Sunday, December 25, 2011

The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse
Edited by Marjorie Kohn
New York University Press, 2011

This review was first published in Toward Freedom here.

The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse (New York University Press, 2011) is a treatise which, through detailed essays, recollections, evidence and testimonies, explores the subject of torture through three main sections – the history of US torture, the torture of prisoners in custody, and accountability for torture.

Washington's role in torture has long been established through its support of military and right wing dictatorships in Latin America. As narrated in the preface by Sister Dianna Ortiz, abducted and tortured in Guatemala in 1984 for aiding the poor, the perpetrators of torture were sanctioned and sheltered by the US government. Years after her release, Ortiz’s efforts to pursue justice were met with denial from the government due to its mission to protect torturers from prosecution. Ortiz had been warned not to divulge any names; government officials from Guatemala and the US had denounced the torture as a fabrication aimed at preventing the US from giving Guatemala military aid.

The pattern of torture, denial and injustice in Latin America was applied to similar scenarios in other countries, such as the US’s support of Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi in Iran, whose secret police, the Savak, trained by the CIA, were responsible for thousands of dissidents’ deaths.

The discourse on torture was propelled to prominence in the aftermath of 9/11. President George W. Bush’s aim to split recollection of torture into pre- and post 9/11 attempted to justify contemporary torture while detaching the US’s historical involvement in torture. With Bush’s War on Terror targeting Afghanistan and Iraq, torture became a flaunted conspiracy, with rhetoric from government officials standing in stark contrast to the evidence produced from inspections in the countries.

The invasion of Afghanistan under the pretext of hunting down Osama bin Laden and his allies resulted in extensive and extreme torture. Marjorie Kohn discusses the disregard for human rights in the context of a documentary produced in 2002, entitled Afghan Massacre. Three thousand Taliban prisoners of war were rounded up and transported to interrogation buildings in cramped and unventilated conditions. Air was provided, according to the testimony of an Afghan soldier, by shooting at the containers holding the people, resulting in many deaths. Their corpses were thrown into the desert and devoured by dogs - a spectacle which was watched by around 30 American soldiers. The practice of summary execution was later admitted by Bush in 2003, “All told, more that 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries ... Let’s put it this way – they are no longer a problem to the United States and our friends and allies.”

Extraordinary rendition, enhanced interrogation techniques and the Combatant Status Review Tribunal were put into use by the Bush Administration in their handling of terror suspects. Interrogation techniques, some practices drawn from the Cold War era and others as a result of studying psychological manipulation, were drafted into memos, paying extreme attention to avoid implicating the president in criminal liability under the US War Crimes Act. The American Psychological Association allowed its members to take part in detainee interrogations. In his essay Stephen Stolz notes that the APA “encouraged, indeed asserted without evidence, the necessity of having psychologists aid the interrogations.” John Leso, a member of the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) was present during torture which involved 80 hours of continuous interrogation and eventual hospitalization for induced hypothermia. Despite not having reported against the witnessed abuses, Leso remained on good terms with the APA.

Most of the evidence extracted forcibly from detainees was false, garnered after driving the detainee to mental defeat through enhanced interrogation techniques, including waterboarding. Having signed a memo stating that the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to Al Qaeda and the Taliban, Bush approved the use of waterboarding, (authorized by Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft and Powell), on Khaled Sheikh Mohammed, accused of being the mastermind behind 9/11. Jane Myer reiterates that the waterboarding torture of detainee Ibn Sheikh al Libi resulted in erroneous information which was used to bolster Bush’s Operation Iraqi Freedom. Attempts by detainees to protest against the inhumane treatment are smothered quickly; hunger strikes are met with force feeding, in which the detainee has a tube inserted through the nostrils into the stomach without being given any sedative or anaesthetic, despite force feeding having been classified as torture by the United Nations.

Lance Tapley’s discussion of torture focuses on the systematic abuses in the US super maximum security prisons. A brief statistical introduction portrays the high percentage of non-white inmates – two thirds are black or Hispanic. Interrogation techniques are conducted on a parallel with overseas torture methods applied by the US. Indeed, in the introduction Cohn mentions John Armstrong as having headed the Connecticut Department of Corrections until 2003, when he was dispatched to Iraq in the role of prison adviser. The brutal method of cell extraction, in which guards mace, beat and sexually humiliate the prisoner leaves little avenue for prisoners to challenge these abuses due to restrictions on inmates lawsuits as decreed by the 1996 Prison Litigation Act. Deteriorating mental health is punished instead of treated and, despite these prisons claiming to house violent and dangerous prisoners, there have been cases where an accusation of contraband or disobeying a guard’s orders were sufficient reason for being jailed in super maximum security prisons.

A befitting conclusion to the book by Jordan Paust expounds upon the criminal liability of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld. Their violation of the US constitution prohibiting torture and prosecution was swiftly acted upon by President Obama after the release of the Bradbury memos. Obama’s statement implied that the CIA taking action on ‘improper advice’ would not be prosecuted, thus creating measures of impunity. Obama’s electoral promise of change seems to have therefore withdrawn into the labyrinth of injustice created by his predecessors.

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog here.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic

Twilight of Impunity: The War Crimes Trial of Slobodan Milosevic
by Judith Armatta
Duke University Press, 2010

Review by Ramona Wadi

This review was first published by LSE British Politics and Policy Blog here.

In a narration which deals with the responsibility of establishing guilt ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ within an international law framework, Judith Armatta’s detailed account of Slobodan Milosevic’s trial delves into legal ramifications, personality portrayal and testimonies, whilst exhibiting an awareness of split memory consciousness beyond the realm of legality and justice.

Butcher of the Balkans or martyr of nationalism, Slobodan Milosevic was the first leader to be internationally indicted for crimes against humanity. In a trial lasting 466 days in the span of four years, three indictments were brought against Milosevic – crimes against humanity committed in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. The Kosovo indictment charged Milosevic with international law violation including deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecution. The Bosnia and Croatia indictments carried charges of genocide, complicity in genocide and Geneva Convention violations.

The trial was replete with contrasts – in attitude, temperament and legalities. Commencing with the prosecutor’s declaration that ‘… no one is above the law or beyond the reach of international justice’, the declaration was immediately rebutted by Milosevic’s allusions to the concept of freedom, ‘I, arrested, imprisoned, am nevertheless the free’ and his contempt of international law, as he stated ‘I challenge the very legality of this tribunal’. With a defiant attitude coupled with self-representation, Milosevic regaled the world with an insight into his construction of history.

