A comment on NGOs [Archives:2004/771/Opinion]

September 9 2004

By Frederic Diependaele
[email protected]
For the Yemen Times

With great respect I read the editorial column in issue 760 dealing with NGO's. It feels good to know that the work done by NGO's is respected! I write this because I work (indirectly) for several NGO's and therefore I know what they do. I also know that the remarks on the column made by Mr. Abdulhaqq Abdullah are worth mentioning. It is indeed intolerable when Western NGO's impose their opinions, and their cultural values on other cultures. And I believe many NGO's do that. But I hope that Mr. Abdullah realizes that more and more NGO's are aware of that. Take for example Oxfam-Solidarity. It is a western NGO, but they have some very important values, namely: they only work with local partners in a non-paternalistic way. One of their projects is situated in Palestine. What they do is to attract local people (Palestinians) to rebuild their demolished houses and give them a salary in order to start up a new life. So, what's wrong with that? And Amnesty International: what's wrong with reporting torture practice? I can understand that some people will say that human rights are 'something from the West' but I truly believe that human rights are a universal matter. Yes, Amnesty International has its origins in the West, but its respect for human life is a shared value in Islam. Mr. Abdullah says that NGO's promote a solution deriving from secular capitalism for problems like child labor, human rights, press rights, … So tell me alternative solutions?
Again, I understand the critique that NGO's are just a modern variant of colonialism. In many cases that's true. But one is really exaggerating to say that all NGO's are promoting a culture and a way of life that is mutually exclusive to Islam. This is a slap in the face of all people who are volunteering in an NGO just to make the world a better, safer and happier place (so what's the link between volunteering and capitalism?)
One of the items is indeed social reform, and yes, indeed, this concerns women issues. Well, when Mr. Abdullah says that this means encouraging promiscuity and tolerance of the immoral, I laugh and at the same time I can't believe that anyone actually believes this… How naive can one be? Between the lines I read some prejudices towards the Western world. By doing this he is making the same mistake as some westerners (true, some NGO's) who have also some totally incorrect prejudices towards Islam and the Arab world. Stop the prejudices! Otherwise we are followers of the 'Clash of Civilizations'-theory of Samuel Huntington. Or in other words of the New World Order principles of the Bush administration.
I'm obliged to thank the Yemen Times for it's efforts to make Yemen a modern, civilized Arab country, with respect for human rights, respect for the work of NGO's and respect for its Islamic identity.