The Matter of Belonging

a picture of the Grand Canyon. It is a UNESCO site
Grand Canyon. Source: Alan Eng, Creative Commons

The United States formally withdrew from UNESCO last Thursday, followed shortly by Israel. The decision, called “a brave and moral decision” by Binyamin Netanyahu, hinders on what the Trump administration labels “anti-Israel bias”, a claim that seemingly stems from the recent designation of Hebron as a World Heritage Site. This is not the first time the US has withdrawn support from the organization. During the Reagan administration, the withdrawal occurred over “mismanagement and political implications”; the US rejoined in 2003 under Bush, but commenced withdrawing financial dues under Obama in 2011 when the organization included Palestine as a member. The Israel and US alliance began during the Truman presidency, around 1948. The purpose of this blog is not to delve into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict debate but to elucidate the power of collaborative relationship as an aspect of peace at the global level.

The purpose of UNESCO is to contribute to international peace and security through the cross-cultural collaboration of education, science, and culture, in accordance with the UN Chapter. The Constitution was signed into agreement in 1945, and came into force after twenty countries ratified it in 1946. UNESCO’s mandate lies in the removal of ignorance, mistrust, and suspicion from the minds of humanity, given that “wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed.” War, they assert, is propagated through ignorance, prejudice, and inequality; thus, denying democratic principles including “dignity, equality, and mutual respect” to all. Peace requires solidarity of humanity, both intellectually and morally.

Lines Drawn The ‘creation’ of the Green Line resulted in the 1949 Armistice and the lines of demarcation for Israel and her neighbors, specifically Jordan, and the designation of the West Bank. Following the Six Day War in 1967, Israel “annexed the eastern part of the city and its holy sites”; annexation did not include parts of Jerusalem, Bethlehem (the birthplace of Jesus), or Hebron (the burial place of the patriarchs and matriarchs of Judeo-Christian faith). Citizens of Israel and Palestine live on both sides of the Green Line. Palestine remains stateless, considering the requirements of Treaty of Westphalia, yet in 2011, the UN agency granted membership to the Palestinian Authority despite the full international recognition as a nation-state. Obama, in a May 2011 address, concluded a two state solution based upon the 1967 lines, presented the most viable option for peace in the region:

“What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace… We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.”

Given that Obama’s speech took place in May and the withdrawal funds from UNESCO in November, it appears all signs point to a divided Obama administration. However, the legislation to withdraw American funds from any UN agency, admitting Palestine as a full member, has origins in the George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton presidencies.

a picture of the Sydney Opera House. It is a UNESCO site
Sydney Opera House. Source: Steve Collis, Creative Commons

A physical symbol of the UNESCO mandate materializes in the classification of world cultural/heritage sites. The designation of cultural sites in Israel began in 2001 and Palestine in 2012. In 2016, two Jewish sites in Jerusalem, geographically located in the West Bank, proved contentious for Israel and UNESCO. As a diplomatic entity, UNESCO introduced and regarded the sites by exclusive Arabic names, drawing the ire of Israel, who ascertained the move as “attempts to deny our heritage, distort history, and disconnect Jewish people from our capital and homeland”. According to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites list, neither of the Temple Mount locations are on the established or tentative list. Thereby positing the question aimed at the accusation of bias – where is the evidence of bias when it comes to UNESCO and the establishment of heritage sites?

“Anti-Israel bias” Netanyahu, during his 2011 speech to the US joint Congress, declared Israel and the US “stand together to defend democracy… to advance peace…and to fight terrorism”. He continued with an acknowledgement of the right to protest, the demand for dignity, and the desire for liberty. If coupling this speech with the decision to withdraw, the US-Israel alliance takes on an ‘us vs them’ mentality when considering the collaborative nature of the UN family of agencies. Therefore, what is the value of peace, liberty, and justice for all when two nations position themselves against the rest of the world?

It is a matter of social control versus social solidarity, or a matter of isolation versus belonging. Irina Bokova stated regret over the decisions by acknowledging the withdrawals are a “loss for multilateralism”. Robarchek asserts the problem with social control lies in the emphasis on control rather than the social. He concludes, “…the willingness to give society’s interests precedence over one’s own wishes and impulses is largely rooted in individuals’ relationship to the community”. In terms of US-Israel relations with other nations, UNESCO, and other UN agencies: the US and Israel determined their parts are greater than the whole. US-Israel allowed their own interest to trump the superordinate interest of the community (the world, in this instance), thereby, discarding democracy and peace because of unresolved conflict. Fry suggests ‘us vs them’ contributes to intergroup hostility because of a failure to cultivate a common identity. He proposes peace has two essential variables: interdependence and cooperation. Interdependence and cooperation bring about peace through the development of values that inform behaviors.

Calhoun hypothesizes the practicality of belonging is problematic for some because “intense group commitments and claims to group rights can threaten individual liberties…” and an individualist democracy does not hold value in belonging and denies its importance. He implies belonging is imperative to the fulfillment of “multilayered, multilateral polities” so democracies flourish rather than become empires. Put another way, belonging keeps democracies from getting too big for their britches. The US and Israel, both possessing strengths and weakness, conflated financial investment as responsibility and a single alliance as partnership. They fail to recognize that “neglect[ing] social solidarity… neglecting social bases of their own efficacy, while others are all too aware of the limits of their individual capacity are clearly in need of collective support in relation to the challenges the world throws at them.” It is imperative for the US and Israel to recognize their fates are interconnected with other nations. The days of selfish thinking and isolationist behavior are gone as the world is uniting around a common identity with a common goal, and the US and Israel are the odd ones out.

