Don Loeb and Peter Railton over at bloggingheads.tv.
Isaac Hayes comes on just like a fearsome festival stand-in—even if his bodyguards are armed only with walkie-talkies, his costume is Sunset Strip African, and the ritual he performs is far more Apollo than Kwotto.
After the MC has asked for a “warm round of applause for the Number One Black Entertainer in the World,” and the band has broken into the “Theme from Shaft,” a black Verushka, her icy beauty accented by her gleaming bald head, stalks onto the stage. She prowls about in a red and white imitation zebra poncho, glaring at the audience. A concubine, perhaps?
Finally, she crooks her finger at stage right. A pause as the anticipation builds and then Isaac Hayes enters. Tall and broad-shouldered, he appears to be cleverly disguised as a grass hut. He moves rigidly, as if on stilts, to the woman; upon closer examination he turns out to be wearing a sort of British magistrate’s wig fashioned out of straw, a long mantle of African cloth and a grass skirt. But there is no doubt that he is an imposingly strong, handsome man.
more from Rolling Stone’s 1972 feature on Hayes here.
One of the most revealing insights into Britain’s recent social history comes early in “My Son the Fanatic,” Hanif Kureishi’s tender and darkly prescient 1997 film. It’s morning in an unnamed city in northern England, and Parvez, a secular Pakistani immigrant taxi driver brilliantly portrayed by Om Puri, watches Farid, his increasingly devout college-age son, sell his electric guitar. “Where is that going?” Parvez asks Farid as the buyer drives off. “You used to love making a terrible noise with these instruments!” Farid, played by Akbar Kurtha, looks at his father with irritation. “You always said there were more important things than ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ” he says impatiently in his thick northern English accent. “You couldn’t have been more right.”
This seemingly casual exchange cuts to the heart of almost everything that has animated Kureishi in nearly three decades as a playwright, screenwriter, novelist and essayist. This is, after all, the man who co-edited “The Faber Book of Pop” and whose films and novels — including “My Beautiful Laundrette” and “The Buddha of Suburbia” — are filled with raucous sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. But this is also the man who had the presence of mind to poke around in English mosques in the late ’80s and early ’90s, sensing that something might be stirring there, as indeed it was.
more form the NYT Magazine here.
David Gargill in Abu Dhabi’s The National:
Bilal is folded in an awkward crouch, ski goggles obscuring his face, from patchy moustache to widow’s peak, to protect his eyes from the yellow paintballs whizzing overhead. He can’t afford to focus on the camera – his ballistic antagonist has cornered the market of his attention. His locution is clipped, his lips pursed, barely elastic enough to emit words. “I’ll update you later on the slaughter,” he mutters, and the video cuts out. Now Bilal is standing beside the gun as its chrome proboscis wobbles like a caffeinated compass needle over his left shoulder, probing the room for quarry it can no longer see. “I’m filling the pod [with 200 rounds] every 10 minutes,” he says in disbelief. “May as well just stand here and keep filling.” Bilal’s desperation to keep the gun loaded is confounding, as though there’s some inexplicable symbiosis between tormentor and tormented.
“People online giving me so much hope,” he whispers tearfully. “Somebody said, ‘Imagine an entire nation living like this,’” and with that he breaks down, steely-eyed and shaky, his gaze fixed even as his sobs rock him in place. “My intent is to raise awareness of my family in Iraq,” he announces, his resolve replenished by memory, “and I’m going to continue doing it until next Monday.”
This powerful amalgam of hope and despair, spite and pathos, which Bilal initially called Shoot an Iraqi, unfolded last spring in Chicago’s FlatFile Gallery. (It was later renamed Domestic Tension to allay the concerns of Susan Aurinko, the gallery’s owner.) For 30 days, Bilal lived in a 4.6 by 9.8 metre performance space, while people around the world watched – and targeted him – through a webcam attached to a remote-controlled paintball gun, capable of firing over a shot per second at the Iraqi in question.
More here. [Thanks to Asad Raza.]
They’re still a ways off, but invisibility cloaks and microscopes with superresolution could now be a big step closer to reality thanks to a pair of results to be reported this week. For 8 years, physicists and engineers have tinkered with metamaterials, patterned arrays of bits of metal and insulator that bend and manipulate microwaves and shorter wavelength radiation in strange ways. Now, a team has made three-dimensional miniaturized metamaterials that work with near-infrared and visible light. That’s a key step toward superlenses and cloaks for visible light, some say. Others say the claims are overblown.
Metamaterials put a kink in the way light usually passes from one medium into another. Suppose light from the setting sun shines on a pond. As light waves strike the surface, their direction will change so that they flow more directly down into the water. (See diagram.) Such “refraction” arises because the light travels more slowly in water than in air, giving water a higher “index of refraction.” Still, the light continues to flow from west to east. Were water a “left-handed metamaterial,” however, the light would undergo “negative refractions” and bend back toward the west. Refraction is the key to how ordinary lenses focus light, and in theory, negative refraction would allow a flat slab of metamaterial to function as a lens that could focus light infinitely tightly.
Physicists unveiled the first left-handed metamaterial for microwaves in 2000. Looking a bit like a high-schooler’s science-fair project, it was an assemblage of metallic rods and rings that interacted with and bent microwaves in strange ways. Since then, researchers have been pushing to shorter and shorter wavelengths, and with the new studies, the visible realm is within sight. On Thursday online in Nature, Xiang Zhang, an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, and colleagues will describe a metamaterial that works for near-infrared light and, unlike previous materials for such light, is three-dimensional.
