Sunday, September 11, 2011

Unintended Consequences

Oh, the irony, the title of my last post, the day before the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001, being "Hard" ... as if I know what "hard' really is.

Kind of puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

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I've had a deep respect for Craig Kielburger for quite a few years ... ever since I first heard about his passion and his accomplishments back when I was a member of Results. For those that aren't familiar with Craig's work activism (and I see that apparently at some point along the way he has also been joined by his brother), I would strongly recommend that you read this. And this. And this.

Yeah, I told you I was a bit of a fan, right?

What can I say, but that my own children would turn out so well ...

At any rate, my eye tends to pick out news stories where Craig's name is mentioned. Which is exactly what happened this morning, when I read this story in amongst all the other 9/11 stories in today's newspaper.

A story in which Craig writes about his personal experiences on Sept 11, 2001 and the aftershocks that he feels ten years later in a sprawling refugee camp on the Somalia-Kenya border.

You see, within two weeks of that fateful day in 2001, President Bush signed an executive order making it illegal to provide "material benefit" to terrorists - including humanitarian aid.

To say that seems logical, makes sense, would be an understatement.  But, as I constantly find myself preaching to my children, "actions have consequences".  Sometimes very unintended consequences.

And so it is that relief workers in Dadaab ten years later are experiencing a great deal of difficulty when they try to feed the starving.
Innocent Somalis are dying, including 29,000 children. But U.S. anti-terrorism laws had prevented some U.S. charities from working in Somalia, and now many - despite recent policy changes - are wary of accepting U.S. aid money for fear of inadvertently funding terrorism. Aid could fall into the hands of Al-Shabaab, a group of Islamic militants with links to al-Qaeda, and that charity might be considered an accomplice to terrorism by the U.S. government.
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While in Dadaab, relief workers voiced the difficulties they encounter and the extreme caution with which they try to feed the starving. They also talked of how Al-Shabaab's link to al-Qaeda is likely one of the factors that have stopped people from donating to the dying Somalis.
Although exceptions have been made to the law for groups acting "in good faith," confusion about the policy still reigns among U.S.-funded charities fearful of accidentally funding terrorists.

And, quite rightly, both journalists and donors question whether the food and money is going to "alQaeda-backed Al-Shabaab." A valid concern, it presents a moral quandary for donors and a challenging situation for organizations trying to save innocent starving civilians.

And yet it's not just the stark reality that the events of September 11, 2001, have resulted in the world not responding to a humanitarian crisis in Somalia ten years later as it has to other such crisis, such as the Haitian earthquake (despite similar concerns there like corruption and disrupted supplies) that grabbed my attention. 

What really grabbed me was the parallel drawn between the reaction of New Yorkers who gathered together in candle light vigils ten years ago tonight (a reaction not that dissimilar to that not just of other Americans but of many, many people around the world) and wondered what would happen to their loved ones, their city, their country; who were really asking the question "Are we going to be OK?" and the situation in the refugee camps today.

In Craig's words:
I thought about that vigil when I was in Dadaab. The camps aren't equipped with electricity, so candles illuminate rows and rows of tents and makeshift shelters. At night, the refugees gather in the flickering light to ask about their loved ones, and their country, as well as that very question I heard in New York. "Are we going to be OK?"
Perhaps part of the reason this article struck me so was because it resonated so well with my own feelings expressed on a previous 9/11 anniversary a few years ago.
It's truly sad that so many of us have lost that sense of compassion and empathy, of being united in a common cause. Or experience. Or perhaps it's some other word that I cannot quite touch at the moment. But I know it was there. Just as surely as I know we have lost it in the intervening years. And that, I think, is another tragedy born out of that day.

So, no, I will never forget September 11. 2001. I will never forget the horror of it all. I will never forget those many who lost their lives that day or the families and friends they left behind. I will never forget that there is true evil in the world and that I saw it in action, with my own eyes, that day.

But neither will I ever forget what it felt like to see so many united in our humanity. Or what it feels like to lose that.
Or, in the words of the Kielburger brothers:
It saddens me to think that a "with us or against us" mentality might have overshadowed our compassion. In the week following 9/11, I watched shell shock and terror dissolve into an incredible outpouring of kindness.
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It's an unfortunate irony; a terrorist act on 9/11 brought forth such kindness in people, and when compassion is called for again, a fear of terrorism has limited our ability to help those who need it most. There are no easy answers on how to bring aid to those in the snare of Al-Shabaab, but we have to continue to find a way to help compassion triumph over fear.

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