Whether it was an attitude of detachment from, or denial of reality, Milosevic’s dismissal of atrocities jarred with the testimonies of survivors. Witnesses who survived the concentration camps recounted severe torture of the most extreme kind. These witness accounts were refuted by Milosevic, whose rhetoric countered that people were incapable of committing such evil extremes, thus detaching himself from the responsibility of the massacres.

With evidence accumulating against Milosevic, including the setting up of a Joint Command in order to bypass soldiers opposed to military action, Milosevic’s self-defence remained chaotic; a leader facing a hostile international community, at times portraying himself a victim of international conspiracy, a persecuted victim who in turn seized the opportunity to launch his own accusations against the NATO intervention. Despite evidence purporting Milosevic’s awareness of the murder rampage through communication channels, the SDB and other special reports, he continued to exhibit a detachment, claiming that his actions were classified as anti-terrorist operations, that deaths were the result of collateral damage in civil war, and at times his defence was to charge witnesses with conspiracy.

In several instances, Armatta remarks on the futility of holding NATO accountable for any deaths during its campaign. The prosecution claimed not to have enough evidence linking the people’s displacement to NATO airstrikes. General Wesley Clark was allowed to testify by the US, but only under condition that NATO would not be included in the testimony. During Clark’s testimony, the court adjourned for a few minutes to receive a fax signed by Bill Clinton which read, ‘Contrary to Mr Milosevic, General Wesley Clark carried out the policy of the NATO alliance to stop massive ethnic cleansing in Kosovo with great skill, integrity and determination.’ The categorical denial of witnesses stating that NATO inflicted no damage on the villages raised doubts of accountability; however the testimonies were not rendered invalid.

Milosevic’s death on March 11, 2006 prompted allegations of foul play, fuelled partly by a letter in which Milosevic alleged he was being poisoned. To counter the allegations, an autopsy report later stated that he died of natural causes. Past documents were also recalled, citing that since the commencement of the trial, Milosevic was said to be at great risk of cardiac arrest. The abrupt halt to Milosevic’s trial meant that charges of genocide remained unproven due to the court’s failure to establish the commencement and perpetration of the Srebrenica genocidal campaign. The culpability for genocide seems to have been resting on more Generals apart from Milosevic. In the absence of a declaration of genocidal intent, circumstantial evidence precludes a finding of genocide.

In the aftermath of Milosevic’s demise, the concept of split memory consciousness manifested itself in Serbs; with a minority of thousands hailing him as a martyr. The recollection of Milosevic as a national hero prompted outrage from his opponents, who described the homage as humiliating and tantamount to betrayal. The court’s inability to establish a widespread genocide failed to bring about closure to the survivors, in the absence of a verdict and in acknowledging the imperfections of law and justice. Also, the concept of establishing proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, as required by international law, seems to have been flawed by NATO’s assisted impunity with regard to investigation for war crimes.

Armatta’s detailed narration and analysis of Milosevic’s trial makes this book vital for students and researchers interested in the ramifications and contradictions of international law and justice. There is clarity in her portrayal of inevitable flaws within the legal system which rendered Milosevic’s trial incomplete, allowing the reader to analyse how the parameters within which ‘no one is above the law’ is rendered invalid, namely the distance kept by the US in its dealings of with the ICTY and the dynamics which enable NATO’s war crimes to remain untarnished by any judicial procedures

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Introducing Kafka - A Graphic Guide

Introducing Kafka - A Graphic Guide
By David Zane Mairowitz
Illustrated by Robert Crumb

Review by Ramona Wadi

“I write differently from what I speak, I speak differently from what I think, I think differently from the way I ought to think, and so it all proceeds into deepest darkness.” Franz Kafka

Introducing Kafka - A Graphic Guide, immerses the reader immediately into a world where alienation provides magnificent insight into the immediate environment and its consequences. Kafka's literature is a realm of darkness in which abasement, grotesque detail, detachment and hibernation merge to create a narrative of fragmented truths and disgust.

From a childhood heavily influenced by his father's maltreatment and bullying, Kafka's writing resonated with self-deprecation. As he once stated, "Writing is a deeper sleep than death. Just as one wouldn't pull a corpse from its grave, I can't be dragged from my desk at night.” Writing became a necessity through which he was able to discern and absorb humiliation, while constructing narratives of submission, power and guilt.

Mairowitz's text shifts brilliantly from biography to overview of Kafka's stories, seamlessly portraying the family and history influences which caused Kafka to retreat and observe, instead of progressing to rebellion. Indeed, Kafka's precise observation, as well as debasing and humiliating descriptions stem from perceiving his characters through the lens of the oppressor.  The Metamorphosis, In The Penal Colony, The Trial and A Hunger Artist pull the victim into the limelight by propelling the aberrant, oppressive characters to the fore. In this way, just as the victim in Kafka's stories seems to crave a withdrawal, the experienced humiliation is prolonged beyond the immediate torture.

Kafka's work was published posthumously by Max Brod, who ignored Kafka's specific instructions that his writings should be burned. His books were banned following World War II, having been promoted by Czech dissidents as realist literature.

Introducing Kafka - A Graphic Guide is an elaborate overview of an author who absorbed his environment through self-imposed detachment is an excellent prologue to anyone interested in delving further into Kafka's bizarre, magnificent literature.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Words of a Rebel - Peter Kropotkin

Words of a Rebel
by Peter Kropotkin (1885, this edition published in 1997)

Review by Ramona Wadi

This review originally appeared in Irish Left Review here

History is interwoven with the plight of our times - a hereditary restriction of the masses which allows the supremacist authority of the rulers. Our disassociation from past struggles has ensured that humanity, subjugated through capitalism, has betrayed the nature of revolution. Capitalism has become unsustainable yet it has succeeded into shrouding humanity within a parody of life.

Words of a Rebel was published in 1885, when Kropotkin was imprisoned in France under the fabricated charges of being part of an illegal organisation. Advocating anarchist communism, he is adamant in the belief that the insurrection should not evolve into an authoritarian revolution. Abolishing authority in favour of the masses’ autonomy is resonant throughout the book. Kropotkin analyses the dynamics of oppression in a manner which is interdependent, using a language that transcends the realm of his immediate reality. The exploitation of society has evolved, leaving humanity to wallow in a predicament which might have been avoided, had people not forfeited their freedom of thought.

