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Offbeat – 09 August 2012


Most religions ask their believers to do something individually. For instance the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbour.’ It does not say ‘Form a committee to love your neighbour.’

Islam and Africa have my attention. The minarets and mosques are making their way through Africa, and the Arab Spring is a very important part of that. I watched the whole Tahrir Square thing with interest. Mubarak was a sod who stripped rights willy nilly, and he deserved to go. All the same, something went badly wrong.
Immediately after Mubarak was ousted, the military took over. Tahrir Square didn’t go away. Violence continued. Things have settled down a bit now. Morsi is president. Although he resigned his position as president of the Muslim Brotherhood, there is nothing to suggest that he has abandoned the  principles of the Brotherhood which include Shari’ah. A westernised dictatorship was replaced by a military dictatorship and that is almost certain to be replaced by a non-secular state which will almost certainly begin stripping away rights, particularly women’s rights.
All of that was inevitable. No surprises there. The thing that got to me was the uptake of the thing on social media. Across the world, millions of well-meaning people took up the cause without stopping to think or find out about what they were getting into. And I haven’t heard any apologies yet.
Which leads me to the old saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” And a word of thanks goes to the person who I talked to about two days ago (as you read this), who got me onto this twisted train of thought.
If you have good intentions be extremely cautious.
The guy who lives on the street might appreciate a jersey and an apple, but will probably be more appreciative of a bottle of something that makes the world look a bit happier until the bottle is empty and the hangover kicks in. The person who calls for freedom and change will almost certainly begin to think about armed insurrection, followed by the freedom of not thinking. If the jersey gets sold for a bottle or the donation for tents and food gets used to buy weapons, then something has gone wrong.
Once you get past this sticky point you will probably begin making plans, because wanting to do good leads to wanting to do lots of good, which means a lot of efforts. Sooner or later, you get the idea that if you join forces, register an organisation and get a bunch of people behind you, you can do so much more. Unfortunately this leads to the committee stage and, committees being what they are, you end up defending rights by removing them, or preserving sexual health with well-intentioned but virtually lethal statements of dogma and principles, not practical and effective condoms.
Like I said, be careful.
I think the whole approach to charity is wrong. It shouldn’t be organised and it shouldn’t be planned. It should also think before it acts, it should not be allowed to give money without accountability from the recipient and jerseys should only be loaned, not given, bizarre as that may seem.
Let’s step back to the money bit. If time is money, why not give a bit of time instead or better yet, use knowledge or share it to help others. Factor in the bit about avoiding organisation, and you theoretically get to a situation where lots of people are helping lots of other people.
If that sounds unfeasible and strange, consider this. Most religions ask their believers to do something individually. For instance the Bible says, ‘Love your neighbour.’ It does not say ‘Form a committee to love your neighbour.’ The committee bit was a human intervention to get others to do stuff.
There are benefits to this approach. If you see your bottle store owner wearing the jersey you donated, you don’t have to form a sub committee to explore the use of donated jerseys. You aren’t committed or pinned down so you can do something else. You also get to follow your own beliefs, not vote on them.
‘Charity begins at home’ means keeping it close and personal to you.
I have a sense I am talking to the converted, which is cool. Still, it’s good to have this bit of idealism in my head and remind myself. Thanks for reading this far.

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