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Do our Geo-political Confusions derive from our Philosophical Confusion?

Emanuel L. Paparella, Ph.D.

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] t is the task of pundits and political science experts to elucidate, explain and untie our geo-political conundrums and knots, so to speak. It has become a veritable academic cottage industry whose father arguably is none other than Niccolo’ Machiavelli. But to judge even by only what can be empirically observed, it seems that the greater the effort of elucidation, the greater the confusion. This is a puzzling paradox which is sure to keep academics of all stripes up at night and very busy for the foreseeable future.

I’d like to modestly propose that this strange paradox of geo-political confusion can perhaps best be explored by analyzing the underlying philosophical confusion, that is to say, a confusion at the level of ideas. For example, one of the most frequent, most brazen attacks on modern thought is the one carried on by assorted Straussian classicists and absolutists of many stripes and persuasions. Straussianism is a respectable conservative philosophy held by the Chicago University philosopher Leo Strauss, which attacks modern relativism, reductionism and positivism. It views “modernity” or modern philosophy as a sort of cancer on today’s body politics and resorts to the ancients for answers to modern political perplexities. As it could be expected it is vehemently opposed by the vast majority of liberal progressive philosophies in academia (indeed the predominant majority in academia) which at least attempt a synthesis between the ancients and the moderns even when the tensions between the two remain and the synthesis is not achieved.

The Straussians’ stratagem seems to function this way: show that modern and post-modern thought leads to relativism, then that relativism in turn leads to pluralism and multi-culturalism. Thereupon attack multiculturalism and pluralism as a cancer on the body politic and the very unity of NATO, the EU and Western Civilization in general, never mind that quite often these attacks are redolent of the xenophobia and rabid nationalism, even fascism of old. Now, if the reader initially finds all this rather confusing, it is because it is. Without an examination of the underlying philosophical confusions it will probably remain confused.

We have the famous case of some years ago of Strauss and Momigliano branding Isaiah Berlin a shameless relativist and stubbornly persisting in the charge even when Berlin defended himself and denied it in the New York Review of Books. In politics we have none other than the former PM of France Sarkozi and the present PM of Germany Merkel encouraging the demise of the multiculturalist experiment in the European Union. The two don’t exactly advocate a return to good old nationalism or fascism, they are far from being right-wingers, but the message come through loud and clear nonetheless: you need to conform and assimilate to European ethos and culture or your life will become quite uncomfortable in the EU. In effect, the issue of multiculturalism has been slowly transformed in one of clash of civilizations; a dangerous explosive issue if there ever was one.

Without going into the more complex political and social aspects of this issue, which I have discussed elsewhere, I’d like, more modestly, to show here that it is a logical and philosophical fallacy to equate pluralism with relativism; that in fact the arguments in that regard are a gross equivocation, a red herring meant to distract from the real agenda of those anti-multicultural right wing politicians (I am thinking here of Wilder, le Penn, Bossi and Grillo, etc. etc.) bend on bringing back good old nationalism, totalitarian regimes, fascism, even advocating secession from the countries in which they operate.

This exploration will focus mostly on the philosophy of hermeneutics of a current modern philosopher: Gianni Vattimo who was a European parliamentarian for a while and whom I had the good fortune of having as a teacher at Yale University in the late seventies in a course he taught there on Giambattista Vico. I distinctly remember some face to face conversations I had with Vattimo. It soon became apparent that he follows a philosophical line which goes directly from Vico to Nietzsche through Heidegger to Hans Georg Gadamar (as student of Heidegger like Strauss and an influential Vico scholar in his own right). In that genealogy Vattimo would be the philosophical great-grandson of Vico, the grandson of Nietzsche/Heidegger and the son of Gadamer. As was the case for his predecessors in the field of hermeneutics beginning with Vico, for Vattimo hermeneutics which etymologically means “interpretation” is much more than one branch of philosophy; it is the constitutive element of philosophy itself. It is well known in philosophical circles that hermeneutics acquired great importance in the 20th century, especially in the “turn to language” as advocated by Heidegger and pioneered by Vico in the 18th century via The New Science.