Humanity has been conditioned into reiterating the voice of its oppressor. The feuds characterising power control and democratically elected governments have been translated to the masses as a necessity for order and stability. Society has become bewildered with the travesty of social stratification, even accepting the concentrated cluster of power as an unconquerable absolute majority. A dissenting view is labelled as a social disorder which requires forceful modification. War has been legalised under the pretence of United Nations resolutions, rebranded as a responsible intervention to protect. The definition of revolution has been grotesquely exalted by media hype in order to rally international support towards the usurping of natural resources after thousands of people have been massacred by missiles. Humanitarian aid has become synonymous with the aftermath of destruction. Power has corrupted and manipulated millions of people around the world into accepting and justifying foreign intervention; any whisper of dissent is pacified by the freedom of adding one’s calligraphy to a petition which pretends to uphold moral consciousness. The rhetoric of valour associated with war is denounced by Kropotkin, who describes this irrationality as an invasion and desecration of sovereignty; an indoctrination by political power fuelling momentary hatred in its subjects in order to murder indiscriminately.

Kropotkin explains the reversal of logic by illustrating how governments misrepresent the people, especially the working class. Being in the lower echelon of society, the workers have modified their social expectations through the exploitation of the elite. Power has conjured a parody of itself, ridiculing the millions of workers amassed and relegating them to the description of a minority in order to safeguard its fragile elected majority. The masses have forfeited their right to comfort by becoming slaves of production to ensure their masters’ prestige. Skills, talent and hard work have been reduced to a system of slavery in which the elite have assumed ownership of both worker and product. The freedom of accessing basic needs such as shelter, nutrition, education and health services are treated as a prestige benefiting those whose repression of the majority has deformed the right to live into a struggle for survival. Kropotkin outlines the fallacy of medical care access - a reality in which people striving to survive will never benefit from health care, since medicine has become the sanctuary of those who are swathed in opulence. The state and medical practitioners have created rules of eligibility which favour a sliver of the population.

Power is concerned with order - any semblance of independent thought is fettered and annihilated under the guise of retaining stability in society. In reality, order is a refined method of indoctrination. As Kropotkin states, “Order is a tiny minority, elevated into the seats of government, which imposes itself in that way on the majority and prepares its children to continue the same functions in order to maintain the same privileges by fraud, corruption, force and massacre.”

Parallel to order is law - a ramification which garnered both abhorrence and authority. People are unable to, or unwilling to implement reform where necessary, resulting in a judicial influence dictating societal norms; initiating an arrangement between the law and the state which shelters power corruption by conspiring against the vulnerable in order to contrive a deception to assert moral authority.

Power has consolidated a structure of acquiescence which ensnares every institution within its fraudulent realm; the ultimate aim being the spread and regeneration of conformist attitude. Education - a philosophy which is supposed to enhance and aid students to develop critical thinking skills; has become the primary source which seeks to obliterate any sign of independent, radicalized thought. From an early age students are indoctrinated into the mendacity of submission, taught to venerate power and disassociate themselves from the comfort of reason. “We are all so perverted by an education that from an early age seeks to kill in us the spirit of revolt and develop that of submission to authority; we are so perverted by an existence under the rod of law that rules all: our birth, our education, our development, our lives and our friendships, that, if this continues, we shall lose all initiative, all habit of reasoning for ourselves.”

Words of a Rebel is a magnificent treatise on how people can retain their dignity and freedom. Throughout history freedom has been misinterpreted - its value eradicated through the ignorance disseminated by education and political power. Freedom is misconstrued through the constraints of representative democracy and anarchism, according to Kropotkin will guarantee rights “… for which we might plead to parliament for decades in vain.”

“Freedoms are not given, they are taken.”

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dignity in Adversity - Human Rights in Troubled Times

Dignity in Adversity - Human Rights in Troubled Times
by Seyla Benhabib
Polity Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

This review was first published by London School of Economics and Political Science here.

A reference to Immanuel Kant provides the background for Yale Professor Seyla Benhabib’s new treatise on human rights discourse. Kant’s redefining of cosmopolitanism transforms the term from ‘citizenship denial’ to ‘citizenship of the world’. Through a discussion of topics such as genocide, citizenship, the nation state, anti Semitism and the hijab controversy, Benhabib demonstrates how an approach from this new definition of cosmopolitanism enables human rights discourse to move beyond the state, creating a realm encompassing unity and diversity across political borders.

Human rights reveal a discrepancy within various perspectives – justification, philosophy, legality, law and declarations. Benhabib argues that cosmopolitanism reconstructs the definition of citizenship and rights by defining human beings as moral persons who are entitled to legal protection by right of their identity as human beings, as opposed to citizenship and rights based on nationality or ethnicity. This position entails recognising freedom of expression as a necessity instead of a mere political right.

Two main frameworks emerge from cosmopolitanism as expounded by Benhabib. Democratic iterations are defined as “how the unity and diversity of human rights is enacted and re-enacted in strong and weak public spheres, not only in legislatures and courts, but often more effectively by social movements, civil society actors, and transnational organisations working across borders.” Jurisgenerative power allows “new actors, such as women and ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities – to enter the public sphere, to develop new vocabularies of public claim making and to anticipate new forms of justice to come in process of cascading democratic iterations.”

Major outcomes of history have defined and brought forth the existence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other treaties. However this discourse has been narrowed to an interpretation of what should constitute human rights. The categorisation of human rights into treaties and conventions may be perceived as a manipulation of the West’s perception of human rights transformed into an obligatory adherence upon the rest of the world.

The events of September 11, 2001 have also exposed the corrosion of human rights conduct. The US Patriot Act signed by George W Bush authorised pre-emptive strikes on suspicion of terrorism. The incongruence of the War on Terror has resulted in wars with no apparent conclusion, as well as a blatant violation of the Geneva Convention with regard to prisoner abuse in Guantanamo (Cuba), Abu Ghraib (Iraq) and Baghram Airbase (Afghanistan).

Human rights have also been compromised in order to sustain a nation’s identity. Hence, in liberal democracies religious expression is marginalised while, at the same time bolstering, especially in Europe and the US, the preservation of the white and Christian identity. In a manifestation of past prejudice, when anti Semitism was rampant, it is now Muslims who are targeted by racism and religious prejudice.  The West’s identity has experienced an evolution through secular ideology as well as the spread and effect of conflicts around the world. While resistance against a new concept of identity and citizenship may occur, creating a dystopia, the expansion of human rights definition due to societal change also destabilizes the power held by authorities.

Cosmopolitanism, Benhabib states, encompasses the relevance of moral sympathy and aids in demolishing the abstraction of humanity into ‘concrete others’, thus enabling society to expand its struggle for human rights. Visualising ‘the other’ as a human being prevents society from the alienation – unlike the elite in every country in the world who have disassociated themselves from the reality of the majority.

