Connected Issues and Distance

Monday, 20th April 2009 at 8:00 UTC Leave a comment

I’ve been observing for some time the way activists and the general public tend to argue over whether issues are linked or not. A holistic approach to situations is important, but is a price being paid for “issue bundling”?

“End the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan! Free Palestine!” Its a phrase that Stop the War have made rather familiar over the last few years. Its not hard to argue for the relative closeness of the issues, but it does involve for some an awkward mix: the issues clearly connect in the minds of many Muslims worldwide, and they’re all causes seen as worthy in the minds of many leftists.

But what of those who aren’t convinced of the case for lumping the Palestinian cause with the conventionally received duet of the war on terror? What of those who want Palestinians to be more than an after note, which they mostly are? What of the connections between Iraq and other issues, like oil, and thus climate change, or weapons manufacturers? One could have a three point agenda on Iraq alone: end the occupation, freedom for Trade Unions, no more American contractors.

The issue here is one of different perspectives and different involvements. To some, its just pure laziness not to have separate demonstrations, to others its a real barrier to participation. In a sense, the question ought not to be “are these issues related” but rather, does it make us a stronger campaign to link them in external publicity? But if this is purely about strategy then I think this misses the point somewhat.

If grouping of issues, whether by laziness, convention or deliberate attempts to create connections, can be termed “issue bundling”, creating a buy one, get all package, then perhaps we need a term to use in discerning the amount of connection. Connection in issues isn’t binary: a case of there being or not being a link. Anyone with a holistic approach to world issues, and yes, we should earnestly seek one, will realise that all issues are ultimately connected.

So I’d propose to talk about the distance between issues. Yes, Iraq is connected to Palestine and to the Arms Industry, but which is more closely related? Do we have the capacity for nuanced judgement of distance between issues, and can we handle that issues, though linked, might not be as closely linked as we might take for granted, particularly when fed messages like the above, or Make Poverty History’s “Drop the Debt, Make Trade Fair, More and Better Aid”, which I’m informed took 20 NGO reps 48 hours in a hotel to figure out, as long as the actual G8 summit itself.

So, once all issues are acknowledged to have a natural link, we must instead set about trying to find an objective understanding of the distance between them. I can’t really think of a suitable way of doing this, and I realise this is all a question of perspective, with many people only too delighted to shoe-horn one issue in with another. But this is a process for which maturity and discipline are needed, and in which the reality of wider society’s perspective must be addressed. A complex and long winded task, one in need of continual revision perhaps, but not something one person could achieve satisfactorily in a single blog post.


Entry filed under: Activism, Participation.

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