After this necessary preamble, we will begin with this crucial question: Is pluralism possible without relativism? Some clear definitions may be needed at the outset. What do we mean by pluralism? Essentially this: the idea that there are multiple avenues to truth, multiple forms of truth, and multiple diverse (and potentially radically different) cultural lifeworld expressions operative at the same time and this forms are historical as well as geographical situated in time and space. The Straussians of course debunk this as historicism unconcerned with universals, but then some of them become self-declared experts in Far Eastern cultures to better stand apart from the unwashed ignorant oi polloi. The whole operation begins to smell of elitism. They even go around speaking mandarin knowing full well that few can judge and assess their knowledge of the language. Oh my, are we confused.

What do we mean by relativism? Basically, the belief that all of these various expressions are in some sense “equally true” and/or the notion that even if there were one right final truth to the universe we humans would never be able to ascertain it. As Vico put it, man can only know with absolute certitude only what he himself has made (languages, institutions, history) and to whose origins he can return, not what God and only God has made: i.e., nature and the natural world. Even Plato, who is generally considered the grandfather of absolutists of all persuasions, after recounting the myth of the cave as an allegory of knowledge and truth, exclaims: “only God knows if this is true.”

Nevertheless those two views are conjoined so that relativism gets portrayed as a sub-set of pluralism. But is that really the case? Pluralism may indeed be hallmark of postmodernism but not so relativism. Pluralism does not necessarily need to hold that all views are equal, as relativism does. Relativism takes the existence of plurality and then makes a decision that we cannot know how to judge between these various expressions of life and says that they are all equal and not to be compared and not to be judged.

Paradoxically, the statement that all views are equal is an absolute position, and it undermines relativism. The statement that all views are relative and in relation to one another is, in fact, correct. The idea that all views are related to other views and that no view springs out of the ether of Mount Olympus or outside of time and space completely on its own does not mean all those views are equally valid. That is to say, post-postmodernism accepts the pluralism that is already there in the postmodern world and then seeks ways to integrate it. This approach is different than any attempt to reinforce a single narrative (i.e. the modern world as positivists tend to do) upon the various diverse forms of expression in existence.

Enter Gianni Vattimo. His work is built around what he calls “weak thought”. Weak thought refers to the station of thought and philosophy in the context of life after modernity–that is after the death of European colonialism, the 20th century’s horrors, the rise of globalization, and the end of the Cold War. The opinions, views, and commitments we hold must necessarily be “weakened” in this age which Vico would place in the third era of extreme rationality. Vattimo, as I remember is quite fond of quoting this famous saying of Nietzsche: There are no facts only interpretations and this itself is an interpretation.

Nietzsche called the coming dissolution of modernity (and he was a prophet in that respect), the “fabling of the world.” The postmodern world is a fable; or in Vattimo’s terms, weak thought, which is to say the kind of logic one sees in fables, myths and fairy tales, is now the “weak” reality of life. According to modern thought which begins with the Descartes and Enlightenment rationalism, life follows an objective system of progress and rationality. But for Nietzsche the modern world’s self-view was not fact but interpretation. Vattimo insists in keeping both halves of that Nietzschean aphorism in mind: 1. There are no facts only interpretations and 2. Number 1 is itself an interpretation. The first point undercuts the modern view of pure objectivity. The second point prevents the postmodern insight concerning interpretation to become its own “fact.”

Hermeneutics is nothing else but the study of meaning and interpretation. This was brought home to me in the Vico course I took under Vattimo at Yale University in the late seventies, as mentioned above. Later, after writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Vico I ended up writing a book titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of Giambattista Vico (Mellen Press, 1993). For Vattimo, what hermeneutics has revealed is a thoroughly pluralized world. He writes that we can no longer believe in a final objective all-encompassing absolute metaphysical view of the universe—that is to say, a universe that perfectly describes the way things actually are.

