It seems that each Ramadan that I have been blogging a specific cause for charitable aid emerges from the many in my consciousness--whether in the form of zakat (the Muslim obligation of annual charity representing 2.5% of a Muslim's wealth beyond necessities), sadaqa (the Muslim recommendation of charity in other forms) or universal caritas (caring, kindness, and giving to others). Two years ago it was a more personal one, yet tapping into the broader issues of domestic violence, divorce law in Muslim countries, and the fate of Western wives and their children when life in the husband's home country goes awry. Last year it was the flooding in Pakistan. This year it is the famine in the eastern part of the Horn of Africa, with the southeastern parts of Somalia the most affected.
A Somali refugee girl sits perched on a tree in Ifo camp.
I have deliberately avoided the most graphic pictures of starving, dehydrated children, because at some point I think such pictures repel, due to their sense of hopelessness and helplessness, and paradoxically, at some point the observer becomes inured to their impact. The end result of overexposure to these images is a weary conclusion that the phenomenon is endemic, inevitable, and will inexorably repeat, so that not giving seems only a postponing to the next time.
I have deliberately included pictures of adults, men and women, to remind that not only infants and small children suffer and die. Adults may elicit less sympathy but they are no less traumatized, even if they survive. Men and women try to provide for their children as best they can, and face and take responsibility for resisting aggressors, or not, for staying or leaving on a perilous journey in the hope of surviving it and receiving life-saving aid. Men and women try to save livestock, and possessions. While women may feel a special sense of failure of being unable to provide even breast milk to their children, men feel a special sense of having failed as providers and protectors of their families. All families will feel the pain of those who died, were left behind, or had to be abandoned en route.
There are special populations among the adults who are more vulnerable to the effects of the famine and the arduous journey: those with pre-existing illnesses or disabilities, the elderly, women in the late stages of pregnancy or immediately post-partum. Both men and women are vulnerable to bandits, and have been beaten, robbed, raped (men and women), and killed.
The response to this famine has been slow, even reluctant. The famine was foreseeable, due to predicted and then early drought, yet despite warnings, there was little preventive intervention. Such intervention, and now major relief efforts require not only the efforts of NGOs and individuals, but commitments by national governments around the world. These have been slow in coming and are not up to the amounts required to provide even emergency relief to the massive numbers of refugees arriving daily at UN camps or their outskirts.
This reluctance might be explained, though not justified, by the economic recession worldwide, and the number of Western countries on the brink of economic collapse. It may also reflect attitudes towards Somalia in particular. Somalia seems to come in and out of Western consciousness and usually in a negative way. Somali pirates, and Islamist terrorists are the ones who make the headlines, and draw the international attention of governments, the media, and the general populace. More significantly, Somalia is the place of a marked and humiliating US and UN failure.
In response to the 1991-2 Somali famine, induced by the civil war and its disruption of both agriculture and food distribution, the UN, and the US in particular, responded with both military and humanitarian interventions deemed necessary because of the state of civil war in the country. The 1993 Battle of Mogadishu (Black Hawk Down, First Battle of Mogadishu) was a resounding failure, and led to US withdrawal from Somalia, with the UN forces following on. It ended the military and formal governmental relief efforts, and allowed Somalia to become, and remain to this day, a failed state (Canada has its own humiliations and their consequences about actions by its military in Somalia).
The aftermath would take its toll on further decisions about intervention and relief, notably in Rwanda's civil war, with disastrous consequences. The graphic and horrific photos of American soldiers' dead bodies dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu have discouraged governments, their militaries, and their civilian populations from wishing to intervene in civil wars even where the UN has a mandate to prevent genocide. Most recently this has played in the spin on events in certain MENA countries of the Arab Spring where US and international interests are not obvious, yet there should be an intervention (broadly defined, and not including neo-colonialism) to prevent genocide, or at least human rights violations, and blockades of resources to certain towns, cities, and populations. "Tribalism", "sectarianism" and "civil war" are all code words in the spin to justify non-intervention, non-condemnation, non-action in places like Libya (initially, and in discussions now about continuing NATO intervention), Bahrain, and Yemen (even more off the media radar than Bahrain)--Syria seems to be a "special case" of this justification for delayed response, and "other interests".
Even the celebrity response to this famine is more subdued, in comparison to that of the Live Aid concerts and recordings for relief for Ethiopia during the 1984-5 famine there. Live Aid benefitted from better economic times and more exuberance in the mid-1980's, from Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones, from the cause being more novel, and perhaps from Ethiopia being a more sympathetic (and Christian), if relatively unknown, country. Since then there has been greater disenchantment with the ability of such efforts to effect results commensurate with their initiative, and more skepticism about relief reaching the victims--in part as a direct result of corruption and banditry during that effort. Also, since then, the technology that allowed for then innovative simultaneous live broadcasts of concerts from London, New York, and Los Angeles has been surpassed by the simultaneity and globalization of the Internet and Livestream capacities.
The celebrity relief effort for Somalia 2011 (and the other less affected, but also suffering, areas and peoples of the Horn of Africa)--I'm Gonna Be Your Friend--relies heavily on social media: Website, Facebook, Twitter, iTunes, and online payment via Paypal. It is no less sincere, and relies on the inspiration of the Bob Marley song "High Tide, Low Tide" to inform and generate funds. It also has the advantage of partnering with the highly respected aid agency Save the Children--which has a good track record of using funds wisely and getting aid to the people who need it--as part of the latter's broader relief effort for East Africa.
Pick your song. Help in what ever way and amount you are able.
Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?
Ramadan and the Mixed Couple/Family
Ramadan, Zakat, Sadaqa, and Charity:
When Mixed Marriages Go Awry, and Mixed Families Suffer;
Eid Al-Fitr and Thanks Giving:
"Do you believe in miracles?"
Coolred and the Gang, a Ramadan Miracle One Year On--Living the American Dream!
Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Life in the time of the cholera?
Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Parts II, III, and IV: The Floods and Sociobiology; The Response; Katrina 5 Years On
Ramadan and Remembering Pakistan: Part V--Not sure what to do with your zakat?
Pakistan's 2010 Ramadan Flood Victims One Year Later
Ramadan: A Special Month
Ramadan 2010---As the Month Comes to a Close (includes links to all Ramadan related posts 2009-10).
*The pictures of Somali refugees used here are from Boston.com's The Big Picture, "Dadaab Refuge Camp" where more by photojournalist Brendan Bannon can be viewed.