I believe it was the Victorians that set the tone. It was during the age of the ‘Great Philanthropist’ that charities first established their status in the public mind as selfless doers of great good in the world. Understandable really that, in an era before welfare benefits, they were the pious prickers of the public conscience; the saviours of last resort for the needy and woebegone, the kindly benefactors of the benighted poor.
Over the years they have glacially established their reputations as the standard-bearers of humanity and decency to the point where, today, membership of or subscription to charitable organisations is quite the highest badge of virtue. Contributing to their coffers, especially publicly, has come to be seen as the ultimate act of redemption for sins real or imagined.
Perhaps because of this, nobody seems to have noticed that some of these organisations (many world famous) have gradually shifted the focus of their energies to the point where they now energetically pursue policies that are diametrically opposite from those stated.
Take, for example, the British charity Oxfam, set up some 50 years ago by a group of young, idealistic Oxford intellectuals with a brief to help ‘feed the starving’. How very odd then to hear of this kind of thing:
The scientists complained that humanitarian groups such as Oxfam, Christian Aid and Save The Children, backed by EU funds, had frightened African governments into rejecting food aid. They said the groups had also alarmed starving populations. “Some groups have told people that genetically modified products are dangerous and could cause cancer,” said the executive director of industry body Africabio, Prof Jocelyn Webster. Webster and Prof James Ochanda, head of biochemistry at the University of Kenya, led the African delegation.
The scientific delegation said that genetically modified crops boosted yields and could make Africa less dependent on foreign food aid.
Seems that Oxfam’s mission to aleviate starvation has mysteriously morphed into an assidious campaign to cause starvation. And how about the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmarment (CND)? Not actually a registered charity but definitely one of those organisations that is generally accredited with being among the ‘great and the good’. Certainly they have established their reputation as working for a better, safer world.
So how do they square that with campaigns such as this one?
CND is opposed to war in Iraq whether or not there is a second UN resolution. The historic march on 15 February shows the British public’s opposition to the war, and CND is actively campaigning for Tony Blair to say NO to Bush, and NO to British involvement in the war on Iraq.
One of the most pointed reasons for the proposed invasion of Iraq is in order to prevent their homicidal government from obtaining and/or deploying nuclear weapons. That being that case, one would think that an organisation such as CND would be all for it. But, they’re dead set against it. This begs the question of exactly what is on their agenda because the prevention of nuclear proliferation clearly isn’t.
And what about Greenpeace, world-famous peddlars of panic and middle-class neuroses? One would think that, for all the noise they make and all the lobbying power they possess, they might actually do a bit of good for mankind. Well, actually no:
“Green Party members in the European Parliament recently proposed that storms and hurricanes be named after Global Climate Coalition members like Ford, General Motors and Exxon, who deny that carbon emissions contribute to climate change. The Greens said the new names would change headlines to read, for example: “Exxon Kills 20 in Miami.” Parliament rejected the measure.” [Source: San Francisco Chronicle, August 31, 2, 1998.] What if we attribute malaria deaths to the banning of DDT? The headlines could read “Rachel Carson and the Environmental Defense Fund kill 2 million worldwide annually.”
The story, from 1998, refers to the successful campaign by Greenpeace among others to ban the pesticide DDT, the absence of which has left millions of people in developing countries defenceless against malaria. What is ‘green’ about that? What is ‘peaceful’ about that?
I have no wish to cast aspersions, even for a second, on the hundreds of charitable organisations that operate in this country alone and that quietly and unassumingly beaver away at the good works they were founded to pursue and without so much as a photon of the limelight. But, as regards their more illustrious cousins, such as those mentioned above, I submit that a thorough review of their much-revered status is a very long time overdue.
[My thanks to David Deutsch for both the inspiration and the links.]