World and Nation in Humanitarian Writing
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In spite of the imperialist spectre that continues to haunt the environment of cosmopolitanism, the desire to locate a “genuine” strand of human interconnection beyond neo-liberal defenses of globalization and official multiculturalism persists. In this paper, I explore whether humanitarianism can be seen as one such strand of cosmopolitanism. To what extent does humanitarianism provide an “edge” that marks the transcendence of the divisions of borders, cultures, and conceptions of difference? To what extent does humanitarianism provide a model for inclusivity and the respect for diversity that cosmopolitanism, as well as this year’s Congress, seeks to promote? Since the end of the Cold War, the number and diversity of humanitarian organizations have proliferated at the same time that the humanitarian ideal has come into question. Joseph Slaughter traces the origins of humanitarianism to Henri Dunant’s narrative of his experience of the Battle of Solferino in Un Souvenir de Solferino (1862). Dunant is widely seen to have been the inspiration for both the International Committee for the Red Cross and the first Geneva Conventions. I seek to examine contemporary narratives of humanitarianism in relation to the ideal of “indifference” (to the religion, citizenship, race of the sufferer) that Slaughter argues Un Souvenir de Solferino represents; the humanitarian tradition posits neutrality, impartiality and universal humanity as its ideals. These narratives include the following: Romeo Dallaire’s They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children (2010); James Orbinski’s An Imperfect Offering (2008); Samantha Nutt’s Damned Nations (2012); and Scott Morgenson’s Three Cups of Tea (2007). This paper is part of a panel that will be organized in a way to garner extensive audience involvement and to model critical dialogue. Each presenter will put forward a specific argument in relation to the focus questions for the panel in 10-15 minutes each. Following these brief position papers, they will engage in a discussion of approximately 15-20 minutes in which they critically engage with one another’s arguments. Then, they will open the discussion to the audience fostering a discussion of the material rather than a traditional question and answer format.