From The New York Times:
A decent backyard magic show is often an exercise in deliberate chaos. Cards whipped through the air. Glasses crashing to the ground. Gasps, hand-waving, loud abracadabras. Something’s bound to catch fire, too, if the performer is ambitious enough — or needs cover. “Back in the early days, I always had a little smoke and fire, not only for misdirection but to emphasize that something magic had just happened,” said The Great Raguzi, a magician based in Southern California who has performed professionally for more than 35 years, in venues around the world. “But as the magic and magician mature, you see that you don’t need the bigger props.”
Eye-grabbing distractions — to mask a palmed card or coin, say — are only the crudest ways to exploit brain processes that allow for more subtle manipulations, good magicians learn. In a paper published last week in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, a team of brain scientists and prominent magicians described how magic tricks, both simple and spectacular, take advantage of glitches in how the brain constructs a model of the outside world from moment to moment, or what we think of as objective reality. For the scientists, Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik of the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, it raised hope that magic could accelerate research into perception. “Here’s this art form going back perhaps to ancient Egypt, and basically the neuroscience community had been unaware” of its direct application to the study of perception, Dr. Martinez-Conde said.
Namit Arora in Shunya’s Notes:
The road to Dholavira goes through a dazzling white landscape of salty mudflats. It is close to noon in early April and the mercury is already past 100F. The desert monotones are interrupted only by the striking attire worn by the women of the nomadic and semi-nomadic pastoral tribes that still inhabit this land: Ahir, Rabari, Jat, Meghwal, and others. When I ask the driver of my hired car to stop for a photo, they receive me with curious stares, hoots, and giggles.
This is the Rann of Kutch, an area about the size of Kuwait, almost entirely within Gujarat and along the border with Pakistan. Once an extension of the Arabian Sea, the Rann (“salt marsh”) has been closed off by centuries of silting. During the monsoons, parts of the Rann fill up with seasonal brackish water, enough for many locals to even harvest shrimp in it. Some abandon their boats on the drying mudflats, presenting a surreal scene for the dry season visitor. Heat mirages abound. Settlement is limited to a few “island” plateaus, one of which, Khadir, hosts the remains of the ancient city of Dholavira, discovered in 1967 and excavated only since 1989.
From the Mount Holyoke Alumnae Quarterly:
According to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen, there should be millions more women and girls living in India than there are. The acclaimed economist compared the natural ratio of men to women globally with the ratio in India, and twenty years ago had calculated that India was “missing” about thirty-seven million women. That number has escalated to fifty million today.
Rita Banerji ’90, whose photographs bravely document some of India’s least treasured citizens, explains, “Perhaps ‘missing’ is too innocuous a term for what is actually happening—the systematic and targeted annihilation of a group [through] female feticide, female infanticide, dowry-related murders, an abnormally high mortality rate for girls under five due to starvation and intentional medical neglect, and the highest maternal mortality rate in the world.
Numbers tell the story in chilling detail:
- Some one million female fetuses are aborted each year.
- Midwives in some regions regularly kill the infant girls they deliver for as little as $1.50.
- Dowry-related murders of women stand at about 25,000 cases a year.
- A UNICEF report found that the mortality rate for girls under five is more than 40 percent higher than for boys the same age.
- WHO and UNIFEM estimate that one pregnant woman dies every five minutes in India.
These conditions persist due to a deep-rooted mind-set Banerji describes as “unresisting acceptance of female genocide.
More here. [Thanks to Marilyn Terrell.]
Stephen Soldz in the Boston Globe:
Psychologists have been identified as key figures in the design and conduct of abuses against detainees in US custody at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA’s secret “black sites,” and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Psychologists should not be taking part in such practices.
Yet a steady stream of revelations from government documents, journalistic reports, and congressional hearings has revealed that psychologists designed the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation” techniques, which included locking prisoners in tiny cages in the fetal position, throwing them against the wall head first, prolonged nakedness, sexual humiliation, and waterboarding.
Jane Mayer, in her new book, “The Dark Side,” reports that the central idea was the psychological concept of “learned helplessness.” Individuals are denied all control over their world, lose their will, and become totally dependent upon their captors.
More here. [Thanks to Élan Reisner.]
Tim De Chant in the Chicago Tribune:
When Tom Koulentes is not advising students at Highland Park High School or chasing after his own kids, he spends time behind his small Des Plaines home researching climate change.
Koulentes is recording his garden’s natural history, from the weigela’s first leaf to the butterfly bush’s last bloom, for Project BudBurst, a new nationwide research program based on the observations of ordinary people. He is looking for local signs like an early bloom or a late-falling leaf that stem from planetwide changes.
Only a handful of researchers study plants to chronicle global warming, but millions of gardeners quietly keep watch on their plants. BudBurst seeks to tap that potential, asking “citizen scientists” to monitor plants alongside trained scholars.
“If just scientists were working on this, there’s no way we could obtain a data set of this size,” said Kay Havens, director of plant science and conservation at the Chicago Botanic Garden, and one of the project’s organizers.