Benhabib also demonstrates the analogous, as opposed to contradictory, human rights discourse in migration. While host nations may define migrants as having crossed the borders, the same expression of border crossing can be utilized by migrants as the reason why they had to seek asylum in the first place. Decades of colonialism, usurping of natural resources particularly in Third World countries, political conflict, civil wars and the ramifications of poverty, displacement and persecution have portrayed the merging of reasons why a person flees the home country. There is no longer a discrepancy between the political and economic migration. As Benhabib states, “Political persecution, economic marginalisation and discrimination are interdependent.”

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer. Read more about Ramona on our reviewers page.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Antonio Gramsci Prison Notebooks - Volume 1

Antonio Gramsci Prison Notebooks - Volume 1
Edited and translated by Joseph A Buttigieg
Columbia University Press, 2011

This review was first published by Irish Left Review - the original article may be accessed here

“Culture is a fundamental concept of socialism because it integrates and concretizes the vague concept of freedom of thought.” Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci’s cultural awareness permeates every single reflection recorded in his notebooks. Arrested and imprisoned in 1926 on conspiracy charges of an alleged attempt on Benito Mussolini’s life, Gramsci eroded the certainty expressed vehemently by the prosecution, who argued that “We must prevent this brain from functioning for twenty years.”

Volume 1 of the Prison Notebooks introduces Gramsci’s reflections with a detailed synopsis of both his work and the circumstances under which this intellectual legacy flourished. The Fascist victory only succeeded in removing an influential leader of the Partido Comunista d’Italia (PCd’I) from public view but his philosophy was far from annihilated, having already meticulously planned on furthering his political analysis and reflections from the confines of jail.

Writing to his closest friends and relatives, he requested ‘paper and ink’, also a selection of books, detailing his plan to immerse himself in study, analysis and writing during his tenure in prison. Permission to write was given after several petitions - however Gramsci was not allowed to retain his work in his cell - these were locked up and only a limited selection of his notebooks were available to him on occasion. This restriction might be one of the reasons why the notebooks come across as a recording of fragmented reflections.

Gramsci’s initial reflections focused, amongst others, on the theory of history and historiography, education, popular literature, the formation of intellectuals, the Italian Risorgimento, prison life and references to Machiavelli. The seemingly fragmented and dissonant reflections gain momentum when read as a process of debate, discovery and affirmation. Rethinking culture in various forms, Gramsci reflects upon the dissemination of literature, arguing that artistic literature should be regarded as both an ‘actual element of culture’ and ‘a work of art’. The promulgation of literature is essential for civilisation enrichment, in order to prevent culture from becoming inferior.
“Otherwise, preference will be given not to artistic literature but to serial literature which, in its own way, is an element of culture - degraded, perhaps, but current.”
The first volume of the Prison Notebooks is perceived as the foundation for his later reflections. Gramsci’s philosophy is deeply entrenched in socialist ideology; affirming, through extensive reflection, that culture and socialism are necessarily interwoven, creating the conditions for people to embrace or rather, adhere to, the concept of freedom of thought.

Attaining freedom of thought is hindered by the restrictions of capitalism. Despite Gramsci’s view that each person is a philosopher due to participation, observation and the dissemination of thought through the use of language, the working classes’ alienation from culture is one of precincts which capitalism enforces upon this segment of society. Gramsci advocated that socialism should embrace culture in order to sustain the growth of intellectuals, impart a political education to the working class and further the struggle for freedom in society.

Gramsci makes a distinction between the illusion of justice and the truth of justice. The image which justice creates is decadent - an outward flourish of concern to conceal the abuse of power inflicted on people in which there is no regeneration. The concept of hegemony - a term used previously by Marxists such as Lenin, was expounded upon by Gramsci, who maintained that capitalism had assumed absolute power, resulting in bourgeoisie values dominating the working classes’ aspirations and identity. In order for the working class to develop its own culture and values, it is imperative that the oppressed and intellectuals identify with the proletariat. The dominance of the bourgeoisie relies on coercion of the masses and any revolt against this coercion results in a manifestation of force. The accord which balances the void between consent and force is corruption which, as Gramsci states:
(… is characteristic of certain situations in which it is difficult to exercise the hegemonic function while the use of force presents too many dangers); that is, the procurement of the antagonist’s or antagonists’ debilitation and paralysis by buying, covertly under normal circumstances, openly in the case of anticipated dangers - their leaders in order to create confusion and disorder among the antagonist ranks.
Referring to historical insurrections in Europe, Gramsci observes that most modern states were created through a balance in which the bourgeoisie remained in power within a system that the working class found flexible enough. The struggle for power and its achievement transforms the meaning of politics for different social classes. While politics retains its definition for the productive class, the intellectuals define politics as rationality. Gramsci states that these differences in philosophical idealism should be ‘explained on the basis of historic relations’.

Gramsci exhorts the relevance of history, revolution and political thought in order to discern the immediate realm. A consciousness of history is necessary to create the present. Criticising the past in order to adhere to the present is rational and crucial, in order to interpret our analysis hypothetically and politically. Splintering the link between past and present renders humanity unable to comprehend the process of perception, extension and revival.
“In other words, we must stick closer to the present, which we ourselves have helped create, while conscious of the past and its continuation (and revival).”

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Chomsky - A Graphic Guide

Chomsky - A Graphic Guide
by John Maher
Illustrated by Judy Groves
Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

Chomsky - A Graphic Guide gives an excellent portrayal of the linguist who enlightened the academic world with his theory of 'universal grammar' and continues to influence the realm of activism with his constant criticism of absolute power.

Language acquisition transcends the parameters of a single language - all children around the world learn different languages in similar ways to each other. Chomsky's argument is that language and grammar are intrinsically linked to the human brain. Refuting Skinner's behaviourist theory, which argues that children acquire language through imitation of sounds, Chomsky insists that babies have a genetic predisposition towards language - thus excluding the theory of tabula rasa and reinforcing the concept of freedom of consciousness.

Less space is devoted to Chomsky's relentless pursuit of justice. Renowned for his stance against US foreign policy, imperialism and aggressive intervention, Chomsky's disposition towards social justice was kindled at an early age. As a child growing up in the era of the Great Depression, he witnessed the suffering of the working class. Years after the wave of Fascism, World War II and the Vietnam War, Chomsky remained adamant as ever about the betrayal of the people by the intellectuals, who allowed themselves to be manipulated within a system which oppressed freedom of thought but managed to distort this reality under the banner of democracy.

Chomsky's analysis of US politics, foreign policy and freedom bares the system for what is actually is - a culture which prides itself on freedom only after assurance that intellect has been conditioned to conform. The indoctrination of the people under the reassurance of freedom is perceived as actual liberty, since the people have consented to relinquish their own thought.

