Trust the London Review of Books blog to find humor in the international scene.

Of course, it is a gallows humor.

An abstract of one article:

It’s wartime again
The political strategy almost makes the military one look as if it lacks stupidity. It calls for making allies of regional unfriends like Assad, Putin and maybe Iran, and for the reconciliation of unfriends of unfriends such as Erdoğan with Putin. Out of this it’s expected that a political solution will crystallise, in which Assad will play a key role while also standing down. This is not realism, but surrealism. It can be made sense of only expressively. After Paris, civilisation demands futile acts of symbolic violence.


Revised: Female genital mutilation Fatwa in Northern Iraq

Correction: Isis have denied issuing the Fatwa, describing it as a hoax, and one document circulated on social media purporting to be a copy of the edict, turns out to be a photo-shopped Syrian document dated 2013. The Guardian and BBC both reported growing doubts, rather than accepting the hoax verdict. To do more than reserve judgement, at this point, seems like accepting the word of a violent and extremist group over that of a (female) UN official.


As if things weren’t bad enough in Northern Iraq, ISIS has issued a Fatwa ordering the genital mutilation of all girls and women in and around Mosul, the city they took in early June. Until now, genital mutilation in Northern Iraq affected 8% of girls aged 15-29, compared to 36% in the 29 African and Middle East countries in which it is most common. According to the UN co-ordinator in Irak, Jacqueline Badcock, 4 million girls and women are at risk if the Fatwa is carried out.

Woman’s work: an Italian freelance reporter in Syria

An interesting and rather sad piece.

People have this romantic image of the freelancer as a journalist who’s exchanged the certainty of a regular salary for the freedom to cover the stories she is most fascinated by. But we aren’t free at all; it’s just the opposite. The truth is that the only job opportunity I have today is staying in Syria, where nobody else wants to stay. And it’s not even Aleppo, to be precise; it’s the frontline. Because the editors back in Italy only ask us for the blood, the bang-bang. I write about the Islamists and their network of social services, the roots of their power—a piece that is definitely more complex to build than a frontline piece. I strive to explain, not just to move, to touch, and I am answered with: “What’s this? Six thousand words and nobody died?”

You can read more here.

Denis Mukwege: helping women in the Democratic Republic of Congo

As readers will no doubt be aware, rape is used as a weapon of war in the DRC. Denis Mukwege is a surgeon there who has helped thousands of women, developing expertise in dealing with serious sexual injuries. The war that has been raging for several years in DRC is about resources. A good way to force people off their land is to publicly rape and torture all the women, forcing everyone else to watch. In this way, a whole community is made to flee, leaving behind their homes, belongings, and land.

After being attacked by armed men at his home, Denis Mukwege moved with his family to Sweden, but the women of DRC begged him to return, even saving money to pay for his plane ticket. He couldn’t refuse, and has gone back to carry on his work.

You can read more on the BBC website.

Everyone Poops.

Yes, everyone poops. But discovering that reality could be even more traumatizing than discovering the reality of the violence of war. Or so Ryan Smith, who authored this piece at the Wall Street Journal (titled “The Reality that Awaits Women in Combat”), seems to imply.

Yes, a woman is as capable as a man of pulling a trigger. But the goal of our nation’s military is to fight and win wars. Before taking the drastic step of allowing women to serve in combat units, has the government considered whether introducing women into the above-described situation would have made my unit more or less combat effective?

Societal norms are a reality, and their maintenance is important to most members of a society. It is humiliating enough to relieve yourself in front of your male comrades; one can only imagine the humiliation of being forced to relieve yourself in front of the opposite sex.

Australia Opens Combat Posts to Women

The Australian military will now allow women to take frontline combat roles. This happened as the result of a new policy allowing all military positions to be filled on merit rather than gender within five years. Only three of Australia’s military partners allow women on the frontlines — New Zealand, Canada and Israel.

For more, see here.

Remembering September 11, 2001

As the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. approaches, many of us are drawn to recognizing the losses and sufferings of that day.  Yet moral horrors and losses happen to people around the world, and they are not accorded international recognition.  The appreciation of ubiquitous suffering can be paralyzing, can it not?  Is there a virtue of mourning, and a vice of excess in contexts in which my losses receive more generous attention than others’?