Tim Penn in The Knackered Hack:
Having effectively called the top of the dotcom bubble with his first book, Irrational Exuberance, and documented the emerging US housing bubble in his second edition of the same, you’d think that Yale economist Robert Shiller would have been treated with significant reverence by our economic and financial institutions (both public and private) over the past few years. And you’d think that he would already have been asked to make a material contribution to resolving the crisis. In fact, you’d think that writing Irrational Exuberance would alone have been enough to forestall the second crisis. But then, if you thought that, you’d be me. And you’d be wrong. Again.
If you’re unfamiliar with Robert Shiller then understand that he is perhaps the most eminent and considered examiner of modern investment bubbles. It was two days after Shiller and a colleague testified before the Federal Reserve Board in December 1996 that then Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan sent stock markets into a mini-crash by coining the now legendary phrase “irrational exuberance” in the context of stock market behaviour. Influential indeed. Shiller’s book Irrational Exuberance came out in March 2000, after which the dotcom boom finally collapsed.
by Ram Manikkalingam
Twenty-five years ago Sri Lanka’s conflict was suddenly transformed into a violent civil war. The Tamil Tigers – then barely more than a couple of dozen – ambushed a convoy killing a dozen soldiers in Jaffna on July 23rd 1983. Instead of targeting those who carried out the attack Sri Lankan state-backed goons went after Tamil civilians throughout the country the following day, leading to a week of violence and bloodletting. Since then, the separatist rebellion has been transformed from ragtag groups fighting a parade army to a high intensity conflict with the use of air-strikes, artillery, naval units, bombings and suicide attacks. While lamenting what we as Sri Lankans have gone through (it is really hard not to), I would like to take a moment to share with 3qd readers what I have learned about ethnic conflict from my direct involvement in political efforts in Sri Lanka, as well as my more indirect efforts in other parts of the world, as an activist and a scholar. I apologise in advance for the slightly dry tone of this article and the links to my research on this topic that I have pulled together.
The lessons I have learned are about two basic questions: what is an ethnic conflict and how do you resolve it?
Three conflicts, not just a single ethnic one
The civil war in Sri Lanka consists of three distinct conflicts: the ethnic conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese, and other groups, the armed conflict between the Sri Lankan state and the rebel Tamil Tigers and the political power conflict among the main forces that have capacity to influence political rule in Sri Lanka – the governing Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the opposition United National Party (UNP), and the rebel Tamil Tigers.
The ethnic conflict between Tamils and Sinhalese is commonly considered the hardest to resolve. Most descriptions of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict (or for that matter any ethnic conflict) are variations of the hate-and-greed explanation. These descriptions depict Tamils and Sinhalese (or you can substitute them for Serbs, Croats, and Bosnians, or Blacks and Whites, or Hutus and Tutsis, or Israelis and Palestinians) as either hating each other, because of conflicting nationalisms, or competing with each other for resources because of greed.
Where the nationalism comes from – ancient history (we did bad things to each other thousands of years ago), myth (we told stories about what we supposedly did to each other), or recent acts of violence (your father killed my uncle, so I will kill you) – is less relevant than that it exists and manifests itself in mutual hostility between Tamils and Sinhalese. Similarly, where greed comes from – individual interests (that Tamil took the clerk’s job I wanted), group solidarity (I want my kin to get more stuff) or nationalist passion (my people deserve more because they are superior to yours) – is less important than that it ultimately leads ethnic groups to get into conflict.
Existing approaches to ethnic conflict, however sophisticated, converge on hate and greed as the motivations to explain it. They fail to examine how reasonable differences might also cause conflict. If hate and greed are the only motivations of conflict, then we would be living in a very grim world indeed. Prospects for its resolution would depend either on external force (NATO will point a gun at you and make you co-exist) or economic incentives (the World Bank, EU, and other rich westerners will give so much money that you will be bought off and corrupted into not fighting). This is the implicit assumption behind contemporary models of peace building or humanitarian intervention. The failure to secure the support of rich western countries for UN peace keeping efforts in Africa and the abysmally low amounts of aid provided to these countries suggest that mobilising the resources for this approach is simply impossible in most parts of the world. Moreover, the widespread challenge to international efforts in the Balkans indicate how this approach is rarely sufficient – even when billions have been spent and tens of thousands of peacekeepers continue to be present.
Another approach is to focus on how identities are constructed, and to change them from more violent to less violent expressions. This is the implicit assumption behind the plethora of studies about the construction of identities. These studies show (correctly) how what it means to be a Sinhalese or a Tamil, a Jew or a Palestinian, a Hutu or a Tutsi, a Serb or a Muslim, today, is quite different from what it meant fifty or a hundred years ago. But the silence about how to change identities for a peaceful future indicates that the latter is too difficult or takes too long. All these approaches invariably lead to deep pessimism about peace in situations of ethnic conflict.
While the explanation that Tamils and Sinhalese are enmeshed in a conflict over ethnic identity and material resources may continue to have relevance, it is becoming less and less plausible today as the only explanation for Sri Lanka’s intractable conflict, or for that matter many others, as well. Most Tamils and Sinhalese desire an end to the war. Many of them have come to realise – whether enthusiastically or reluctantly – that a solution to the conflict will require the central government dominated by the Sinhalese to share political power with other ethnic groups, particularly the Tamils. Whatever the various solutions proffered, they will invariably converge on some form of federalism, in fact, if not in name.
