July 2020: Culture and Imperialism

ECHO UPDATE: 

July has been hot, hot, hot. Our first month of full sessions has coincided with the wrath of the Greek summer and so we’ve moved our schedule later to take advantage of the cooler evenings. Our team has grown, with Arya and Georgie joining the Thursday and Monday teams respectively, and we’ve begun building up our kids’ activities in collaboration with the wonderful Kids Klub.

We’re also feeling the strain of new restrictions on NGOs entering camps – the hoops that you have to jump through include things (like official translations of audited accounts) that are simply not possible for grassroots groups like ours. Sometimes it feels like authorities are deliberately trying to clear services out of the camps as restrictions on refugees build. We’ve also seen a law brought in that restricts the right to protest and increases police powers to use violence to dissipate those which they don’t approve of – worrying stuff at a time when Amnesty International has warned of the escalating police violence over the last 12 months.

Nonetheless the library wheels spin on, and we’ve even been able to finally get our hands on our NEW LIBRARY VAN that so many of our generous supporters helped us buy back in March. We’ve been amazed that our current van has kept going with only a couple more misshaps since then – and we’re excited to get this fully functioning, fully Greek registered vehicle transformed into an even cosier library space than the one we now operate out of. Thank you everyone for getting us here. Now read on below for some thoughts on Culture and Imperialism


CULTURE AND IMPERIALISM

‘The power to narrate, or to block other narratives from forming and emerging, is very important to culture and imperialism, and constitutes one of the main connections between them.’ 

Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

Palestinian American academic and activist, Edward Said’s work explores how narratives of Western superiority are naturalised through writing; how literature plays a part in colonialism. The stereotypes that were produced and reproduced since the rise of European powers in the late 18th century can still be felt today – the Islamic World and the Arab world vilified, exoticised, willfully misunderstood.. 

This is a useful concept for understanding how similar narratives now frame the so-called refugee crisis. People from places such as Syria and Afghanistan are framed as ultimately “different” and “exotic”, with “cultural practices” that make movement into “Europe” problematic. Similarly, the violence in these countries is perceived as the result of “backwardness” and “difference”, not as the proxy wars of global powers and oil colonialism. These narratives are being used to justify a global apartheid – the system under which oil, money and weaponry may pass through borders but people may not.

‘We cannot fight for our rights and our history as well as future until we are armed with weapons of criticism and dedicated consciousness.’

Said fought for liberation through literature. Where some were convinced of a binary and an eternal tussle between ‘us’ and ‘the other’, Said persuaded people to look for humanity, for the commonalities, to question the official stories, to find other sources. He shows us how racist and imperialist ideas could be depicted and normalised in cultural products, including literature. He also saw how education and literature could work to challenge these things. 

At ECHO mobile library we witness first hand the untold damage borders do to people. Families are separated, communities are held in camps, school is missed. We feel lucky to be able to offer books for people to read, as their right to access information, global literary heritage and culture. 

ECHO aims to make accessible quality books and literature, intelligent and insightful books written in (or translated into) languages that people do not have to struggle to read, books that offer broad perspectives and the alternative narratives that are so important to understanding our world. At the same time we realise that the English language is the language of power: refugees and migrants are rendered mute by the state they are resettling in if they do not simultaneously learn to communicate in the hegemonic languages of the region. So we do our best to provide tools for people to learn that and any other languages they need.

Most importantly, we try and offer our library users choice and hope that these books will inspire the critical thought and imagination that it will take to make our communities stronger and kinder. We hope these books will help to break down borders.

Written by Rebecca Wolfe and Keira Dignan

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