Cultural differences and humanitarian aid - Cultural differences are cited with increasing frequency as a cause of conflict. They are also viewed as a means of categorizing individuals and are exploited to justify rejection of those individuals. The author illustrates the challenges of cultural diversity for humanitarian action through her experience of the work for the International Committee of the Red Cross. Humanitarian endeavor of this type provides a unique encounter between the universal and the local from which a striking idea emerges: a culture does not constitute one homogeneous bloc handed down whole and unalterable by the forefathers and now preserved intact within the national frontiers. The notion of culture clash takes insufficient account of the fact that cultures which migrate geographically also change. And that notion serves to heighten confrontationalism (confrontational attitudes) rather than stressing the cultural wealth that diversity provides. It is time – especially in a world marked by globalization and revolutionary advances in communication technology – for human beings to relearn the art of communication and to stop dehumanizing the enemy, ostracizing people who are different, and attacking humanity’s shared heritage.
Current armed conflicts should not be summarily assigned to the clash of cultures but these conflicts as such are cultural phenomenon: there is no one to one casual relationship between culture and conflicts, although an awareness of identity linked to a specific culture may assert themselves in opposition to one another and can be source of violence. Some cultures include more bellicose tradition than others. War also gives rise to identity reorganization: it often requires individuals to declare an affiliation, and this affiliation choice can be dictated by many factors including one of the most important, the pursuit of safety. When the failed State has fallen and cannot protect its citizens, the family will often turn to the warlord or the solidarity group that will provide protection. Often this choice is dramatic.
There are different ways of understanding the term 'culture'. For some schools of thoughts in anthropology, culture is perceived as a homogeneous whole, territorially defined and historically embedded in livelihoods systems. The refugee or the migrant changes territory and culture trying to become integrated or being rejected. In this context, a culture clash may occur or to a lesser extent a war of civilizations. Another interpretation of the word 'culture' describes a set of values, attitudes and behavior constantly evolving. History is not a constituent element but its written medium. Thus conceived, culture is built as much as inherited from the past. Population movements can help to shape cultural hybridity of social groups and to the construction of solidarity networks. The increase in economic, social and political inequalities between groups of religious, cultural or linguistic differences is a factor in tensions as is the absence of formal and cultural recognition and the resulting discrimination.
In this specific context, identity is a collective representation, product of the imagination of a group. This representation can crystallize around various factors as religion, ethnicity (demarcation process), way of life (agriculture or stock breeding), the place of residence (valley or mountain), the language or the nationalism (notably when the group claims territory). Sometimes the group fears to be victimized by the other, the nightmare of being deprived of its specificity that shapes its identity. Hence the invocation of a legendary past, the use of mythology, the resurgence of the martyred People who is heroically fighting to survive.