Except for extreme Sinhalese who want to centralise all power in Colombo and deny the presence of an ethnic conflict, and extreme Tamils who want a separate state on the grounds that the only conflict is ethnic, the majority of the people in Sri Lanka are likely to accept such a solution. But if that were the case, why haven’t we arrived at a solution. This is where reasonable differences come in.
Reasonable differences can cause conflict
Even many Sinhalese who are critical of power-sharing are less concerned that it will give more rights to Tamils than they deserve, than that it will enable the Tigers to consolidate their power and establish a separate Tamil authoritarian state. Similarly, many Tamils who are wary of sharing power in a single state – are less concerned about living among Sinhalese and more concerned that the state will actually implement its promises in the absence of the armed leverage of the Tamil Tigers. This reasonable difference can even lead to advocacy of war, belying the common association of those who seek peace with those who are reasonable.
For example, there are many who distrust the Sri Lankan state so much that they advocate violence as a way of pressuring the state to come to a solution that is just by Tamils. These people, mainly Tamils, but also members of other ethnic groups, do not necessarily believe the Tigers are decent freedom fighters. On the contrary they condemn and even oppose its excesses. But they fear that only violence against the state, or the threat of it, can lead to a political solution where power is shared and that is subsequently implemented.
Similarly there are those who advocate military violence against the Tamil Tigers. These are Sri Lankans, primarily Sinhala, but also members of other ethnic groups, who feel that the Tamil Tigers are only interested in consolidating their own power and not interested in a political solution for the Tamil people. They believe that as long as the Tamil Tigers are present a peaceful solution will not be possible. The Sri Lankans who advocate these positions are not opposed to a just solution that treats members of all communities as equals. So it would be a mistake to simply view them as chauvinists, although many do so.
These two political positions – exerting military pressure on the Tigers or on the Sri Lankan state for a just solution – may appear in the heat of war to be on opposite sides of the political divide. But they are ideologically closer to each other and desire the same political solution, than those who may share their views about militarily fighting the other side.
Unfortunately, because reasonable differences are rarely acknowledged in ethnic conflicts, we do not look for ways to reduce their adverse impact on finding a solution. This also leads us to more pessimistic views about the prospects for peace. By contrast, identifying reasonable differences offers a more optimistic alternative by showing how contemporary identities that lead to conflict may also be compatible with just and stable solutions, for which institutions can be designed. Taking these reasonable differences into account can help design a peace process that mitigates the role they can play in exacerbating conflict. Part of the challenge of identifying these reasonable differences in an ethnic conflict is that there are two other conflicts that complicate it further.
Addressing the ethnic conflict is complicated by the armed conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan state. Although the armed conflict is generally viewed as stemming from the ethnic conflict, it is also distinct in character. States claim a monopoly over the legitimate use of force in a given territory. So any state will repress those who seek to oppose it by force. It matters little to the state that those who oppose it do so on the basis of democracy, ethnicity, class or regionalism. And when it comes to suppressing an armed rebellion, it matters little whether the state is capitalist or socialist, authoritarian or democratic. All states have acted with varying degrees of violence and repression in stemming armed rebellions. So also have rebel groups opposing states. There are two ways armed conflicts between states and a rebel group can end – when one side defeats another or when both sides concede that they cannot defeat each other.
Sri Lankan governments and the Tamil Tigers oscillate between these two approaches. Sometimes promising outright military victories, and at other times agreeing to ceasefires. Which option will ultimately prevail is still not clear. The current Sri Lankan government continues to give deadlines for defeating the Tamil Tigers – the latest is yet another year. And the Tamil Tigers continue to assert that they are militarily secure. In the next few months, the fighting capacities and political sagacity of both sides will provide the answer to this question. I do not intend to speculate about the military outcome of Sri Lanka’s war. Rather I simply want to point out another element to the conflict – that of an armed group versus a state – that is distinct from the ethnic conflict – with its own dynamic – one that cannot be reduced to ethnicity alone.
Political Party Conflict
Addressing the armed conflict is complicated by the political power conflict among the main contenders for political power in Sri Lanka – the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and the Opposition United National Party (UNP) and the Tamil Tigers. While there are many other smaller political parties and paramilitary groups contending for political power – it is only these actors that have the capacity to unilaterally transform the political context. There is a distinct power conflict among these three contenders that is derived from competition over the business of rule. The main political parties compete over who gets to rule the Sri Lankan state, while the Tigers seek to rule a separate Tamil one.
This competition cannot simply be reduced to varying ideologies of nationalism or competing policies over how to resolve the ethnic conflict or, for that matter, different socio-economic policies. Political parties are built around the express intent of securing political power. They may have different ideological leanings or social bases and therefore wish to carry out different programmes. Still, one of their central goals is simply to rule, not rule in order to do something else. Clearly, all three parties – the SLFP, the UNP, and the Tamil Tigers – do not contend for power the same way. The two main political parties in Sri Lanka do so through more or less democratic means. The Tigers do so through more or less violent means. Yet, an important part of what they all contend for is power.