Maher illustrates Chomsky's perception on the process of indoctrination with media manipulation of historical events, which is always ready to categorise, condemn or apologise for violence, depending on who the perpetrator is. Despite the brevity with which Chomsky's contribution to social justice is discussed, the book nevertheless concludes with an essential reflection about the discussed topics, and one which Chomsky writes about incessantly - the abhorrent relationship between the semblance of justice which the world's super power upholds and the reality it manupulates - a flagrant disregard for humanity's freedom.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Cloud Messenger - Aamer Hussein

The Cloud Messenger
by Aamer Hussein
Telegram Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

A poignant book delving into poetry, culture, relationships, memory and exile, The Cloud Messenger seeks to discover the essence of existence, acknowledging the fact that memory betrays the very recollections which are an integral part of identity.

Hussein's prose shifts hues as he veers from one observation to another, from incidents to memory, from academia to the essence of poetry. Through this constant motion, The Cloud Messenger is a narration that is able to evoke the ethereal and the slivers of truth, contrasting a world of words with a world of reticence.

Conditioned by the realisation of impermanence, Mehran fails to interact faithfully with the people around him. Close friendships and loves seem imbalanced, depending on who commands the narration. But there is a certainty throughout the book - Mehran remains true to his concept of self, aloof, willing to wander and discover himself within Urdu and Persian poetry, seeking a fragment of belonging which his closest friends and loves have been unable to communicate.

At once mundane and surreal, Aamer Hussein evokes the sense of exile within one's self. Creating an identity between Karachi, London and Rome, Mehran's identity is shaped by recollections. The immediate realm fails to register a sense of belonging - it is only by evoking the past that an identity is discovered.

Tragedy plays a significant part in the novel. Whether wrought by disease or a streak of self-destruction, Mahran watches and clings to Riccarda and Marvi - there is an awareness that through these two women's complex attitude towards life, Mehran manages to cultivate the character of a nomad, both metaphorically and in reality. Travel, tragedy, and memory - a character exiled in the world who finds solace within a realm that binds him to the structure of words and verses from his native land.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism - Kieran Allen

Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism
By Kieran Allen
Pluto Press, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

This review was originally published in Irish Left Review. A link to the review may be accessed here

"It is true that labour produces wonderful things for the rich - but for the worker it produces privation … It produces beauty - but for the worker, deformity.” Karl Marx

Kieran Allen’s treatise dispels the conventional opinion that Marxism is obsolete - with clarity he amalgamates Marxist philosophy and the contemporary realm, flaunting the relevance of Marxism as an alternative to capitalism. The very fact that capitalism, through excessive greed, may capitulate to its own downfall, logically should serve to encourage society to change its perception of identity, status and rights.

Marx and the Alternative to Capitalism (Pluto Press, 2011) is an accessible rendition of Marxism, conveying theories to the reader in a significant manner which lays bare the multitude of contradictions in society. Stating that Marx will remain relevant as long as there is class division and social inequality remains, Allen points out that this discrepancy is the reason why society is constantly evolving, albeit spiralling into the decadence of the exploiters and the exploited.

The flaunting and justification of class conflict, as portrayed by Allen through the vicious cycle of opulence versus oppression in Dubai, is an example of how capitalism had rendered humanity subservient to its rule, through the promise of emancipation. Slave labour in Dubai has created material magnificence at the expense of environmental ruin and excessive use of natural resources. Lurking in the shadows are the migrants - the working class reduced to slavery in order to fulfil a patronising capitalist’s dream.

Capitalism has reduced the cry of injustice because its mark of oppression has coerced the workers into forfeiting their natural freedom. The manipulation of human rights - a resource which must be examined, pondered and finally made tangible by the highest echelons of society, has rendered the working class an impassive fragment of society.

The indifference of the oppressed in relation to the environment and social conditions stems from the fact that people are regarded as mere producers of commodities for capitalism. It is, therefore, pertinent to say that capitalism thrives upon the alienation of the slaves it has created. Allen points out that the constraint of capitalism creates divisions, with the individual pitted against society - a disconnection which turns people into ‘market targets’. The individual easily falls prey to the snare of marketing which, if one takes a moment to analyse, is replete with ludicrous statements which feed upon the cycle of necessity disfigured into consumerism.

Social class has marginalised the working class in various aspects of life. Health risks and lack of accessibility to treatment due to profit schemes beleaguer working class citizens. Protests are distorted in capitalist media, branding the action as agitation - secure in its belief that a workers’ revolution is improbable due to capitalist control.

Capitalist control and exploitation are entrenched within contemporary societies. Whilst it seems plausible that the rich individuals in society engage in philanthropy, alienation makes it simple to eliminate the fact that, had it not been for the exploitative system, there would be no need for philanthropists. It is capitalism that created the charity system which involves giving back a minimal portion of one’s billions to the slaves that helped build one’s empire.

Marx’s concept of freedom is more profound than a definition and quest for ‘individual liberty’. Society has transitioned from one system of oppression to another, from masters, to feudal lords, to capitalism, creating a system of dependence which is totally controlled by the concept of need, production and profits. The distribution of basic necessities such as food, water and health care carry an injustice against a bulk of the world’s population, from starving people in third world countries to the destitute in capitalist countries. An illusion of comfort versus poverty has been created - one which even separates and conceals poverty within different societies. Thanks to media manipulation and marketing, comfort is presented as a basic commodity which all member of society have access to when, in reality, capitalism betrays the fundamental civil liberties outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Capitalist violence in society constitutes an incalculable danger. The political merges into the social to create a realm of fear and vulnerability. The violence is concealed within a system that impounds a natural resource such as labour, presenting the end product as an achievement in order to divert attention from the abuse of power and voracity of the capitalists.
Society’s freedom has been compromised, as Marx states,
“In the imagination individuals seem freer under the domination of the bourgeoisie than before, because their conditions of life seem accidental; in reality, of course, they are less free, because they are subject to the violence of things.”
By contrast, Marxist philosophy encourages diversity, imagination and participation in society, thus reducing the repression of the state. The state undergoes the transition to emulate the aspirations of the people, thus becoming a more authentic representative of society.
If capitalism eliminates itself through usurping its own fallacy, a new concept of liberty may be possible, where the individual may flourish within his concept of self and a new concept of society in which class discrimination is a relic of history. But, for this to be truly attainable revolution must not be confined within a single country - it needs to be infiltrate through the borders fabricated by bureaucracy in order to transform into a worldwide revolution led by the proletariat.
“In proportion, as the antagonism between classes within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Close to the Edge - In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation

Close to the Edge - In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation
By Sujatha Fernandes
Verso Books, 2011

A review I had published in Toward Freedom
The original article may be accessed here

Through a journey spanning Sydney, Havana, Caracas and Chicago, sociologist and author Sujatha Fernandes explores the narrations of hip hop culture across the globe in her new book, Close to the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation. This search for international solidarity seems both possible and elusive. Despite its global impact, hip hop also remains isolated within experience and the definition of experience, through history, identity, culture as well as societal and class struggle.

