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.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Introducing Political Philosophy - A Graphic Guide

Introducing Political Philosopy - A Graphic Guide
by Dave Robinson
Illustrations by Judy Groves
Icon Books, 2011

Review by Ramona Wadi

Another excellent book from the Introducing series, Political Philosophy - A Graphic Guide discusses the various institutions which regulate individuals. Departing from the concept of individual and moving on to society and state, Robinson gives an overview of political philosophy from the times of the Ancient Greeks to the contemporary forms of governance and society.

Referring to the concepts raised by famous philosophers, from Socrates and Plato, Locke and Hume, to Machiavelli, Gramsci and Marx, the dynamics of state are explored from various angles. The book illustrates questions with snippets of history, such as democracy being the power which condemned Socrates to death, as well as an overview of the French Revolution and its aftermath with regard to socialism.

The Prince - Machiavelli's best known work deserves a special mention as it sheds light on the dynamics of power and force. Referring to Gramsci's Theory of Hegemony, Robinson defines the unthinking society and the consequence of allowing capitalist power even more dominance. Marx perceives the failure of capitalism as being an unsustainable power process.

At times delving deeper into society, the book lays bare the political spectrum of left and right; while at the same time paying attention to other forms of governance apart from democracy and sustaining each concept with reference to major political treatises. Ingeniously in almost every page, Robinson lays the argument of human rights, which seems to be exploited and abused in many forms of political power, including within the so-called lesser evil of democracy.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Victor - An Unfinished Song by Joan Jara

Victor - An Unfinished Song
by Joan Jara
Bloomsbury, 1998

Review by Ramona Wadi

"I need the wood and strings of my guitar to give vent to sadness or happiness, some verse which opens up the heart like a wound, some line which helps us all to turn from inside ourselves to look out and see the world with new eyes." Victor Jara

In the preface, Joan Jara expresses relief at the opportunity to relate such an integral part of Chilean history. Indeed, this memoir soothes, enraptures and enrages the reader, with the knowledge that each page brings one closer to an atrocious epilogue - a reminder of the horrors unleashed by the military coup of Augusto Pinochet.

Joan Jara's narration is provocative and poignant. From the first pages one senses the fervour of socialism, coupled with the experience of a British woman in Chile. Arriving in Chile as a ballet dancer who later took up teaching, the initial experience as a foreigner quickly dissolves as her life with Victor becomes the immediate reality. Their lives together soon become overshadowed by a short lived socialist triumph with the election of Salvador Allende which descended into tyranny with the emergence of right wing violence and the US supported military coup which degenerated into a bloodbath.

The Nueva Cancion Chilena was part of the left's struggle against imperialism, integrating itself with the people and becoming a voice for the laments of the poblacion. Like other nueva cancion singers and groups, such as Inti Illimani and Quilapayun, Victor Jara supported Allende's presidential campaign wholeheartedly. Allende's Unidad Popular gave Chileans the hope for freedom and the song Venceremos quickly became the official hymn of the Unidad Popular.

The opposition to Allende's government was fuelled by US foreign policy, which seems to have deemed it ethical to eliminate any traces of communism in Latin America. Allende's final broadcast, in which he pledged his life to the people, was the initiation of a bloody trail that haunted Allende's supporters. In snippets of telephone conversation with Joan Jara, Victor managed to illustrate a cautious overview of events from his workplace at the Technical University. A few days later, she was informed of her husband's death by a companero. 

Victor's murder at the Estadio Chile was pieced together later by witnesses. Victor was singled out especially for torture and mockery by a soldier nicknamed 'The Prince' who, by all accounts is reputed to have been extremely sadistic in his treatment of the prisoners. Recognised as a nueva cancion singer, Victor's defiance and pledge to remain close to the people never wavered. In a poem written hours before his death, Victor Jara bequeathed the world with a testimony that paid homage to the thousands of people murdered by the military.

In the aftermath of Victor's murder, Pinochet embarked on a destructive mission against the nueva cancion. Victor Jara's song records were destroyed and the purge extended to instruments normally associated with the nueva cancion. His musical legacy still exists due to the efforts of Chileans hiding record copies and eventually smuggling them out of Chile.

Victor - An Unfinished Song is a testimony which mingles horror, exile, nostalgia and the repercussions of right wing politics. An essential read for anyone with an interest in the nueva cancion, the book is rendered intimate by the lyrics to Manifiesto and Vientos del Pueblo, as well as Victor's last poem from the Estadio Chile. It is a sphere of Chilean history yet, the universal philosophy of the nueva cancion makes this book an integral part of any person's history, whether beyond immediate recollection or a reflection of contemporary oppression.