The position taken by these parties helps illustrate the distinction between policy on the ethnic conflict and political alliances to secure power. During the last Presidential elections, the candidate of the current ruling party the SLFP who is the current President, was considered to be a hardliner. During the campaign his manifesto condemned the ceasefire agreement and opposed a joint mechanism to work on post-Tsunami reconstruction. He also opposed a federal solution in favour a unitary one. Yet the President said he would be willing to talk directly with the Tamil Tigers to resolve the conflict, even when he took hard-line positions on a political solution for the Tamil people.
This kind of contradiction between political deal-making and ethnic policy is not limited to one or the other ruling party in Sri Lanka – or for that matter only to Sri Lanka. During earlier two parliamentary elections, the current opposition UNP opposed the government’s political proposals for resolving the conflict – saying that it granted too much autonomy to the Tamils. At the same time, the UNP supported a ceasefire and talking to the Tamil Tigers, who were asking for a separate state.
These seemingly contradictory positions – opposing Tamil autonomy, but supporting a dialogue with the Tamil extremist Tigers – can be reconciled. The two parties competing for the power to run the state, wanted Tiger support to obtain Tamil votes or block them, in areas under Tiger domination, while keeping their Sinhala base satisfied. Similarly, the Tigers seeking a separate state were implicitly supporting a political party that sought to dilute measures granting autonomy to Tamil areas. The Tigers expected one party, and then the other, to be more conciliatory towards them. All three – the Tamil Tigers, and the two main political parties have been disappointed by the outcome of their pre-electoral dalliances after the elections.
The Tamil Tigers attribute this disappointment to opportunism on the part of the political parties, and the governing political parties to deception on the part of the Tamil Tigers. But this explanation is too simplistic and ignores instances where mutual commitments have been adhered to by different sides. Rather once political parties secure power, they are now running the state, and the logic of the armed conflict between a state and an armed group takes over – making it harder for these parties to unilaterally fulfil political commitments they may have made in the past, when they were parties, operating outside the constraints of being office bearers of the state.
So if there is one thing I have learned about what an ethnic conflict is, it is that ethnic conflicts are never about ethnicity alone. This does not mean that ethnicity is not a central element of the conflict or that ordinary people often experience the violence as ethnic. It is simply that failing to take the other two elements of the conflict – the armed and the political power – into account and seeing how they are inter-related, can lead to a mistaken view of what the conflict is and can befuddle efforts to resolve it.
How do you resolve ethnic conflict?
The toughest part in resolving conflicts, in general, and ethnic cones, in particular, is not about finding the correct solution, or even agreeing on what it ought to be, but actually getting to a situation of peace, from one of war, once the political solution becomes clear. For example in the case of Sri Lanka, there is little doubt that the political solution will be federal in nature, if not in name. Similarly, in December 2002, the Tamil Tigers and the then Government of Sri Lanka agreed “to explore a federal solution”. Now clearly agreeing to explore is not the same as actually agreeing to such a solution, but the key point is the common understanding that any future solution to the ethnic conflict will be along these lines. The challenge we face lies less in intellectually figuring out what the solution should be, but in actually getting there politically. And these challenges can be better understood once we get beyond the broad goals such as reducing levels of violence and protecting rights, to actually seeking to implement these goals through practical mechanisms.
In Sri Lanka, as in many other situations, a solution requires that we move from a situation of violent polarisation to one of peaceful co-existence. And this usually entails doing the following simultaneously – reducing violence, protecting human rights, working out a political solution and reconstructing the war affected areas.
Ceasefires are not always helpful to peace negotiations
Ceasefires are an integral part of all peace processes. How and when does a ceasefire help negotiate an end to violence and how and when does it hinder such a process? While most mediators work to secure a ceasefire prior to political negotiations, they often find the ceasefire becomes the focus of the talks, rather than the political settlement, itself. Mediators involved in resolving a conflict, usually make an effort to secure a ceasefire agreement between the two parties before they do anything else. The implicit assumption is that a ceasefire will be helpful both in humanitarian terms as well as in political terms.
In humanitarian terms, ceasefires lessen the daily pain and suffering caused by war. They allow people to go about their daily lives without fear and anxiety. They create a climate that enables freer travel between areas, the movement of goods to markets and the transportation of the injured, the infirm and the old for medical treatment. No one disagrees that no war is better than war from a humanitarian perspective. Obviously people prefer the peace and the right to go about their daily life without hindrance over the pain and suffering that inevitably accompany war. This is true even when the respites from war are only temporary, since a temporary respite from war is better than no respite.
In political terms, as well, ceasefires are considered to be helpful. The assumption is that ceasefires can contribute to a positive climate for negotiations by improving the lives of civilians and building trust between the two parties. In addition, a ceasefire it is believed helps insulate political negotiations from military fighting, and move the negotiations away from pressing military and humanitarian concerns to longer term political ones. So many efforts to resolve conflict begin with mediators working out a ceasefire and proceeding to monitor parties’ compliance with it.
But the humanitarian and political desirability of ceasefires is not that clear cut, and in many cases, can actually lead to the opposite – more adverse humanitarian consequences and less trust. For example, ceasefires, can contribute to temporary respites, that allow parties to re-arm and re-group and begin another phase of conflict with greater intensity, rather than to engage in political talks. Respites from war that lead to intensified fighting may not be desirable on humanitarian grounds if the subsequent conflict results in even greater pain, suffering and loss of life. Furthermore, a ceasefire that enables parties to attack minorities or suppress dissenting political opinion within their own communities, can also vitiate the humanitarian arguments in favour of it. All of these factors have had a perverse effect on ceasefires in Sri Lanka – where children have been recruited, dissidents killed, and minorities expelled during ceasefires and more intense fighting has broken out after they have ended.