Lately I have been reviewing Heidegger’s thought which I had originally studied in college via a book with which a friend and colleague who is an expert on Heidegger has gifted me (The Cambridge Companion to Heidegger edited by Charles Guignon). What come through in that book is that Heidegger persuasively argued that the attempt by metaphysics to describe rationally all of life under a single heading (God, Being, Truth, etc.) has destroyed our ability to actually live in the world and that the manifestation of this trend in our day is science and the scientific approach (positivism). For Heidegger this tendency to describe, control, and frame existence under the term of metaphysics led to the “oblivion of Being” or the human inability to live graciously in the world. Instead of first living in the mystery of existence, we seek to control, describe, and explain life and end up dehumanizing ourselves. For Heidegger as indeed for the anti-Cartesian Vico earlier, the best way to relate is through a kind of poetic-like relationship to the world. We let it arise and speak to us in its mysterious language instead of trying to impose upon life our categories of thought, for Nature is a shy maiden and will not be violated and dominated and observed naked. The truth too may be a shy maiden not to be used as a weapon of sort. This is what Heidegger describes as the post-metaphysical world. This is redolent of Vico’s idea that rationality is composed of the rational but also, and just as importantly, of the poetical and to separate the two is to dehumanize oneself.

Vattimo too argues that this trajectory arises from the early foundations of Christianity, that Christianity eventually destroys an absolutist metaphysics. Atheism is another form of metaphysics for him. The post-metaphysical world, the post-modern world, the world that is an interpreted fable, is one in which there are a plurality of cultures, languages, and life-worlds enacted by various beings on the planet. No one of them can ever be final.

So the crucial question becomes: how do we deal with plurality without falling into the trap of relativism? Vattimo nowhere says that all views are equally valid and, like Berlin, he never declares himself a relativist. For Vattimo the ethical implications of “weak thought” is charity. Love is better than the rejection of love and therefore not all views are equal and we must love each other in our differences or perish.

It is not hard to see that for this version of a postmodern worldview which recommends the “weak power” of love as a guiding ethical construct of a plural world would find unacceptable any theory that denies or represses plurality denying charity and forgiveness. Some of these world views that Vattimo would find flawed include religious fundamentalism, scientific materialism, and last but not least cultural relativism. Vattimo is concerned with bringing views, languages, and peoples at the periphery into the middle of the discourse. Vattimo in effect has given an answer to the Straussian classical absolutists’ debunking modern thought. Pluralism can hold on to ethical values that have meaning, practice love and forgiveness across cultural differences, reject violence, intolerance and relativism. Paradoxically, “weak power” unsure of itself overpowers intransigent absolutism sure of itself.

What did Shakespeare say: Maturity is all. I suppose part of maturity at every level is the ability to live with ambiguity. The greater one’s ability to live with ambiguity, the more mature one is. Most absolutists seem to be unable to accomplish such a feat; they need absolute certainty and are too clever and elitists by half for their own good. Vattimo’s weak thought on the other hand, as a form of pluralism seems to be quite mature, the way cultural relativism can never be. Cultural relativism recoils from the ambiguity of pluralism, of post-metaphysics and historicism taking refuge in the easy position of everything being equally right and so no view can ever be judged.

Indeed one can do worse than becoming a pluralist and a multiculturalist; one can become a relativist or an absolutist. I don’t pretend that the above has suddenly made the present confusion in our geo-politics and philosophical ideas suddenly clear and certain, but perhaps it can supply to thread to follow that may hopefully get us out of the confusing labyrinth in which we seem to be stuck in.

Professor Paparella has earned a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism, with a dissertation on the philosopher of history Giambattista Vico, from Yale University. He is a scholar interested in current relevant philosophical, political and cultural issues; the author of numerous essays and books on the EU cultural identity among which A New Europe in search of its Soul, and Europa: An Idea and a Journey. Presently he teaches philosophy and humanities at Barry University, Miami, Florida. He is a prolific writer and has written hundreds of essays for both traditional academic and on-line magazines among which Metanexus and Ovi. One of his current works in progress is a book dealing with the issue of cultural identity within the phenomenon of “the neo-immigrant” exhibited by an international global economy strong on positivism and utilitarianism and weak on humanism and ideals.

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World history From Alfa to Omega Or The human tragedy

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The Beginning

While reading the Bible the first thing that strikes the eye is a holistic image of a human being. At first, according to the Book of Genesis, God created man on the last day of the creation in his own image and likeness and let them have domination on an entire world. But although outwardly a human being has divine qualities their nature and essence is not ideal. Moreover at the end of each day of creation it is said: “God saw that it was good” but the same conclusion was not made at the end of the sixth day. Probably God was in doubt. God created man endowed with reason and free will and is immediately convinced that his created being is imperfect hence the man and the woman does not obey the will of God and sinned. And in order to put a man to the true path Adam and Eve were punished and were sent forth from the Garden of Eden. And God told the first woman “great will be your pain in childbirth, still your desire will be for your husband, but he will be your master”. These means that from the beginning God created man and woman equal and the consequence of the first sin became ruling.

