On Christmas Eve, Tripoli, we discussed – Howard Zinn’s –A People’s History of the United States.
Hatay of Jraba
On talking to a long term expatriate-over lunch in Turkish Hatay restaurant, of Jraba, we exchanged notes on the meaning of Organization and Institution in the war torn Libya of today.
Pictures- went through some photo memories of associations
with churches, and talks with Expatriate workers from foreign lands
who made Tripoli their home and life.(click photos to enlarge, see related comments)
Institution..An organization founded for a religious, educational, professional, business or social purpose.
- Example- An organization giving medical services to the community.
Other informal definition- A well-estabished and familiar person or custom.
Example- He soon became something of a national institution
Bureaucrat- An official in particular one being perceived as being concred with procedural correctness at the expense of people’s needs
Example- On being made a ‘football’ for the umpteenth time by the finance department, the professional told him the manager that he is being a bureaucrat.
Hatreds sown, return
Three years before the terrible events of September 11,2001, a former lieutenant colonel in the US Air force, Robert Bowman, who had flown 101 combat missions in Vietnam, and then had become a Catholic Bishop, commented on the terrorist bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
In an article in the National Catholic Reporter he wrote about the roots of Terrorism.
We are not hated because we practice democracy, value freedom, or uphold human rights. We are hated because our government denies these things to people in Third World countries whose resources are covered by our multinational corporations. That hatred we have sown has come back to haunt us in the form of terrorism…..Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure , supply clean water, and feed starving children….
In short, we should do good instead of evil. Who would try to stop us? Who would hate us? Who would want to bomb us? That is the truth the American people need to hear.(1)
Zinn’s perspective is clearly partisan, as he writes in the afterword of the book- When I set out to write the book, I had been teaching history and what is grandiosely called ‘political science’ for twenty years. Half of that time I was involved in the civil rights movement in the South (mostly while teaching at Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia). And then there were ten years of activity against the war in Vietnam. These experiences were hardly a recipe for neutrality in the teaching and writing of history.
He adds- But my partisanship was undoubtedly shaped even earlier , by my upbringing in a family of working-class immigrants in New York, by my three years as a shipyard worker, and by my Air Force duty as a bombardier in the European theater (a strange word for that- ‘theater’) in the second World War.
When the above words Institution and Bureaucrat were put up for discussions in other institutions in Tripoli, some people came back with interesting insights from their perspective.
One businessman, at present involved in many behind-the-scenes maneuvers to secure the new government commented- By Institution, I mean a place which has organization, established protocols and services. “The new government will be secured in Zanzor.”
An expatriate consultant asked whether there is any organization or institution left here?
To which we replied- Yes, if you treat a patient, he must have come through some channel. There must be an insurance card. Some way in which the materials you use to treat him to have come to your clinic. There are institutions still functioning. But there is lot to improve.
We quietly read Brecht’s poem-
Questions From a Worker Who Reads
Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?
And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?
In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?
Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?
Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?
Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?
Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?
Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?
So many reports.
So many questions.(2)
In the church– There is a sense of hope. One family has come back to Tripoli, three small children, seen at the San Francisco church of Dahra. The past few years have not been easy for the father- who used to earlier work in the construction sector. They have survived in the health sector now for four years. “Tajoura is quiet now,” he said.
Going back over the years, this is the Midnight Mass Service
in San Francisco Dahra- in 2006
Reading group discussion points
- Describe the processes in an Institution with which you are associated with
- Robert Bowman writes
Instead of sending our sons and daughters around the world to kill Arabs so we can have the oil under their sand, we should send them to rebuild their infrastructure , supply clean water, and feed starving children….
How does the Christian Message of Giving and Forgiving, match up in these contexts in present day Libya?
Suggested Further readings
1-Howard Zinn- A people’s History of the United States