Ceasefires can also have a perverse impact on a peace process because they are not isolated military decisions to cease fighting that take place outside of a political context. Instead in most conflicts ceasefires are expressly political decisions made in the context of political jockeying for power. When negotiations and ceasefires are linked, it is common to find the relative military strengths of the two conflicting parties on the ground affecting their decisions whether or not to support a ceasefire. The party that is militarily gaining ground is unlikely to favour a ceasefire and vice versa. Under these circumstances, for a ceasefire to lead to viable negotiations, the two parties must not only be in a strategic stalemate but also a tactical one. They must feel that neither sides is likely to win the war in the long term, and that neither side can gain a tactical advantage in the sort term that will strengthen their bargaining position at the negotiating table.
Ceasefires can also hinder progress in political negotiations, because parties will, in the absence of clarity about a permanent settlement, prepare themselves for a possible outbreak of conflict. This preparation can lead to increased suspicion among belligerents. And lead them to focus efforts on addressing ceasefire violations, rather than political problems. And ceasefires can reduce the political pressure on parties to a conflict to work out a settlement. Finally, when ceasefires are a precondition for political talks, any violations, however small, can lead to parties dissipating political focus and effort on maintaining a ceasefire rather than proceeding towards tackling the longer term political causes of the conflict. This can not only delay solution, but also lead to the erosion of trust and goodwill.
This suggests that mediators/peacemakers ought to resist the instinct to negotiate a ceasefire prior to political talks. Instead making efforts to de-escalate a conflict with steps to improve the humanitarian situation, rather than a ceasefire may contribute to a more stable peace process. Several peace processes – such as the Salvadoran one mediated by Alvaro de Soto, and the Aceh process mediated by Martti Ahtisaari did not include a ceasefire.
Conflict resolution and human rights do not always go together
We generally expect and would like good things to go together. When conflict breaks out, human rights violations invariably take place. So we hope the opposite is true – i.e., when we protect human rights, we can contribute to ending armed conflict. While this may be the case in many situations it is not always so. In my experience observing Sri Lanka’s conflict closely, as well as studying a number of other violent conflicts – efforts to protect human right do not always contribute to efforts to promote peace. Sometimes these efforts can come into tension with each other in practice.
First the good news, strengthening human rights can be good for resolving conflict. Human rights can contribute to the long-term stability of a society. It can help identify causes of conflict and potential mechanisms for its resolution. It can protect bridge builders between communities in a divided society. It can provide a neutral standpoint for addressing contentious issues, and it can generate international support for a peace process.
But strengthening human rights can sometimes be in tension with resolving conflict. This is particularly true at the initial phases of a peace process. Raising human rights violations with belligerents can reduce trust in a mediator. For example the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government today are accused of widespread human rights violations. Indeed they are also probably guilty of most of these accusations. Nevertheless, unless one or the other is decisively defeated, it is hard to imagine a serious peace process that does not involve these two parties. But is also equally hard to imagine these two parties entering a peace process, if the first issue raised is their violations of human rights. Because this is bound to make them anxious that they will have to face some form of justice and make them skittish about entering a serious process of peace. Similarly they will see protection for human rights as reducing their control over populations. And finally they may be anxious about the prospect of being prosecuted for war crimes. While these tensions between resolving conflict and promoting human rights exist, they are not inevitable and can be reduced through institutional design and political skill.
To summarise my lessons. Ethnic conflicts are not only about ethnicity. They are also about political parties seeking power and armed entities confronting each other militarily – who are not necessarily divided neatly along ethnic lines. Starting with a ceasefire may not be the best way to resolve ethnic conflicts, even if this might give you a temporary respite from the armed conflict. Protecting human rights may not always help with promoting peace, though such tensions can be reduced with political shrewdness and strategic design. These lessons I believe are true not only for Sri Lanka, but for many countries struggling to go from a situation of war to one of peace.
A short-haired yellow mutt
standing at the side of the road
wearing a day-glo
orange scarf around his neck
so as not to get whacked
steps boldly out as I approach
as if to test for interspecies respect.
I slow and stop, roll my window down,
and bark, “Cool scarf.”
He looks me in the eye
turns on his heel
lifts his leg to pee on a wheel
then trots up the hill to his house
for a little water and chow
wondering where his day went,
then circles the rug twice
looking for that sweet spot
drops and dreams
and barks in his sleep
thanking me for my
P D Smith
Reden nur dort möglich ist, wo man lügen will.
There is something about Kafka’s writing that gets under your skin. Perhaps that’s because he was always so uneasy in his own skin. Kafka described it as “a garment but also a straitjacket and fate”, suggesting that he saw skin as both clothing, something you choose to wear for a day before shedding, but also as a tightly bound involucre, restricting and suffocating the self – a biological fait accompli and a life sentence. Only Kafka could react so ambivalently and with such psychological acuity towards something most people take for granted and indeed scarcely think about.