In turn God said to Adam: “the Earth is cursed on your account; in pain you will get your food from it at all your life”.

Secondly, Cain killed his brother Abel.  And the Lord said to Cain: “you are cursed from the earth. No longer will the earth give you her fruit as the reward of your work, you will be a wanderer in flight over the earth”.

And later when humanity has multiplied the Lord saw that the sin of men was great on the earth, and that all the thoughts of their heart were evil and the Lord had sorrow because he had made men on the earth, and grief was in his heart”. And the Lord said to himself: “I will take away creatures, whom I have made from the face of the earth, even man and beast  and that which goes on the earth and every bird of the air for I have sorrow for having made them”.

Thirdly, God made up his mind due to and granted people one more chance again. The Lord said to Noah: “The end of flesh has come; the earth is full of their violent doings”.  The destruction came on every living thing moving on the Earth, birds and cattle and beasts and everything which went on the earth and every man”. Only Noah and those who were with him in the ark were kept from death.  And when the waters were away the “Lord said in his heart: “I will not again put curse on the earth because of men for the thoughts of men’s heart are evil from their earliest days; never again will I send destruction on all living things as I have done”.

The fourth, God said that the men of Sodom and Gomorrah were evil and sinned a lot. Thus he decided to destroy these cities and told Abraham about it. When Abram said to God “Will you let destruction come on the righteous with the sinners?”  And the Lord said that if by chance there are even ten righteous men within the cities, he will have mercy on the towns for their sakes.

In the book of John it is written, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.  I won’t dare to talk about the Word, but I can briefly touch upon some of its manifestations – the speech and the especially significant part of the speech—the “word”: It can be stated that words are condensations of human mind, with the help of which meaningful speech is formed. In other words, things and phenomena – utterly everything is expressed through words. Every time when we narrate or write a word, a thing or phenomena emerges within us. That is why it is said that every word is a whole word. By the way, the possibility to create words is God’s gift to humans. “And out of the ground the Lord formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them; and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof”. Combining the words we express a complete thought, and combining separate thoughts we get, for example, a story. To write the World history many ideas formed from different words are needed that can become a thick book or a multi-volume work. But if this is the only way of writing history. The reader may himself connect, combine words, make them vivid, as much as he is familiar with words.

Reader create yourself, you are able to do more than I did.

And Here’s the Whole Story

Sinning, fratricide, genocide, theft, robbery, greed, deceit, crime, treachery, betrayal, selfishness, philandering, homosexuality, child abuse, harlotry, drug abuse, ebriosity, self-seeking, violence, authority, ambition, avarice, greediness, vanity, ostentation, adulation, servility, self exaltation, materialism, bribery, racketeering, corruption, dictatorship, tyranny, slavery, peonage, avidity, murder, state, World War, oligarchy, banditry, terrorism, the mafia

The End

After reading these words, new words are coined within us and the list of them gradually increases and everyone of it visualizes a human vice which gives birth to a vile deeds and acts. As these deeds and acts are vast, the words visualizing them are vast. But the question is not limited to the words. The words are gathered, combined and linked, and turn into ideas, thoughts, images and then outgrow into a story.

The story lines up human villainous blemishes and inhuman deeds.  At first there was a sinful person. Probably he was lazy, nefarious one who had stolen the food from his brother or neighbor at the dawn of the story. Then appeared the other, relying on his strength, seized others food. Thus loot rises which becomes the lifestyle of others. Human story is a story of deeds of human faults. On the core of the blemish lies the biggest sin – delusion to enjoy the life at any rate, to serve everything to satisfy this delusion. Not to work as much as possible, to eat delicious foods and drink, to have sex, to keep servants, to achieve power at any cost, at least over a child, over people, over a state, over the world, over the nature to be able to give orders, as Nazar the Brave  said “Now stand there, punks!”.

