Homework and briefing for humanism advocacy
#1
The following is an edited excerpt of an earlier email exchange about bloggers providing fair coverage with due sensitivity for humanitarian issues that may be separated from routine readers by geographical as well as psychological distance. A related (and in some ways complementary) discussion about how geographical and psychological distance may influence humanitarian contributions can be read in this earlier post.

Stricter homework requirements:
Prof. Dawkins' famous line about not having to read about leprechaunology to reject the idea of leprechauns, holds in human rights issues to the extent that we can take an individual stance against gross violations of human rights even when unaware about the surrounding political details (once we have recognized that no political stance warrants, say, murder of innocents) but does not quite hold when the requirement is one of advocacy on public forum, which definitely requires one to be better briefed.

Out of sight and out of mind:
Ongoing humanitarian crises for which there has been some reportage and some mobilization in the Indian context include AFSPA excesses in the North-east and the plight of displaced Kashmiri Pandits. Some other questions we can think of where reportage in suppressed and where political divides seem to potentially come in the way of a humanistic stance are:

(1) Are the people and the government of India doing enough for the beleaguered Baloch populace, in keeping with the stance India took on humanitarian grounds when it was Bengali Hindus in East Pakistan who were at the receiving end in the 1970s?

(2) Should we speak out about the Tibetan youth demand for self-determination being seriously circumscribed, and perhaps compromised permanently without their broad-based consent, by the de facto theocratic Dalai Lama dispensation?

While in the above issues, paucity of reportage maybe to blame, there are others in which cultural barriers and partisan stances seem more to blame.

(3) For someone not hailing from the Far East, the protests in China over the visits of Japanese dignitaries to a Japanese war memorial Yasukuni, may seem even overdone, since it seems that this is an internal matter of the Japanese not warranting outside intervention.

(4) Are atheist communities online hesitating from throwing their weight behind efforts to save potential victims of blasphemy laws, like Yousef Nadarkhani and Hamza Kashgari, simply because these two victims are not atheists?

The luxury, and heavy price, of obliviousness:
Indifference to some of these issues by persons who are otherwise vocal in their support for social causes, is prone to accusations of 'selective humanism' if one chooses to adopt that reproachful tone. Whether such reproach can be productive as a shaming device and whether at all there are any persons who can claim to be entirely free of both default and willful indifference, is questionable. Closer home, some reasons (besides reduced visibility and paucity of time) why petition ideas like this one initiated with much fervour do not elicit immediate responses, include : (i) the 'internal matter' argument (i.e. The Japanese are free to go to their temples and the Sri Lankans are free to host lit fests.) (ii) an empathy deficit of sorts simply because the readers don't immediately identify with the victims even if they think injustice is being done, much like atheists not immediately identifying with Pastor Nadarkhani.

What is easy to miss in Facebook soundbytes, is a sense of history. Hitler is supposed to have said when some of his henchmen hesitated initiating what would later become the Holocaust, "After all, who remembers the massacre of the Armenians?" Will similar questions be asked of us one day about Gujarat 2002, Sri Lanka 2009 and Balochistan now over the decades? A question which anyone viewing themselves a humanist advocate or activist can benefit from asking themselves often is: What events should be considered as part of the list of foremost humanitarian challenges of our times? An article titled something like "Outgrowing the luxury of obliviousness : Towards more engaged humanism", based on the readings and case-studies (and the caveats) suggested by the discussion so far, can perhaps start a useful conversation.

Humanist is as humanitarian does:
Here, there is a distinction which maybe necessary to make between the words humanist and humanitarian. This may at first seem an academic distinction, but it does have an implication in determining one's specialization of activism. When we think 'humanist' we think IHEU. When we think 'humanitarian' we think Amnesty International. 'Humanism' is about evolving a worldview and framing responses to ethical challenges of our times on which dilemmas persist and consensus seems elusive. 'Humanitarianism' is about concretely addressing manifest injustice in the world, about which there are no dilemmas or second thoughts on what is the right thing to do. The very phrases 'humanist ethos' and 'humanitarian crisis' serve to highlight the more executive, operational and urgent connotation of the word humanitarian in comparison to the seemingly more ideological, conceptual and framing connotation of the word humanist. They mutually underlie, reinforce and give utterance to each other. However, on a larger scale, humanitarian effort demands fund-raising and human resources of the sort nascent organizations like Nirmukta are yet to be equipped to mobilize. An endeavour like Nirmukta aiming at creating and awakening a more sensitive and engaged citizenry can at this point of time contribute best by providing a platform for what Prof. Amartya Sen calls 'public reasoning about morality' through available media, with the hope that eventually both our numbers and our convictions will be adequate for the onerous task of bringing about real political change.
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