ELL: clarification about SIL from an external point of view

Gail M. Coelho gail at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu
Wed Mar 17 17:15:22 UTC 1999

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Date: Wed, 17 Mar 1999 11:15:22 -0600
From: "Gail M. Coelho" <gail at utxvms.cc.utexas.edu>
Subject: Re: ELL: clarification about SIL from an external point of view
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>SIL and Wycliffe Bible Translators are not the same organization.
>They are sister, yet quite separate, organizations. In fact, you
>forgot to include the third sister that is called JAARS.  Their
>roles are different and it is quite important to distinguish between
>them because not everyone who is affiliated with SIL is concerned
>with the promotion of translating the Bible into vernacular languages.

I disagree with your claim that these are 'quite separate' organizations.
They are 'separate' in the work that they do, but they are not separate in
the idealogical or political perspective from which they do this work, and
they are not separate in the ultimate goal that they are working towards --
and that is the *real* issue here. The *real* issue that Matthew is
protesting against. 

It is common for people who work for a particular cause to divide their
work into supposedly separate organizations for several practical reasons.
In this case, I think the reason is quite obvious. Wycliffe bible
translators need linguists to carrry out their work, and they need to
present themselves as 'only' linguists to go into the areas they go into.
By forming a 'separate' secondary organization devoted primarily to
linguistics they achieve two things: (a) members of the secondary
organization can pretend that they are not missionaries by denying all
links to the primary organization and thus go into areas that might welcome
linguists but ban missionaries; (b) other linguists, who are interested in
promoting 'good' linguist organizations but who do not want to participate
in the missionary work that the primary organization does, can pretend to
themselves that they are not working for the primary organization. The
secondary organization can, thus, efficiently use the cover of 'linguistic
research' to work towards achieving the goals of the primary organization
-- by presenting themselves as only linguists to those who don't want to
work with missionaries. The secondary organization is basically nothing but
a wolf in sheep's clothing. In letting yourself be taken in by the sheep
guise, you're really letting yourself work for the wolf.

That strategy is, of course, used elsewhere in the world. One example comes
from India, where hindu-extemists employ the same tactics. The RSS is an
organization formed during India's struggle for independence from British
colonialism. It was founded by people who wanted not only independence, but
also revenge for past British and Muslim domination of India. They also
agressively promote Hindu cultural traditions at the expense of tolerance
for Muslim and Christian practices. One of their members assassinated
Mahatma Gandhi because he believed that the partitioning of the Indian
sub-continent into Pakistan and India (in 1947) could have been avoided if
Gandhi had not 'appeased' the Muslims so much. Their idealogy is disliked
by many in India, but they have managed to gather a lot of practical
support for their cause by employing exactly the tactics that the
Wycliffe-SIL group does -- they have formed various sister organizations:
the BJP, which claims to be 'only' a political party with more moderate
views than the RSS; the ABVP, which claims to be 'only' a student
organization that works only for issues that concern students; etc. Many
people who are not themselves hindu extremists and who do not support the
RSS idealogy actually voted for the BJP in the last elections because they
preferred the political discipline that the BJP shows compared to the
chaotic behavior of other political parties. They believed that in voting
for the BJP they were not supporting the RSS itself because, after all,
these are 'separate' organizations. But in reality, by voting the BJP into
power they have actually given the RSS the opportunity to promote their
aggressive cultural chavinism through the BJP-front.

So I don't think your claim that SIL and Wycliffe should be treated as
separate organization is in the least bit convincing.

Gail Coelho.
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