A state is created that should become their defender, to ensure their safety. But, instead, the state becomes a tool in the hands of the authorities for advanced and vast stealing. It is just to the point to remember the story of Alexander the Great. A pirate was brought to him for punishment. Alexander asked him: “Are you a pirate? Do you rob people?”. The latter replied: “Yes, My Lord, I rob people with my little boat to meet the needs of my family and I am called a pirate. But if an entire nation is robbed with thousands of ships and people they are called a Great Leader or a Great Ruler”.

A new era of war between states begins and is going on up to present. What is war if not a legalized robbery and a legalized murder? Wars have never ended with victory, because the victorious state had been defeated in the next war, and on the other hand, the both sides – the victorious and the defeated states – had only victims, one more, the other less. The theft was dilapidated in a short time. Thus the result of wars has always been blood and destruction, the human suffering. Has the Europeans realized that they had destroyed the creation of God when conquering America? Has the Turk realized that he has not only destroyed chapels built by others but he has stopped the building of the new ones. Of course not. And the victorious war is presented as a heroism, protection of Motherland, the nation safety, the base for a brilliant future, a pompous words are woven to glorify the victims, slogans “no one is forgotten nothing is forgotten”, unknown soldiers are praised, monuments are build, even Medal of Honors are rewarded posthumous. It is apparent, that all this is directed to the alive that are prepared for the next wars. But the reality is that the rulers has nourished their ambition and urge for power, provide their entertainment and pleasure, enjoying life in their own way. The losers had partially revoked from their amusement and pleasure, filled with revenge and got ready for the next war.

By the way as to the revenge; in ancient times blood revenge was very common when in case of a murder, the relative of the victim,  to uphold the honor of his family, was obliged to kill either the murderer or his close relative. The latter should treat likewise and thus endlessly. In the course the civilization of the society, realizing the dangerous effects of this phenomenon, the state assumes the responsibility to punish the murderer and gradually the blood revenge is being forced out from the civilized societies. But the States moved this phenomenon of revenge to international relations.

It is not arbitrary that great tragedians Aeschylus , Sophocles , Euripides , Shakespeare  and other geniuses see the tragedy of a person as well as of a society in human poor-spirited blemishes. Dante , describing the hell in his “Divine Comedy”, had probably suffered a lot finding appropriate punishment for each vice and placing human soles in a hell and had to describe the hell as giant abyss which is divided into several circles of suffering. Balzac in his “Human Tragedy” has not suffered less describing the human vice. Pavstos Buzand  uses such words as hatred, jaundice, malice, rancor, villainy, conspiracy and so on in describing the human ghastly taints and deeds. More horrifying is the description of Movses Khorenatsi  – ignorance, whoredom, stupidity, self-conceit, gold lover, insincere, vainglorious, vanity, rigmarole, indolence, arrogance, peroration, ebriosity, swank, authorities steeling with thieves, grafter, stingy and greedy, abductor and so on. Movses Khorenatsi the cause of the tragic situation of Armenia of his times considered the inhumane vice and deeds of humans. Hardly a nation is found that does not agree with Movses Khorenatsi’s “Lament”. But if Movses Khorenatsi is mourning the Armenian condition, Grigor Narekatsi  in the poem “Book of Lamentations” is mourning for the world generally, for human condition laden with sins. He is sure that if we put human vices on one of the pan of the scale and on the other – the Mount Ararat, the mountain will be lighter. As to enumerating the words describing the human blemish used by Narekatsi, means to do Sisyphean work. Since the world has currently become a big market and everything has become a matter of trade, and consumer philosophy prevails; when every single day the advertisements tell us what we do need, and the criteria of human, social and spiritual values is money, the inhumane vices and deeds of a man has become more vivid and advancing.

The story has not changed because the man himself has not changed but has accumulated and multiplied his blemishes and vices in the course of time. The man keeps on finding the causes of his inhumane blemishes outside of himself, blames the devil, but there is no devil, we are the devils, it is inside of us, it is our freedom of choice of free will given to us by God, which is generally wicked. The man keeps on justifying even the largest sin with the divine power of reason not only before the others but also before his own conscience, tries to justify his the most villainous deed before others. It is more vividly described in the Bible, when after committing the first sin the God asked Adam why he ate that apple, he answered: “This woman, whom you gave to be with me, she gave me the fruit of the tree and I took it”.  So Adam first blamed the God then Eve but not himself. When the God gave the same question to Eve, she replied, “I was tricked by the deceit of the snake and I took it”.  As we see Eve was more humble, she blamed only the wisest snake. It is noteworthy that there is no devil in this case. It is not accidentally said that a good deed has thousands of parents, and the evil is an orphan. Everyone is to be blamed but the sinner himself.

