chapter  4
15 Pages

The curious state of the Good Samaritan: humanitarianism under conditions of security


In this renowned biblical parable, the Samaritan is praised for assisting the stranger in distress: for providing medical support by bandaging his wounds, for providing him with transport by placing him on his donkey, for providing him with temporary housing by bringing him to an inn. The Good Samaritan has long entered the YHUQDFXODU DV D FRPSDVVLRQDWHSHUVRQZKRXQVHO¿VKO\KHOSV VWUDQJHUV LQQHHG DQHPEOHPDWLF¿JXUHIRUWKHGXW\WRUHQGHUDVVLVWDQFHDQGLQDZLGHUVHQVHDQ DOOHJRULFDOSHUVRQL¿FDWLRQRIKXPDQLWDULDQLVP+HKDVFRPHWRV\PEROLVHDFWLYH compassion for the suffering of others, compassion that requires altruistic acts beyond empathic concern. As most people would agree, if we encounter a stranger in dire need, we should assist that person; this is not a question of charity, but a question of duty. The widespread praise for the Good Samaritans, coupled with the public outrage and condemnation at the encounter of the Priest and the Levite, WKHE\VWDQGHUVDSSHDUVWRFRQ¿UPWKHH[LVWHQFHRIDZHOODOLJQHGVRFLDOFRPSDVV that requires us to emulate the conduct of the Good Samaritan. Curiously, whilst the conduct of the Good Samaritan is generally encouraged, the Good Samaritan is legally discouraged in liberal democracies from helping certain strangers in GLVWUHVVDPRQJVWWKRVHQRWDEO\WKH¿JXUHRIWKHLUUHJXODUPLJUDQW

People usually deemed Good Samaritans are increasingly questioned, intimidated and prosecuted for emulating his work: for helping people in distress by providing medical support, transport or temporary housing. Recent policies, laws and practices demonstrate attempts at realigning the social compass for particular populations deemed less worthy of humanitarianism. In Italy, people

have been prosecuted for rescuing shipwrecked passengers on the seas, in France for providing accommodation, and in the United States for leaving water in the desert to reduce death by dehydration (Basaran 2014; Burridge 2009; Webber 2006). People acting out of humanitarian motives, with neither direct nor indirect EHQH¿W WR WKHPVHOYHV DUH LQFUHDVLQJO\ H[SRVHG WR DGPLQLVWUDWLYH DQG FULPLQDO VDQFWLRQV IRU WKHLU FRQGXFW LQFOXGLQJ¿QHV GHWHQWLRQ DQG HYHQ LPSULVRQPHQW These include clergymen, doctors, social workers and activists, as well as established humanitarian organisations, churches and support networks. Both individual and collective humanitarian acts, whether spontaneous or organised, are targeted by state authorities seeking to govern the humanitarian sector in the name of security. Following established humanitarian principles of humanity and impartiality, humanitarian acts are to prevent and relieve suffering, without discrimination, giving priority to the most urgent suffering. Under conditions of security, a distinction between welcome and unwelcome humanitarianism is introduced, as unwelcome populations are increasingly precluded from humanitarian concern. The state of the Good Samaritan is ambiguous and contested in liberal democracies.