Fernandes commences her search with a foray into the history of hip hop. This includes a look at Afrika Bombaataa, the movement aimed to regenerate itself into a global movement which expounded upon solidarity with black communities and the transformation of song into a language of social consciousness.

The character of hip hop ensures that the message transmission reaches, first and foremost, the community which embraces the artists divulging a collective social commentary. The hip hop movement enabled communities to organize themselves; gaining and imparting knowledge about their immediate environment. The reason for the performance enhanced marketing the music within the community as a unified expression of what needed to be changed.

A divergence occurs here between the hip hop artist and the commercial scene. While artists realized that the social issues they faced were the triggers which necessitated a performance, commercial music outlets and record labels presented hip hop as an alternative form of musical innovation. By negating the socio-political scene, the hip hop artists were divided between those rapping for a more political cause and those rapping for monetary gain and fame. This divide was evident between US and non-US singers.

The global hip hop scene is also fraught with a contradiction between global unity and cross cultural awareness. While international issues may unite artists around the world in a vociferous chant for recognition of oppression, each community has its own unique characteristics, its own problems, and its own manifestation of solidarity. Some communities may criticize capitalism through memory and theory, while others have had to contend with the reality of low wages, poverty and marginalization. The export of hip hop has not necessarily meant the export of experience; rather the music has served as an inspiration for communities around the world to narrate their own biography.

A look at hip hop in the four cities mentioned in this book gives the reader an integral overview of how the movement became a meaningful interlocutor. Growing up in an era which had no tangible recollection of the literacy campaign, or the achievement of free education and healthcare following Fidel Castro’s revolution, Cuban hip hop artists have negotiated their abhorrence of capitalism through a theoretical approach. Having come of age during the special period when the fall of the Soviet Union forced Cuba into austerity measures, hip hop artists in Cuba relied on revolutionary slogans to justify their stance against racism on the island which, Fernandes states, was more conspicuous in areas such as Alamar, which was harshly effected due to supply shortages.

In the aftermath of 9/11, President Bush stepped up the political propaganda against Cuba, labeling it a terrorist state and culminating in the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, as well as closing the airspace for planes traveling to Cuba. Cuban hip hop artists amalgamated this political aggression and the war in Afghanistan in their lyrics, pondering the next victims of the US’s War on Terror and contrasting the war propaganda with Fidel Castro’s speech of solidarity broadcast on TV.

By contrast, Chicago’s hip hop scene was inspired by a split society which segregated black neighborhoods from the white middle class. The antagonism against capitalism stemmed not through theory, but through the direct experience of poverty.

Venezuela’s hip hop scene negotiates some similarities with the US. The hip hop movement evolved and referred to Hugo Chavez’s political discourse for reform. Both the Caracas and Chicago rappers’ songs focus on the social environment, with street gangs and the sense of belonging or exclusion being the norm in these communities. As with US hip hop, the music is both commercial and underground. The yearning for stability in the barrios, as expressed in the rap lyrics clashes with the commercial lyrics of other groups who perceive record sales as an achievement. By diminishing the call for improvement in social conditions of the poor, the commercial hip hop artists disassociated themselves from the social reality.

Hip hop in Sydney became a vocal expression for the Aboriginal community and a manifestation of multicultural experiences for migrants. The Aborigines’ deprivation of land rights and immigrants displaced by wars in Lebanon and Middle Eastern countries brought a unity within hip hop artists, each group invoking words in their native language to assert their cultural identity. However, for migrants, the border crossing and the ensuing racism and rejection of identity were far more resonant than ancestry, which was a significant theme for the Aborigines.

Fernandes also ponders the difference between hip hop and political activism – marking a divergence between the narration of an experience and the rhetoric expounding an experience. Hip hop delved within its immediate realm, which include the social injustices faced daily in the local community. While political activism was a factor unifying people for a cause, a global hip hop society was harder to sustain due to its dependence on the social structure of its immediate community.

The necessity of belonging to a community created a pattern of interdependence within the same social structure, while at the same time redefined social and political circumstances through experience. Hip hop music has navigated a unique space, stirring a global movement which is connected through the music yet derives its strength from its identity within a particular community and environment.

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog here.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Revolutionary Doctors - How Venezuela and Cuba are Changing the World's Conception of Health Care

Book Review - Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World’s Conception of Health Care

  “Often we need to change our concepts, not only the general concepts, the social or philosophical ones, but also sometimes our medical concepts.” - Ernesto Che Guevara.  

Modelled on Che Guevara's principles and keeping in line with the Cuban revolution, Steve Browuer's assessment of Cuba's health care system in his book Revolutionary Doctors: How Venezuela and Cuba Are Changing the World's Conception of Health Care (Monthly Review Press, July, 2011) stands as a testimony to anyone claiming that socialism cannot function. Cuban doctors have regaled people in Latin America and around the world with medical opportunities which, in capitalist ideology and implementation, remain remote. While Cubans are provided free health care provided by medics who are dedicated to science and society, the United States has created a scheme based on profits, which marginalizes a major segment of the population who cannot afford costly treatment. 

Che Guevara, himself a doctor, always reiterated the responsibility of helping the oppressed. Having observed the effects of poverty and social class during his travels in Latin America, his revolutionary consciousness stemmed from the concept of restoring dignity to the poor who were oppressed and neglected by dictatorships. Reaffirming Che’s philosophy, at the ELAM (Escuela Latinoamericana de Medicina) medical school in Cuba, an inscription of Fidel Castro’s words greets the students. “This will be a battle of solidarity against selfishness.” Striving against the reluctance of the minority who view a career medicine as an opportunity to achieve higher social status, ELAM’s philosophy is “transforming the doctor’s privilege into a doctor’s responsibility.”

Immediately after the triumph of the revolution, the health care system in Cuba underwent major changes. Despite a shortage of doctors, many of them having left to practice in the US and thereby retain prestige and social status, Cuba invested heavily in social welfare. Health care services were nationalized, medicine prices were reduced and treatment fees were gradually eliminated. By the end of 1960, Cuban doctors were employed in a system that provided free health care to all Cubans.