When you learn the modern scientific understanding of the Universe, you see a great explosion, millions of temperatures, collision of stars, collapse, black hollow which absorbs everything, and suddenly you imagine a trivial, lost corner of the Universe, where reason was shaped, birds are singing, the river is flowing, the trees cast a shadow and in this boundless divine surroundings people instead of enjoying the life, they struggle with each other and do everything to destroy the life on our Earth.

A question rises. Where are the human generous impulses and inclinations that we see around us? Have they vanished? Of course not. They do exist and proceed with the existence. Let`s talk about the self-sacrifice; for instance, heroes of the war are ready to give their lives for the sake of their battle friend, for their Motherland sacrificing themselves and the future of their children. But such generous, eminent and stately actions get lost, dissolved in the horrors of war, whether the war is won or not. The Don Quixotes exist nowadays and probably thanks to them that the world has not been finally and totally destroyed.

And at last a prominent question; all the children are wonderful, where do the villains appear from? Let us find the answer to this question.

When I decided to give an ostentatious title to this little essay and wrote it on computer, a black square appeared, and it seemed to me that I am starting to understand the meaning of the K. Malevich “Black Square”. It is known from physics that the absolute black body absorbs all the energy. The same happens in the course of human history when human vices and repulsive actions absorb the positive actions and lofty intentions, and the spirit plunges into the darkness. This process is very similar to the astrophysical “black hole” which devours all the material in the sphere of its influence, and as much it devours, there’s nothing that can get out of it, even a small spark of light.

Human history, too, absorbs everything humane and is apparently like a “black hole” but from which, unlike the black one, blood is poured out of it

We all have to look way out of that predicament. We may burn a lamp of hope and try to stay a man, much better Human.

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Elpidophoros sees his future in GOA. Or not?

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Archbishop Demetrios’ possible retirement has been discussed more and more often, and not only in the media but also in Orthodox forums and blogs, which highlights the importance of this event and the difficulties the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America will soon face. However, the accents drastically differ from those in official statements and open letters.

The GOA issues are much more complicated as Demetrios is not the root cause of the crisis. The point is that even after at the moment of its birth the Archdiocese wasn’t independent enough, and now it’s even less so. Each of its Dioceses is subject to Constantinople, each of its bishops is controlled directly – so nothing really depends on the Archbishop in these circumstances. In spite of this, the GOA Primate’s retirement is inevitable.

In this situation many see Bursa Metropolitan Elpidophoros Lambriniadis as Demetrios’ successor, though opinions vary. His supporters say that his appointment is a chance to increase the GOA’s self-sufficiency and make it more modern and open. Opponents consider this Constantinople’s trick to impose dictatorship and dispel all hopes for independence in the guise of liberalism and an effective crisis manager. There are even those who believe Elpidophoros will become an American Patriarch…

It’s hard to say if these conjectures are based on reliable information. Either can’t we say with certainty that Elpidophoros is involved in disseminating these gossips, but they obviously play into his hands. Metropolitan of Bursa is not only an ambitious person but also a pragmatic one, and his program is not of that great significance in this context. By the way, he may become the one to bring the LGBTQ issues to the GOARCH agenda. Recently, along with some largest benefactors to the GOA, even Metropolitan Kallistos Ware of Diokleia has paid notice to them in his essay for the Wheel.

However, for such an ambitious person as Elpodophoros, the American Archdiocese is unlikely a primary career interest. The Metropolitan likely sees the GOA as a platform to return to the Patriarchal elections in Turkey. Although this fact fills the Archdiocese’s members with indignation, but today the GOA is just an interim stage in a race for the Patriarch See in Istanbul, on the outskirts of Europe. It will be so until the Archdiocese’s benefactors and hierarchs become concerned not with the figure of Demetrios but with internal reforms and the revision of relations with Constantinople. Or – until the See indeed moves to the US. Up to this moment anyone can promise to the GOA laity anything in blogs and on the sidelines – this is a free country.