It brings to mind Kafka’s story “In the Penal Settlement” with its glass punishment machine and its teeth-like rows of gleaming needles. The offender is strapped into this sadistic device and the laws he has broken are slowly and painfully incised into his skin. The operator praises its redemptive effects on the criminal: “how quiet he grows at just about the sixth hour! Enlightenment comes to the most dull-witted. It begins around the eyes. From there it radiates.”  After twelve hours of agony and of learning the meaning of the law through his skin, the coup de grâce is administered to the prisoner and the emblazoned body dumped in a ditch. “Like a dog,” as Josef K. says at the end of The Trial.
It is one of Kafka’s most grotesque stories, one that swings sickeningly between cruelty and humanity. As ever with Kafka, paradox and ambiguity are fundamental. I remember how, as a student, some of my friends were utterly repulsed by this story, unable to see past the horrific details to the chilling vision of human strangeness beneath. As I read it again today I am reassured to find it has lost none of its disturbing intensity. I can’t say that it is my favourite Kafka story, although it is uniquely Kafkaesque, to invoke that tired old cliché.
“The Judgement”, “Metamorphosis”, “A Country Doctor” – all wonderfully strange stories that share the sense of being caught up in a nightmare, where normal expectations are shattered and nothing seems to make sense any more. Reading Kafka is the literary equivalent of an earthquake: as you read, you can feel the walls of reality begin to tremble and shake until eventually they come tumbling down around your ears. At the end, you find yourself wandering in an unfamiliar wasteland. All around are scattered the jumbled fragments of what you once recognised as normal life. Now you, the reader, have to begin putting Humpty-Dumpty back together again.
Kafka has been in the news recently. His friend and executor, Max Brod, died in 1968, leaving a suitcase of Kafka’s writings to his former secretary and lover, Esther Hoffe. Ever since then she has guarded it jealously in her Tel Aviv flat. The conditions were far from ideal. Warnings that the documents might be damaged by damp went unheeded. Until two years ago she shared her flat with a menagerie of cats and dogs. Then her neighbours finally complained about the stench and they were removed by health inspectors. Now, at the age of 101, Hoffe has died, leaving the Kafka cache to her septuagenarian daughters.
Among the papers are Brod’s diaries (sold to a German publisher for a five-figure sum in the 1980s but as yet undelivered), letters by Kafka as well as his travel journal, postcards, sketches and some of his personal belongings. A decade ago Hoffe sold Brod’s manuscript of The Trial for £1 million at auction. How much the remaining documents are worth can only be guessed. But obviously this is a gold mine for Kafka scholars. Josef Cermak, author of several studies of the Czech-Jewish author, told the Guardian: “There are so many mistruths which have been written about Kafka. For academic purposes it is crucial that we get to see what the unpredictable Miss Hoffe has kept from us for so long.” 
I’m as intrigued as everyone else by what the Kafka suitcase contains. Indeed its history has something delightfully Kafkaesque about it. I’m sure countless TV producers have spotted this and are at this very minute flocking to Tel Aviv to make their documentaries. (Part of me hopes that when they open the case, no doubt on live TV, all it contains are a few startled cockroaches.)
The private lives of famous writers and scientists are fascinating. Reading Einstein’s correspondence gives you an astonishingly detailed picture of the man behind relativity. And anyone can do it now thanks to the Princeton University Press’s superb edition of his Collected Papers. Of course, you don’t need to read Einstein’s letters to Mileva (his “sweet little witch”, as he described her in 1901) to understand relativity, although they do place the science in a wonderfully human context. But people will read whatever the Kafka cache contains looking for clues that might explain his fiction.
And why not indeed? Literature, I hear you say, is different from science. It’s subjective and personal, for a start. Sure, but it’s also a public activity in the sense that most of Kafka’s writing was meant to be read by other people. Unlike Leonardo da Vinci and Newton who used mirror writing or coded language in their notebooks to obscure their words, Kafka wanted to tell us something important. He didn’t set out to create a series of coded autobiographical puzzles in order to keep future literary historians in a job. The Germanist Martin Swales argues convincingly that the obsession with Kafka’s private life does not help us to understand Kafka’s writing: “an unremitting interest in the personality behind the utterance suggests that the utterance has in some way broken down”. 
In a recent article, Zadie Smith has suggested that Kafka is “a writer sullied by our attempts to define him”.  Novelist James Hawes, author of a new book called Excavating Kafka (or in the US, Why You Should Read Kafka Before You Waste Your Life), seems to agree: “The myth of Kafka’s life so overshadows what he wrote that millions who have never read a word of his know, or think they know, something about the middle-European Nostradamus, almost unknown in his own lifetime, trapped in a dead-end job, whose mysterious, endlessly interpretable works somehow foresaw the Holocaust (and so on).” 
Hawes spent ten years writing a Ph.D. on Kafka. Now he is on a mission to deconstruct the “hagiographic myth” surrounding the Prague author in order to expose the real Kafka. His works are “wonderful black comedies written by a man soaked in the writings of his predecessors and of his own day”. Indeed, Max Brod provides some evidence of this comedic dimension to Kafka’s works. He recalled Kafka reading aloud from The Trial. At times, he said, Kafka “laughed so much that there were moments when he couldn’t read any further”. This Kafka has been somewhat obscured, but he’s certainly there, struggling to free himself from the chitinous, beetle-like skin into which fate and literary fame has sealed him.
