistan? Christina ter Braak My first six-month stay in Uzbekistan was in 1996, teaching Dutch and English at Tashkent University. After my Bachelor’s degree, I did a Master’s in development studies. For my thesis – on unemployment in Uzbekistan – I spent another three months there doing research; every single person I spoke to had an opinion on the subject. Subsequently, I applied for a job in the Tashkent office of Human Rights Watch (HRW), and was invited for recruitment tests in New York. But the reply…
The challenges involved in meeting humanitarian and development needs in the Middle East and North Africa are enormous. At the same time, there are few examples of cross-cultural collaboration, perhaps because misperceptions on both sides abound. Partnerships are needed, however, for practical reasons and to support humanitarian principles and demonstrate that humanitarianism is neutral. They are needed between ‘Western’ and ‘Islamic’ humanitarian organisations internationally, and between local and international actors. A changing picture The need for development and humanitarian aid is greater than ever: in 2010, 373 natural disasters killed over 296,800 people, affected nearly 208 million others and caused…
Most people in the world are religious. Particularly in the non-Western world, religion shapes societies to a degree that its salience goes almost without saying. Whether we acknowledge it or not, religion is a key force behind the way a community or society interacts with notions of development – or disaster. Western academics have not always caught on to this. While identity factors like gender, class and ethnicity are emerging as important considerations in the humanitarian field, religion attracts comparatively little attention. This may have something to do with the inherent secular bias of Western thought. It took female researchers…
How can agencies gain access in difficult contexts? Valuable work has been done on negotiating access with armed non-state actors, but what if negotiation is not enough? What if the context is so challenging that a conventional approach is impossible? One solution is ‘remote control’ or ‘shared management’, where national staff are dispatched to manage projects directly. For a variety of reasons, this approach is controversial. This article suggests that a different approach – ‘explo-action’ – may be an effective answer. What is explo-action? Explo-action means ‘exploratory mission together with medical action’. It is commonly used by Médecins Sans Frontières…
In the public mind, Islamic charity organisations have become little more than funding fronts for terrorism and jihad. Yet, despite allegations in television programmes, books and investigative reports in the UK, very little evidence has actually been forthcoming linking agencies or their staff with terrorist activity. Since 1998, the British government’s Charity Commission has conducted only 20 inquiries into suspected links with terrorism, ten of which have been dropped. One has led to the closure of a Tamil organisation linked to the LTTE in Sri Lanka. At the same time, the 1,000-plus Islamic charities and trusts in the UK have…
This article reports on the lessons so far identified from a large, multi-sectoral humanitarian relief effort implemented through a multi-agency ecumenical consortium. It is hoped that the sharing of this experience will enable other agencies to draw on such lessons and stimulate further sharing of experience on the merits and challenges of operational humanitarian consortia.   Catholic and Protestant church agencies have a distinguished history of collaborating in their response to humanitarian need. For instance: In the late 1960s, a group of Protestant and Catholic agencies combined to form Joint Church Action (JCA), one of the main channels for international…
Pakistan’s jihadi groups and other Islamist ‘humanitarian’ groups played a prominent role in Pakistan-administered Kashmir in the aftermath of the 8 October earthquake. They conducted relief and reconstruction work, provided health services, organised and managed displacement camps and carried out needs assessments. This article explores the part these groups played, reviews how international humanitarian actors engaged with them and outlines the political consequences of their activities, locally, nationally and regionally. The jihadi and Islamist ‘humanitarian’ response Pakistan has 58 Islamic religious parties, and 24 known Islamist militant groups operate in the country. At least 17 Islamist groups banned by President…
Recent crises have seen a marked increase in the participation of military forces in work usually regarded as the exclusive domain of humanitarian agencies. Since it is impossible today to provide aid in many situations without some kind of relationship with the military, the discussion is less whether there should be a relationship at all, but how to establish what the appropriate relationship should be, and where the boundaries should lie. These boundaries should be established so that those affected by an emergency continue to receive vital assistance in a way that does not undermine the independent and apolitical nature…
In the context of the US ‘global war on terror’ (GWOT), the issue of cultural proximity has become an increasingly pressing question for humanitarians. In countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq, Western NGOs employing large numbers of expatriate staff have been assessing whether their Western ‘face’ acts as a barrier to humanitarian intervention. The solutions considered have been either to send Muslim expatriates to Muslim contexts, or to form more partnerships with Muslim NGOs (sometimes local, sometimes international). Agencies have certainly been encouraged in both approaches by Muslim NGOs in the UK, which argue that Muslims are best at conveying…
This article explores two related, but neglected, aspects of the aid environment in Iraq: the politicisation of aid by local religious/political parties; and the role and position of international Islamic aid. Clearly, in the politically charged climate of present-day Iraq, the activities, funding and political affiliation of international aid is a key question. Yet while there has been extensive debate about US NGOs and their affiliations with the belligerents, Islamic aid organisations are afforded de facto membership of the humanitarian community in Iraq without any enquiry into their funding, affiliation and agenda. This presents a potential – but unforeseen –…
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