Saturday, 20 February 2016

On Turning Away

A few weeks ago, this piece was posted on the HCRI blog. It's a piece by Dr Tammam Aloudat from MSF Swiss, reflecting on our collective ability to let crises and terrible examples of suffering and the infliction of suffering slip from our minds so easily. It's a strong reflection from someone who grew up in Syria.

What struck me, also, was the contrast between the obvious, constant immersion of Dr Aloudat in these crisis and the reality he sees in the rest of the world. That isn't something we talk about much.
Over the past few years, we have been witnessing what feels like an intensification of conflicts. These conflicts have been harsh for people in many places around the world...
MSF has intense familiarity with both the victims and survivors of these conflicts...
What this tells us is that as brutal and extreme as the Madaya siege has been, it is one of the numerous examples where war has stopped being the mere “continuation of politics by other means”, as van Clausewitz puts it, to become essentially a brutal act of eliminating any opposing form of identity, belief, or group. 
"MSF has intense familiarity with both the victims and survivors of these conflicts". The intensity of solidarity in a context of intensification and multiplication of crises sometimes feels a little like drowning.

Nor is it only those who are working directly in the field who experience it. As Rebecca Davies writes so importantly here, even fundraisers are constantly immersed in a flow of updates and information, reports and témoignage about the realities those victims and survivors are experiencing. Sometimes the process of "sifting through pictures and program reports to find the best, most horrible stories to tell donors" can be harrowing.

All careers are tough and all people have problems. Aid workers aren't special, particularly the ones who live in suburbs and work in offices. Of course, the reality is always far tougher for those we are trying to help.

But one of the consequences of living and working in a space where the crisis are in your face all the time, where you will hear and care about every new outbreak, evacuation and flare up of fighting, every time another hospital gets bombed, is that it is difficult to understand or even have conversations with the people who don't.

A friend is working on research about rape, so a topic with similar challenges. We were commiserating the other day about that awkward dinner-party conversation-killer when someone asks what you spent your day writing about or what interesting thing is going on at work.

I thought about that HCRI blog post again today, when an aid worker posted this Pink Floyd video on social media and I started thinking, again, about complexities of a concept like "turning away".

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