Strangers in their own Land

An important documentary on the disgraceful treatment of minorities in Pakistan. The way the country has shirked its duties toward its most vulnerable citizens—Christians, Hindus, Shias, Ahmadis—bespeaks a failure of moral and political leadership. This needs to change. Pakistan’s Sunni majority has a duty to protect these communities from the terror of the extremists among them.

Peace or Pacification

aleppoThis was published at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

As I write, state representatives are attending the theatre in Geneva. (The talks were stopped on February 3rd). In Syria, meanwhile, reality prevails: in one day a tented camp of the displaced in the Lattakia hills is bombed, barrel bombs rain on the south and the Damascus suburbs, Russia’s cluster bombs crumple over the north, and up to a hundred people are asphyxiated by chlorine gas in Moadamiyah. Let’s hope the seats in the theatre are nice and comfy.

Russia, the prime mover of the process, is inviting its own ‘opposition’ delegates. It complains (with Assad and Iran) that the actual opposition delegation contains ‘terrorists’. The thousands of Iranian-backed transnational Shia jihadists in Syria are not considered terrorists and should not be discussed at this stage.

The United States accepts these terms, and instead of the ‘transitional government’ agreed upon as the ultimate goal in previous Geneva talks, it speaks now of a ‘national government’. In other words Assad – responsible for the overwhelming number of civilian casualities and displacements – can stay, so that all may confront the ‘greater evil’ of jihadism.

Yet 80% of Russian bombs are falling not on ISIS but on the opposition to both ISIS and Assad, that is, on the communities which previously drove ISIS from their areas. A quarter of a million more have been displaced as a result of the Russian assault, which hits courthouses, schools, hospitals and aid convoys.

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The Happy Marriage

A very slightly different version of this review was published at the Guardian.jelloun

Tahar Ben Jelloun is a Moroccan who has contributed a series of important works to French literature, perhaps foremost amongst them the brilliant ‘non-fiction novel’ of incarceration “This Blinding Absence of Light”. His latest novel, “The Happy Marriage”, bears echoes of Tolstoy’s grim relationship-degeneration tale “Happy Ever After”, but Jelloun’s tale is thrown into question by a counter-narrative.

Our protagonist is semi-paralysed, recovering from a stroke, his face twisted like a Francis Bacon painting. He is a successful artist, a demanding perfectionist who now struggles to move his fingers while watching TV athletics and thinking about tightrope walking. His contextual musings on deterioration and dependency – “When your life is in someone else’s hands, is it still a life?” – form a suitable backdrop to his memories of a two-decade marriage, in Paris and Casablanca, in sickness and health.

Part One (called, with a nod to Truffaut, The Man who Loved Women Too Much) is the artist’s own carefully-crafted account, in third person. The accomplishment of the writing here recalls Philip Roth’s more sober moods, or Saul Bellow’s studies of older men suffering the humiliations of body and soul. The psychological depth, high-cultural detail, sometimes even the dense but fluid prose (ably translated by André Naffis-Sahely) are reminiscent of that American master.

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International Legacies of the Genocide in Rwanda

James Traub, journalist and author, gives a presentation addressing how the United States’ reaction to the crisis in Syria does and does not reflect lessons learned from the genocide in Rwanda, during the Symposium on the 20th anniversary of the Genocide against the Tutsi that took place on March 31, 2014.