Belonging matters.

Recap of Using Digital Storytelling to Promote Human Rights: The Experience of Disability Advocates

co-authored Tyler Goodwin and Nicholas Sherwood

a picture of Dr. Trevisan presenting
Photo by Tyler Goodwin

On Wednesday, October 11, 2017, the UAB Institute for Human Rights sponsored an event titled: “Using Digital Story Telling to Promote Disability Rights.” This event featured Dr. Filippo Trevisan, Assistant Professor of Communications at American University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Trevisan is a disability rights advocate whose research features the use of technology to enhance accessibility for persons with disabilities. He is the Deputy Director of the Institute on Disability and Public Policy at American University, and an accomplished author, who released his book, Disability Rights Advocacy Online, last year. Dr. Trevisan’s presentation attempts to answer the question of how advocacy effectively inspires policy change for marginalized populations- most notably, for the disabled community.

Disability Rights

When the United Nations codified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, disability rights were first established at the international level of governance. This Convention is notable for its inclusion of actual persons with disabilities in the creation of this legal document, and for good reason. Persons with disabilities have long had to self-advocate for their rights, and the potency of grassroots efforts for disability rights distinguish this rights movement from other human rights movements. Dr. Trevisan, through the lens of information and communication technology, aimed to understand how formalized rights were impacted by the grassroots efforts of persons with disabilities.

Dr. Trevisan spoke of how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have significantly impacted the world of disability rights. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) says that ICTs have allowed persons with disabilities to “enhance their social, cultural, political and economic integration in communities by enlarging the scope of activities available to them.” ICTs have promoted self-advocacy by allowing persons with disabilities to directly participate in any number of activities by directly getting their voice heard- middlemen are no longer required for persons with disabilities to get their issues out into the world. By surpassing several links in the communication process, the voices and narratives of persons with disabilities are more authentically communicated to policy makers and all levels of governance: local, regional, national, and international.

By skipping these ‘middlemen’, the effectiveness of a message (such as advocacy for disability rights) is more prominent, and the intended effect (policy change) is more directly linked to the advocate. According to Trevisan, two main communication styles are used by disability rights advocates to persuade policy-makers.

Emotional Appeal Versus Rational Arguments

Breaking down the rhetoric used by disability rights advocates, Trevisan elucidated on two primary forms of persuasive messages: messages appealing to emotion and messages appealing to reason. Emotional appeals typically feature personal narratives, eliciting feelings of empathy and sympathy by the receiver of the message. By contrast, rational arguments (i.e. appealing to reason) offer evidence-based arguments in support of policy change. A challenge of human rights advocates (in this case, disability rights advocates) is deciding which, or in what combination, of these persuasive tactics is most likely to achieve the desired outcome.

Historically, policy-makers have favored (or been more susceptible to) appeals to reason, as evidence-based arguments offer a more sound and predictable argument for policy change (or lack thereof). However, upon analyzing cases in the United Kingdom and United States, Trevisan documented a noticeable modal shift in successful argument tactics. Instead of favoring rational appeals, policy-makers are starting to respond and succumb to emotional appeals; this change is most clearly documented in policies related to persons with disabilities. This has huge implications for advocacy efforts and policy-makers alike. Bygone are the days where statistics and figures hold greater weight than personal narratives and stories. Perhaps we do indeed live in a “post-fact world” (though hopefully not). The question now becomes: why are emotional appeals more effective than rational arguments? And how can we marry these two approaches to achieve both: 1) successful persuasion of policy-makers to codify human rights and 2) create the emotional appeal from a sound and practical argument?

a picture of social media icons as flowers indicating the growth of social media
Growing Social Media. Source: mkhmarketing, Creative Commons

The Power of Stories

The answer to the first question lies in the power of story; Trevisan argues the impact of personal story-sharing in disability rights advocacy cannot be overstated. The importance of persons with disabilities telling their personal stories has proven to be very effective when it comes to advocating for their rights, and Dr. Trevisan mentioned two critical components to story telling: 1) the voice of the person telling the story, and 2) the storyteller feeling his or her voice is heard. Dr. Trevisan states his research led him to find “individuals [with disabilities] are now able to participate in crowd-sourced campaigns, and they want to.” He goes on to say persons with disabilities generally feel authentic in their narrative-sharing and the significant strides in disability rights implementation (for example, the CRPD) shows their voices are being hear.

Persons with disabilities have been particularly effective in their use of crowdsourcing- the virtual participation in efforts such as rights-advocacy. While crowd-sourcing has been a great way to get stories out into the world, the particular mixture of rational vs. emotional components is up for debate. How narrow should the stories be? If someone has to edit these stories, who should it be and what gives them the right to do so? Should there be no editing of the stories? If not, what if the stories do not pertain to the cause? Is it right to cut out someone’s story that they want to tell? How can we (consumers of information) be sure we are receiving an authentic and genuine message from a credible source (especially in a “post-fact world”)?

Dr. Trevisan’s cunning research of story-telling in disability-rights advocacy suggests the paradigm of successful policy change is shifting: from rational appeal to emotional connection, from the presentation of hard facts to the telling of personal stories. Moving forward with this new knowledge, human rights researchers and advocates must find a way to marry objective reality with the subjective story of humanity.

 

For a list of our upcoming events, please visit our events page.