Thursday, March 8, 2012

Western Interventionism in Activism

There’s a basic question activists should ask before taking an action in support of people outside our own communities: What do the people affected want to do?

What we heard directly from Sudanese activists, at the time Calgary-based Talisman Energy was exploiting that country’s oil, was “get your company out of our country.” So, that’s what we worked to do. What we heard from South African activists during apartheid there was “cut South African business off.” So, we boycotted and promoted sanctions.

If we’re going to do anything “for”, “about”, or — much better — with the people of, Uganda, the direction of our efforts needs to come from the people there who are working for positive social change in their communities. If they decide there are ways that we in “the west” can be useful in making a difference, then great — let’s do that. But if they decide that they need to handle whatever they’re doing without our involvement, it’ll not be our place to interfere or presume to “know better.” They’re not ignorant, primitive, simple-minded, backward, or in any other way less than us (it’s probably the other way around, assuming they haven’t spent their lives being bombarded to the same extent as us with U.S.-dominated western media).

While visiting Europe, in response to the question “What do you think of western civilization?” Gandhi is reported to have said “I think it would be a good idea.” Yep.

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