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Living Networks

July 12, 2015


I’ve been working with diaspora communities in the UK since 2010, and remain fascinated with how these function as a network; connected to one another, their current place of residence, country of origin and often to a much wider global community. How do communities achieve this, and why are some more successful than others?

My first exposure was to diaspora Armenians in Iraq, as with the rest of the Middle East, experiencing individuals and families with a strong sense of duty to the country they reside in, often having provided them refuge from persecution (see Armenian genocide), and unquestionable loyalty to their own people and beloved Armenia. My family have always had a ‘culture crush’ on Armenians (my opposite to ‘culture clash’!), praising Armenians in Lebanon for remaining neutral in the Lebanese civil war. Though the latter is debatable, as with all the below, my point is the balance of identity, between loyalty to past seeds and nurturing of current roots.

I then think of Palestinian diaspora, spread all over the world since the first exodus in 1948. I am still astounded to meet third and forth generation Palestinians, all steadily fleeing their homes and all united in knowing their Palestinian identity. This is not questionable. I recently met a young third generation man, who shared his family story, told to him as a child by his grandmother. She stroked his hair, with his head on her lap, recounting how Israeli authorities requested his grandparents, a young couple with a newborn at the time, to vacate the house for an hour as part of routine checks, only to return to an occupied home, stripped off its contents. In that instance, they were homeless, denied their Right of Return. To this day his gran carries the key to her old front door, hidden against her left breast, inside her brassiere. This is a familiar (near cliche) Palestinian narrative, with countless variations, and importantly, a red thread uniting a people to a dream, a vision, intention, a clear future plan that keeps a global community moving forward. My Palestinian motto: I have been pushed, and I will rise again and again, because I know who I am and I know who you are. I’ve always found Palestinian social events a world above other Arab ones, in organisation, originality and turnout. These tend to be widely publicised and well-supported by a far reaching and living network.

And who more diverse than the Jewish diaspora. Let’s zoom into a small cross section of young British Jews. Youth networks link young Jewish Brits to a sense of identity fundamentally tied in with the creation and existence of Israel. This may begin with a bar/bat mitzvah party, youth groups to gap year activities, including stints with the Israeli army (why not, eh?!). This loyal support often continues into adulthood, from major political and financial aid, to smaller local community initiatives. I would be first and foremost Jewish then, secondary to that, any other identifiers I may also belong to. A somewhat inbred loyalty, where any questioning of Israel or Israeli policies is depicted as a personal and collective threat to Jewish people as a whole. If the Palestinian statement is ‘I am a survivor’ then the Jewish one is ‘I am a victim’ (a fine line). The chosen people, envied and persecuted throughout human history, in the most inhumane ways imaginable, will (possibly rightly) never allow the world to forget. I recall a young Israeli playwright speaking of his frustration with, what he felt was a morbid industry of remembering wounding narratives (he’s not alone, see Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel).

There’s out-and-out resentment expressed for all three communities above. These ‘narratives’ can be seen as indoctrinations, ‘sense of community’ as insular, separate and potentially threatening to the whole, which in a way, they are. Speaking of threats, I wouldn’t go into the mess of ‘the British-Muslim community’, which strikes me as a network mobilised with fear and petrified in doctrine.

I am in awe of how all three named examples have managed to hold onto a collective identity that binds them across the world, be this ethnic or/ and religious. I am particularly struck as a British-Iraqi, whose global Iraqi diaspora are (arguably) by far more diverse than all three above communities put together, and yet there’s no ‘community’ to speak of. No global network for the whole. Instead, the whole is diminished by the divisive nature of its parts, as each ‘community’ sticks to its own bubble, with some religious examples: Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Sunni Muslim this, Shi’i that, Mandean, devout atheists and communists (arguably, religions themselves)…

I don’t have answers and am aware of my generalisations, though I’ll be grappling with this, particularly in relation to Iraqi Diaspora communities, with a new and challenging Community Outreach post I’ve recently taken on. More on that later.

Do share your responses to the above- any thoughts, insights and objections- and let’s actively chew on this together…

From → Artistic

  1. zuzu permalink

    I found ‘living networks’ a very interesting way of conceptualizing diaspora and the examples given challenging. Interesting would be a comparison with the concept of ‘living networks’ in landscape ecology, which in essence implies that connected landscapes (natural and semi-natural landscapes, at the scale of a countryside) makes for healthy ecosystems and increases the chances of survival of species (flora and fauna) inhabiting these landscapes. Accepting that human living networks are social/emotional and non-human ones physical, underlying both is that connections are the heart of survival.

    Why the people of Iraq fail to network, is too complex a question to answer. History is certainly a factor, ancient history, Mesopotamia the fertile basin that was envied and coveted by those neighbors inhabiting the desert and arid lands to the north and east, a civilization constantly interrupted with the ethnic and religious, tribal and rural composition constantly changing. Colonial history is also a factor, a nation whose borders were drawn with total disregard of geography and culture.

  2. “‘living networks’ in landscape ecology… connected landscapes (natural and semi-natural landscapes, at the scale of a countryside) makes for healthy ecosystems and increases the chances of survival of species (flora and fauna)…”
    Fascinating, as I’d used these words without knowledge of this parallel meaning.
    Yes, I agree with the connection, and further connect to ‘social resilience’ as these networks (both ecological and societal) provide leverage from adversity, from war to natural disasters. Networks allow communities to bounce back, so to speak, thus increasing their resilient qualities.
    Thank you for this.
    And re: Iraqis failing to network, I agree that issue is complex. These do seem to network, though within own subgroups (religious, political etc), so why not as a wider ‘community’?
    I’m still interested at chewing on the why’s than trying to answer in any conclusive way.

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