Aspiring doctors in Cuba were able to study medicine for free. In return for free education, doctors were required to relinquish the notion of medicine as an elitist career and work in close contact with the people, travel to rural areas, conduct home visits, and research in rural communities. In 1970, the Ministry of Health pointed out the mistake of valuing specialization over primary health care, given that many medical problems could have been solved by paying special attention to the environment. The study of primary health care and environmental problems proved successful when in Venezuela, it was discovered that apart from the effects of damp weather during rainy seasons, the wood fires which women lighted in their houses were causing lung congestion. The problem was lack of proper ventilation in houses. In 1984, a program of comprehensive general medicine was formulated, enabling medical students to study different areas of medicine in a continuous sequence, rather than separate subjects. The new curriculum was discussed with medics from Canada, Venezuela, Australia and the Philippines, with the director of ELAM stating that comprehensive general medicine allowed students to progress in scientific training whilst at the same time providing the opportunity for students to 'understand the patient as a whole'.

Cuba has become a key player in responding to humanitarian aid around the world. Medical help was provided for countries ravaged by natural disasters such as Haiti, where Cuban doctors performed 6449 surgeries and stayed on long after the seven weeks of humanitarian aid offered to the Haitians by the US were over. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in the US, Cuban doctors were forbidden by then- President Bush to assist in humanitarian aid. While Bush dismissed the Cuban offer as ‘propaganda’ by Fidel Castro, the brigade of doctors proved otherwise as they were dispatched to Pakistan, where an earthquake had left thousands of people in dire need of medical and humanitarian assistance. Indeed, the disposition and ethics of Cuban doctors is a source of pride to Fidel Castro who, in his column Reflections of Fidel, contrasted Cuba’s contribution to that of the US. “We are sending doctors, not soldiers!”

Combining medical care, research and ethics, Cuban doctors continue to export the revolutionary struggle on an international level. Cuba provided medical and humanitarian aid to countries whose politics were hostile to the Cuban revolution, such as the Nicaragua under the Somoza dictatorship. South Africa was aided by Cuban doctors in developing health care programs for combating HIV. Tanzania now boasts a medical school set up by Cuban doctors. And in Venezuela, the successful Barrio Adentro mission, as well as the free health care system has been modelled after the Cuban project, with doctors assisting and training Venezuelan medics in revolutionizing health care as a model of social responsibility.

The reluctance of Venezuela doctors to work and live in rural areas made it necessary for President Hugo Chavez to call in the expertise of Cuban doctors. The constitution drawn up by Chavez in 1999 granted all Venezuelans the right to accessible health care. Social missions were set up to monitor and ensure health care improvement in working class and poverty stricken areas. Cuban doctors made up for the lack of Venezuelan doctors willing to live in rural areas, reporting health problems that would have been common in countries with a very low GDP, such as Ethiopia and Angola.

The first phase of Barrio Adentro created over six thousand facilities throughout Venezuela which dealt with primary healthcare. The project was furthered to include diagnostic clinics and intensive care for people who were unable to be transferred to larger hospitals. Later the public hospital system was improved by technology updates, as well as improving communication with other health networks. Chavez’s government also ordered the construction of research laboratories and specialized hospitals offering advanced forms of treatment. By the end of August 2010, 83% of Venezuelans had benefited from Barrio Adentro – a far cry from the situation in the 1980’s where 17 million out of 24 million Venezuelans had no access to medical care.

Brouwer points out the benefits of health care as social responsibility. Apart from educating students and offering free courses to aspiring doctors, Cuba has also strived to educate and encourage Venezuelan people to assume responsibility for safeguarding the free health care system. Poor people were offered two meals a day prepared by volunteers, thus combating the effects of malnutrition. In order to avoid street crimes, Venezuelans volunteered as bodyguards for Cuban doctors. Committees of volunteers were set up, supplying Cuban doctors with food, housing and help in data collection, research and public health campaigns.
Financed by Venezuela, Cuban doctors in Bolivia treated over 300,000 Bolivians for eye surgery between 2006 and 2008. In an echo of history, it later became known that one of the patients treated for eye surgery was Mario Teran, the soldier singled out as Che Guevara’s executioner. Cuban doctors in Bolivia are perceived as emulating Che’s internationalist example.

Despite the obvious positive impact and social transformation which Cuban and Venezuelan health care had in Latin America, the US State Department and the CIA expressed concerns that Cuba and Venezuela were having a negative effect on Latin America. Counter-revolutionary efforts to thwart the socialist mission were staged, with a group of Cuban and Venezuelan exiles in Miami stating that doctors were exploited and coerced into servitude by the Cuban government. The only doctor to take part in this conspiracy was later found to be part of an anti-government group. President Bush also offered Cuban and Venezuelan doctors a safe and quick entry to the US, with the hope of disrupting the medical progress achieved in the continent. The US alternative was USAID, a program which promised financial aid in return for US approved “democratic” transition in Latin American socialist countries.

However, the sabotage program failed, highlighting instead capitalism’s failure to deliver what socialist revolutions are achieving in Latin America. Cuban doctors prided themselves on their role as teachers, imparting the necessity of education and community awareness to rural areas which would have otherwise been marginalized by unjust political systems. Within two years of adapting Cuba’s literacy program in Bolivia, UNESCO declared Bolivia free of illiteracy.

Almost every chapter in Revolutionary Doctors starts, befittingly, with a quote from Che Guevara. However, greater prominence might have been given to Fidel Castro's continuous exhortation, even after Che's death, that the West acknowledges and acts upon the injustices riddling Third World countries. In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in 1979, Castro denounced the inequalities which triggered poverty and ill health:

"There is often talk of human rights, but it is also necessary to speak of the rights of humanity. Why should some people walk around barefoot so that others can travel in luxurious automobiles? Why should some live for 35 years so that others can live for 70? Why should some be miserably poor so that others can be overly rich? I speak in the name of the children in the world who do not have a piece of bread. I speak in the name of the sick who do not have medicine. I speak on behalf of those whose right to life and human dignity have been denied... Of what use, then, is civilization? What is the use of man's conscience? Of what use is the United Nations? [applause] Of what use is the world? It is not possible to speak of peace in the name of tens of millions of human beings who die yearly of hunger, of curable disease throughout the world."

By implementing education on a national level and ensuring its distribution to all echelons of society, Cuba and Venezuela have managed to create a system which embraces and values humanity, and revolutionized medical practice as an ethical and moral responsibility, thus restoring dignity to the people by creating a new social consciousness. The 'conscientious internationalist' embodied by Che Guevara has been transformed into a regenerating reality and, far from the distorted spectrum ranging from prestigious career to saviors, Cuba and Venezuela have managed to transform socialism from an ideology into a humanitarian practice.

