Below The Tip Of The Oxfam Iceberg: The Authentic Charitable Gesture


oxfam scandal

At the turn of the new millennium, a new phenomenon has emerged: conservatives who just decades before had rejected the expanding human rights culture began to embrace human rights in order to advance their own political goals. This book accounts for how human rights—generally conceived as a counterhegemonic instrument for righting historical injustices—are being deployed to subjugate the weak and legitimize domination.

Using Israel/Palestine as its main case study, The Right to Dominate (an eye-opening, penetrating exploration by Nicola Perugini and Neve Gordon) describes the establishment of settler NGOs that appropriate human rights to dispossess indigenous Palestinians and military think tanks that rationalize lethal violence by invoking rights discourse. It is not only nationalists and security agencies that deploy human rights in this way, however. The book outlines the increasing convergences between liberal human rights NGOs, militaries, settler organizations, and extreme right nationalists, showing how radically different political actors champion the dissemination of human rights while mirroring each other’s political strategies.

Indeed, Perugini and Gordon demonstrate the multifaceted role this discourse is currently playing in the international arena: on the one hand, human rights have become the lingua franca of global moral speak, while on the other they have become a tool for enhancing domination. I couldn’t recommend a book more highly than this work.

The dynamics described in The Right to Dominate are deplorable, and they serve as the foundation for the ugly scenario that’s unfolded recently in the quarters of Oxfam… in Haiti… in the UK… and elsewhere. The immoral and unethical have blended easily in the context of immeasurable disrespect for human life, which is proliferating at a pace worldwide .

Below the tip of the Oxfam iceberg is not only the business of “the business” of other charities — known and not known to date — but the fact that the immiseration of millions requiring charities to help them to survive is a function of imperialist type of thinking and deadly actions, repeatedly addressed ad nauseum through our alternative media outlets.

We need to acknowledge our complicity, what we contribute to the ongoing abominations in charity circles, in the realm of charring bodies of innocents and jarring lives out of innocence with ordinance, ordinary people fouled to living death and forgotten… with a paycheck to the Red Cross, Red Crescent, Save the Children or some other NGO. Oh, the power of paying for our lifestyle at a distance! “You take care of the residue.”

The undermining of good will with the Oxfam revelations, the way in which nihilism has been further nurtured with this scandal is not talked about nearly enough, if at all in most circles. We circle around the guilty, cherry picking whose face, if any, will appear in the Column of Guilt… which seems not to exist. The victims wilt, while the criminals’ profiles are not blasted all over the media… as would be the case if some single Haitian had hacked a white citizen of Hackney to death with a cleaver. We must cleave to the notion that the spotlight has to shine on all wrongdoers across the spectrum, remorse must be called for, and forgiveness following that.

Whatever the material basis for our individual existences, we must never exploit it cynically or basely. If we yield on occasion, as we all do, to our weaknesses, we need to be aware when we are unworthy of our ideals. We must have ideals in the first place!

The race today is between two factions, the nihilists and the idealists. There are 101 variations on the former, but only one version of the latter. And in that category one never allows her or his conscience to become dulled or blunted.

Permit me to encourage everyone to have a discussion about that. That topic which is routinely avoided as activists prepare to go on their next scheduled march, circulate a necessary petition… or raise funds for a charity.

Charity begins at home. Meaning in this case, we must give ourselves a chance to see ourselves.

About a hundred years ago, Ranier Maria Rilke wrote,

“You must change your life.”

I submit that the “discussion” I’m advocating begin with everyone sitting in a circle volunteering exactly how they intend to make that charitable gesture.

Marcel Duchamp Oxman can be reached at [email protected]. The author highly recommends reading the talk given by Mark Doty which is accessible via the link to Rilke’s poem above.

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