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Rohingya Crisis Needs World’s Support

MD Staff

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Rohingya women with kids are walking to the camp with relief food at Camp Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. © Tanvir Murad Topu/World Bank

World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim and United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres came to Bangladesh to see firsthand the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

Before they left, they urged the world not to turn a blind eye to the plight of Rohingya refugees fleeing their homes in neighboring Myanmar.

Over 700,000 Rohingya have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar in southeastern Bangladesh since August 2017. Many now fear that their shanty homes – made of bamboos and plastic sheets, perched on deforested hills – could crumble under the heavy rains of the monsoon season.

But the flow of refugees has not stopped. As Kim and Guterres visited Cox’s Bazar under gray skies, more people arrived with stories of hardship and brutality.

“I have worked in some of the poorest countries in the world, but the experience here has been deeply troubling,” Kim said. “I have been deeply moved by the courage and the dignity of the Rohingya people, and appalled by their stories of what they had to endure: rape, torture, killing, burning of homes. As the UN Secretary-General said, the Rohingya are one of the most discriminated against and vulnerable communities on Earth. ”

The Government of Bangladesh has done the world a great service by keeping its borders open and supporting the refugees, Kim said. But the responsibility should not be Bangladesh’s alone.

The number of refugees in Cox’s Bazar— one of the poorest districts in Bangladesh—is now more than twice that of the local population.

Despite its own challenges, Bangladesh has been drawing from its own resources to respond to the crisis. Among other measures, the country has allocated 5,000 acres of land for temporary shelters, provided food relief, deployed mobile medical teams, and carried out large-scale immunization campaigns.  Bangladesh has built 13 access roads to the temporary and registered camps and established water points and sanitation facilities.

With the monsoon rains continuing, the government has relocated 30,000 people to safer ground while preparing to move other vulnerable people, with support from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations

As the needs continue to grow, the World Bank Group announced last week up to $480 million in grant-based support to Bangladesh for health, education, sanitation, disaster preparedness, and other services for the refugees until they can return home safely, voluntarily, and with dignity. This financing will also help build the country’s capacity to deal with the crisis. The World Bank’s ongoing programs also will support the people in Cox’s Bazar.

But the UN Secretary-General said more funds are urgently needed as a key $950 million humanitarian aid plan is just over a quarter funded.

Prior to visiting Cox’s Bazar, Kim and Guterres met with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to express their gratitude to the people and government of Bangladesh.

“The government’s relief effort, along with those of domestic and international relief agencies, has saved thousands of lives,” Kim said. “We look forward to continuing to work with the government to create and maintain dignifying living conditions for the Rohingya people. We’ve come to an agreement that we will build some more permanent structures and provide more services—the kinds of basic things that everyone needs, such as health care and education.”

Kim explained that support for the Rohingya is one of several areas where the Bank Group is working closely with Bangladesh.

“With respect to the government of Bangladesh, we believe so strongly in the direction they are going – for issues quite separate from the Rohingya – that we provided over $3 billion of low interest, long maturity loans this year for Bangladesh’s development priorities,” Kim said.

He added that this is the highest level of financing the World Bank has ever provided to Bangladesh from the International Development Association—the Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. IFC, the World Bank Group’s private sector arm, also committed more than $420 million [AC1] [DLB2] of financing to private companies in Bangladesh this year.

“We consider Bangladesh an important partner in reducing global poverty, and we’re committed to helping Bangladesh achieve its aspiration of becoming an upper-middle income country,” Kim said.

The joint World Bank-UN visit to the refugee camp signals a closer working relationship with the United Nations to address fragility, conflict, violence, and forced displacement—situations that can last a decade or more, requiring more resources than humanitarian aid alone can provide.

Kim, Guterres, and Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, all described the current level of cooperation between the World Bank and UN agencies as unprecedented.

“We have been working very closely with our UN partners to bring humanitarian response and development together,” Kim said. “The refugee situation around the world is everybody’s problem. It’s not just a problem for host countries, or just a problem for the refugees—this is everybody’s problem. What I saw today was heart-breaking and appalling. On the other hand, I was deeply inspired by the courage and dignity of the people who were kind enough to speak with us.”

“The work is not done; it’s just getting started,” Kim concluded. “At the World Bank Group, we are committed to doing more to make sure that the Rohingya, and all of us, can see justice. We are all Rohingyas.”

World Bank

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