As it happens, I am also currently labouring over a paper honouring the work of philosopher Sara Ruddick, whose loss to this community in the past year is also being recognized at several philosophical conferences.  My work on Ruddick is currently preoccupied with her 2003 essay, “The Moral Horror of the September Attacks.”  As always, reading her helps me consider possible answers as to the appropriateness of ongoing sadness.  She reminds her readers that all losses merit appreciation:

 [A possible] argument finds the September attacks insignificant when compared to other evils: deaths in the thousands rather than the millions, an assault of only half a day, quick death by force and fire rather than by extended torture and humiliation. The attacks seem almost trivial compared to evils of the holocaust, slavery, and apartheid; to many massacres and much extended suffering under brutal tyrannical rule. …

Evils differ in degree and kind. A sense of perspective is important. But in comparing evils we may trivialize or excuse the “lesser,” thereby inuring ourselves to great suffering.  What matters is the specificity of moral horrors, of evil, of anyone’s pain and loss.

Drawing on the correspondence of Arendt and Jaspers regarding the Holocaust, Ruddick adds:

This correspondence contains a double warning both against mythologizing “the horrible” and against denying the distinct horrors of what is done or suffered. Since September 11 the danger of mythologizing, even clinging to, the horrible has been evident. It has been harder to grasp the distinct moral horror of the attacks or even to appreciate the difficulty of that task.

Ruddick concludes on a note of lament, which affords a sort of sympathetic comfort even as she reminds us that victims’ stories and our own memories of that day are not consoling.  If we continue to remember the day with pain, perhaps it is because violence does not end.  It may ask too much to greet this anniversary, and her last sentence below, without sadness.

The values of “home” can be destroyed on factory floors, in prisons and mind-numbing schools, through “terrorist” violence and terrifying war. They can be destroyed at home. But they were not destroyed in the September attacks.

Nor did these values in any sense triumph. The September attacks are about damage and loss; intimate, emotional, social, and political loss. The victim stories are stories, true enough tales of what some people did. They express certain values, but they do not console. Instead they offer one way of beginning to grasp the moral horror we have witnessed and to feel the bitter loss of what violence has killed, now kills and will kill again.

Foreign workers kidnapped, made to do manicures for US soldiers in Iraq

Really. I’m not kidding. (Perhaps my use of ‘kidnap’ will seem controversial: but that seems to me what it is to tell Fijian women that they are going to Dubai to earn enormous amounts of money, then send them to Iraq to earn much less and live in shipping containers.) It’s not just manicures, of course. It’s also fast food. Oh, and getting raped. (Though that’s not part of the job description.) Also, getting abandoned and denied tickets home once contracts are over. It is actually subcontractors doing the kidnapping, and the US government is officially opposed. But not much is being done about it. (Much like the rape hotline that never picks up, also discussed.)

More on Manning

Bradley Manning is the twenty-three-year old private, accused of passing various bits of sensitive information to wikileaks. He’s been held in solitary confinement since July 2010, banned from exercising, apart from one hour a day when he is let out to walk in circles around an empty room. Those conditions have been proven to destroy a person’s mind, and the two people allowed to visit Manning – his lawyer and David House, a researcher at MIT – have said that certainly seems to be happening with Manning, who is now almost incapable of talking coherently, extremely overweight, and at times appears almost catatonic. Psychological studies suggest that the psychic and physical impairments that result from prolonged solitary confinement are in some cases irreversible. The practice has been condemned as a form of torture. Manning has yet to be convicted of any crime.

Now, in a new development, Manning may face the death penalty – further charges have been brought against him, including that of ‘aiding the enemy’, which carries the death penalty.

You can read more about the conditions in which Manning is held and their effects on him on David House’s blog.

The New Statesman has an article on the new charges, which carry the death penalty.

We are here because…

Video footage from the All African Women’s Group of women asylum-seekers. The accounts talk about the violence and horror they endured back home and their fight for justice here.

From the Press Release:

It is a testimony to women’s strength and courage, that despite great trauma, we find ways of overcoming silence and invisibility. Many of those interviewed have survived rape and other forms of torture, seen their loved ones killed, been driven from their home by wars, endured years of separation from their children, suffered violent and abusive relationships, been imprisoned/detained . . . yet have refused to give up. Some have won safety and protection, but for countless others, the daily battle for survival and justice continues, made harder in a climate where the services and resources we all need are being cut to the bone.

We hope you will: watch, listen, comment, and want to work with us to stop the injustices which are exposed in these extraordinary interviews.