Ramona Wadi is a freelance writer living in Malta. Visit her blog at

Monday, September 19, 2011

Citizenship and Immigration - Christian Joppke

Citizenship and Immigration
By Christian Joppke
Polity Press, 2010

Review by Ramona Wadi

Joppke constructs a detailed account of the various factors and underlying circumstances in order to define the various concepts of citizenship. By delving into early political thought, philosophy and societal norms, Joppke portrays the quest by political power to inventing a social norm which constitutes a semblance of social order, therefore attempting to establish the interwoven concepts of rights, status and identity.

Marx's perception of citizenship serves as a warning for citizens in any particular society based on capitalist politics. A perceived equality in citizenship only served to alienate citizens further, binding them to servitude under the interdependence of capitalism and citizenship. According to Marx, citizenship was a formality which sought to conceal inequalities within social classes in capitalist societies under the assumption of creating the conditions for equality.

Weber's argument is that citizenship also authorises the possibility of use of force, by creating discourse that the government needs to protect its citizens from a state of war. Thus, violence may be used as a weapon against violence under the assumption of the state protecting its citizens. The various definitions of citizenship fragments citizens' involvement in society, essentially contrasting one aspect of citizenship against the other, creating the need to formulate laws which seek to regulate the divisions foisted on society by a single, yet diverse concept.

The concept of citizenship has evolved through the years, defined by global and social upheavals - revolutions, migration, war, ethnic conflicts have all created the conditions necessitating a redefinition of citizenship. Various studies have fragmented the study of citizenship and rights, especially with regard to minorities in society. Although various states have allowed dual nationality or naturalisation, the restriction of migrants' participation in society led to multiculturalism discourse flanked by anti-discrimination laws, suggesting that society and governments exhibit a reluctance towards a form of citizenship based on equal rights. Despite the accessibility of citizenship, the loss of identity has become evident in society, as multiculturalism blends into assimilation, with migrants having to choose and forfeit slivers of cultural identity in order to claim status and rights.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Join The Club - Tina Rosenberg

Join The Club - How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World
by Tina Rosenberg
Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

A book which will remain relevant for as long as communities are stifled or marginalised, Join The Club delves into various societal conflicts in order to impart a detailed account and structure of social responsibility.

From HIV awareness in South Africa, the law of castes in India to an overview of military dictatorships and an account of Slobodan Milosevic's fall from power, Rosenberg affirms that underestimating positive peer pressure results in eliminating the appreciation of a partial societal dynamic.

While far from guaranteeing a solution, peer pressure may create inroads where media publicity and speeches from governmental organisations fail to register any substantial awareness. Society relates to experience - the experience of like-minded people in an adverse situation and a tangible course of action.

Activism is a collective effort which should be constructed as an efficient tool for society, which is far removed from the consciousness of local governance and politics. Society's evolution through the years has been marked with defiance, passiveness, acquiescence and open revolt. All too often, individual efforts at communicating a philosophy or ideology remains cloistered within a specific realm to be embraced by a few like-minded individuals. The structure of activism ensures that any particular message is directed to the segment of society which constructs a necessary course of action to combat any harmful hegemony.

Rosenberg's account of positive peer pressure and activism is as much historical as contemporary. As injustice and suffering in the world continues to accumulate, so must activists embrace and devise new methods of combating adversities in a manner that is accessible and prominent in order to ensure a continuous, functional safeguard for the marginalised people in society.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

How To Be Compassionate - The Dalai Lama

How To Be Compassionate
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins
Rider Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

"Violence always produces misery, so it is fundamentally counterproductive." The Dalai Lama

Another book of altruistic philosophy from the Dalai Lama - a gentle reminder for humanity to divest itself of hatred. The book is also an exercise in patience and developing a character which recognises and accepts the concept of interdependence.

Through gentle words, readers are enticed to embrace a manner of thinking that seems remote yet, upon reflection, it is evident that humanity has confused independence and its consequences. The negative emotions assailing a person at a crucial moment enslaves the mind to the point of distorting existence and consciousness. Consequently, anger diminishes rationality and fails to distinguish between the act that causes anger and the person through whom the action has been carried out.

The Dalai Lama advocates 'cultivating insight' in order for people to distinguish between the illusion created by extreme emotions and reality. Insight remains a necessity if people are to contribute effectively to the pursuit of happiness for humanity. Again, insight provides people with the qualities necessary to build a compassionate society.

Reminding society of two important concepts - impermanence and interdependence, the Dalai Lama asserts that embracing these two realities shifts the burdens of anger and hostility. The realisation that every situation in life is as temporary as life itself allows an individual to perceive existence and choice of action as an integral part of humanity. Embracing the philosophy of interdependence becomes both an obligation and a right - inherent to acknowledging our responsibility of performing kindness and compassion beyond the confines of race, religion, and any other category which has served to disperse the unity of society.

Sabra Zoo by Mischa Hiller

Sabra Zoo
by Mischa Hiller
Telegram Books 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

Sabra Zoo delves deeper into the reality behind the distortion of media headlines and propaganda hype. An intriguing novel which allows the reader to bond with the circle of characters who, despite courage, ideals and determination, are coerced into various roles alternating between activism, humanitarian aid, undercover work and helpless spectators.

Ivan, a teenager holding Danish and Palestinian citizenship decides to remain in Lebanon after his parents are evacuated. Whilst working as an interpreter in Sabra refugee camp, he is also working undercover for the PLO. Ivan befriends Youssef - an orphan receiving medical aid after being disabled by a cluster bomb. He also harbours feelings for Eli, the Norwegian physiotherapist who, in turn, is plagued by doubts of her own.

The assassination of the president-elect is the prologue of a massacre in Beirut. A massacre is carried out by the Israeli army as it enters Beirut, and the scene becomes the camp story franchised into international headlines. The stench of war crimes - rape, mass execution and decapitation force Ivan to face the quest for survival and search for Youssef - a final attempt at saving a fragment of humanity from Sabra.

Mischa Hiller's novel exposes the philosophy of war and weapons - a permanent quest of destruction which deems it comprehensible to debate whether it is better to kill or maim, as with cluster bombs. Discarding the formula of narrating the sensationalism of war, Sabra Zoo compels readers to question their role in the wake of atrocities which spectators consider an inevitable outcome. There seems to be a possibility that if people replace staring at images on television screens with the acrid vision of the aftermath of the massacre, humanity might start acknowledging its responsibility towards its own race.