Relief in a Time of Crisis
An introduction to Issue 19
Naomi Klein, in a recent issue of The Nation, describes "the rise of a predatory form of disaster capitalism that uses the desperation and fear created by catastrophe to engage in radical social and economic engineering." The crisis resulting from the earthquake and tsunami in southeast Asia is a stunning illustration of the mushrooming of disaster capitalism. The tsunami was devastating, killing as many as 300,000 people. However, the human tragedies of this crisis did not alone capture the attention of the international aid community. Rather, the opportunities for financial gain that this crisis has opened up for corporations and governments, such as expanding tourist-oriented resorts and cash-cropping fish, have been much more compelling for expanding the flow of aid. Yet, many of those same corporations and governments have seen seen genocides go unaddressed, epidemics ignored, and many a drought overlooked simply because confronting these crises offered little advantage for capitalist interests.
The damage wrought by the tsunami on so many island countries reveals the detrimental impact of development on the environment through the degradation of mangrove forests, reefs and other natural protectors. In the interest of economic growth many of these devastated environments will be subject to even further degradation in their current vulnerable state.
In this issue of SAMAR, we offer a forum of articles that address the ways in which disaster capitalism is already an imposing force in tsunami-affected areas. While the human and environmental consequences of this disaster have been able to mobilize humanitarian relief in an unprecedented way, the political context has been less visible; in this forum we hope to explore some of the institutional manipulations of relief in a time of crisis.
The forum opens with an article about the aborginal communities in the Andaman Islands. Madhusree Mukerjee shows us that the dangers from natural phenomena are exceeded by the wasteful and environmentally unsound development practices of humans. Nimmi Gowrinathan explores the immediate impact of post-tsunami disaster relief in Sri Lanka where the burden of history and political violence will inevitably compound the crisis, creating new vulnerabilities for children in particular. In The Tsunami of Aid, Sriram Ananthanarayanan and Shalini Nataraj analyze the World Bank's "Damage and Needs Assessment Reports for India and Sri Lanka" revealing the extent to which governments, corporations and multilateral lending agencies are collaborating to engineer forms of development which will further disenfranchise communities in the wake of the tsunami.
On the U.S. front, we have seen the ways tragedy and crisis can be co-opted into right-wing and anti-immigrant agendas. The events of September 11th, 2001 continue to plague our communities and destroy families. The Department of Motor Vehicles are asking to see immigration status documentation papers, and BICE (Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement)—a descendent of the INS—continues to engage in mass deportations, while the U.S. government continually exploits the memory of the World Trade Center attacks to demonize other immigrant communities. Ali Mir, in Good Mutants, Bad Mutants shows how the politics of representation are creating versions of the good immigrant and the one we should fear—leading to, on the most immediate level, the detention of two high school girls.
The politics of representation and the right to the freedom of expression, are a continual battle. On the one hand, we struggle against appropriations of our stories and our struggles by white saviors and those that "know better." Svati Shah, in Born into Saving Brothel Children, condemns the same old story of brothels that dismisses the activism and struggles of sex worker in favor of the usual portrayal of a depraved community that hurts its children. On the other hand, when we attempt to complicate and tell our own stories, creating internal battles within our communities, what is the role of government and blasphemy laws? Anjali Wason reviews Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti's play, Bhezti, which caused an uproar for portraying a rape and homosexuality in the context of a Sikh gurdwara, that has the British Parliament amending their blasphemy laws to move against the freedom of expression. But we continue to speak up. Purvi Patel, in her poem "This Special Occasion" uncovers the misogyny and classism at a desi gathering.
Amidst all these challenges, there are victories to recognize along the way. Raza Mir in And Medicine for All discusses why we should consider the newly amended Indian Patents Amendment Bill a victory in the context of the decade-long struggle to keep patent laws off the books. Fariba Alam's photoessay exhibits the strength of the women who survived acid attacks in Bangladesh and their efforts to put an end to the violence.
Dear readers of SAMAR, as you may have noted, there are far fewer articles this time than there were in past issues. As we've continued our shift, from print to web, we've realized that we need to move from releasing just two issues per year, to releasing issues more often. In order to give you more SAMAR more often, we will be publishing a select few articles every other month. You'll be seeing more of us, in fact, in June, 2005.
As always, there's a space for you to engage with our writers, with us—contribute your thoughts on the bulletin board, submit your essays, poetry, fiction, reviews, photos, artwork and so on. And we look forward to bringing you another selection of writings in a few weeks.