It was always a challenge teaching first year classes on Kafka, but rewarding too. Undergraduates rarely did any preparation for German lit classes (wie immer) and so they turned up knowing very little about him apart from a general expectation that the man who gave us the term Kafkaesque had to be pretty weird. They weren’t disappointed on that score. We had three hour-long sessions dissecting the short story “Das Urteil” (“The Judgement”), reading it in German, line by line, often word by word, slowing down the process of reading as if you were analyzing a film frame by frame.
At some point, usually towards the end of the sessions, I would explain some details from Kafka’s life. For many of the students, the biographical information transformed what was a deeply strange, even incomprehensible, reading experience. Suddenly, as if by magic, it all seemed to make sense. Why didn’t you tell us this before, they wanted to know. Kafka’s writing was psychology in action, a cathartic release. Kafka, frantically scribbling in his room late at night, was assuaging his guilt for failing to live up to parental expectations, doing penance for breaking unwritten laws, and so on.
The process of reading a text, line by line, is hard work. Not quite as hard work as writing it, perhaps, but almost. Biographical interpretations are an excuse for lazy reading. Using an author’s life to crack the code of his texts is just too easy. There are no shortcuts to interpretation. That was why I spent three hours reading ten pages of Kafka with my students.
It’s only through this intense engagement with a text that a reader can feel what Terry Eagleton has memorably called that “moment of wondering self-estrangement” which is unique to the aesthetic experience.  It was the Russian Formalists who first proposed the idea of defamiliarization, or ostranenie in Russian. In “Art as Technique” (1917) Victor Shklovsky explained what this meant:
“Habitualization devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war. … And art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. The technique of art is to make objects ‘unfamiliar’, to make forms difficult, to increase the difficulty and length of perception because the process of perception is an aesthetic end in itself and must be prolonged. Art is a way of experiencing the artfulness of an object; the object is not important.” 
This is one of the most perceptive and powerful statements about the purpose of art and its ability to transform our way of seeing that I know. As in metafiction, the defamiliarizing artwork places the reader centre stage: you are no longer a passive decoder of signs but actively interpreting, constructing theories and being challenged. And it highlights something which is so often lost in today’s qualification-driven education system – reading literature can actually change people, change how they see the world. It can make the stone stony.
I was reminded of this recently when reading neuroscientist Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid. In her fascinating book, Wolf shows how learning to read changes individual brains forever, both intellectually and physiologically. Indeed, different languages put their own unique stamp on the brain, creating distinctive brain networks. Reading Chinese requires a different set of neuronal connections from that needed to read English. As the writer Joseph Epstein has said, “we are what we read”. Indeed, doctors treating a bilingual person who developed alexia (inability to read) after a stroke found remarkable evidence of this. Although he could no longer read English, the patient was still able to read Chinese.
Of course, Kafka didn’t need lessons from Shklovsky or anyone on how to make the world strange. In a wonderful comment, he once disagreed with a friend who accused Picasso of distorting reality. “I do not think so,” said Kafka. “He only registers the deformities which have not yet penetrated our consciousness. Art is a mirror, which goes ‘fast,’ like a watch—sometimes.” 
Kafka’s story “Josephine the Singer, or the Mouse-folk” explores this idea. I first read it at university when I was studying German literature and it has haunted me ever since. (I even named my website after it.) It was written in March 1924, three months before Kafka died. He was in the last stages of tuberculosis of the larynx, and was unable to speak – a poignant background for a story about a singer. But it was Kafka’s writing, not his tragic life, that made such an impression on me.
The story is about a singer and her place in the community. The fact that Kafka chooses to make this a community of mice can itself be seen as an example of making strange: what better way to explore the role of the artist in society than to defamiliarize the artist by turning her into a mouse? In fact mice are only mentioned by name in the title and if this is ignored, then the world described could easily be our own. Similarly, although Josephine is described as a “singer” in the title, she does not sing in the story, but whistles, pipes or squeaks, depending on your translation (“pfeift” in the original German), thus defamiliarizing the act of singing itself. Subtly and with immense skill, Kafka’s language begins to change our perceptions from the very first words.
The unnamed narrator is writing about Josephine in order to understand why she played such an important role in their society. For Josephine has disappeared and despite the narrator’s evident ambivalence about her, it is clear she has left a hole at the heart of their community. As he thinks critically about Josephine, the narrator begins to wonder whether the fascination he feels for her art lies not in the art itself – the singing or “Pfeifen” – but rather in its context, in the fact of it being set apart from everyday life:
“To crack a nut is truly no feat, so no one would ever dare to collect an audience in order to entertain it with nut-cracking. But if all the same one does do that and succeeds in entertaining the public, then it cannot be a matter of simple nut-cracking. Or it is a matter of nut-cracking, but it turns out that we have overlooked the art of cracking nuts because we were too skilled in it and that this newcomer to it first shows us its real nature, even finding it useful in making his effects to be rather less expert in nut-cracking than most of us.” 
The concept of art formulated here has much in common with Shklovsky’s theory of ostranenie. According to the narrator, the act of cracking a nut does not in itself amount to Art. Yet if one were to call it Art and repeat the same act in front of an audience, then, although it would still be someone cracking nuts, the act itself would be transformed, and the audience would see an aestheticized and gesteigert version of nut-cracking. By taking an object out of its usual context and rendering it strange, the viewer is granted a heightened awareness of that object and its significance within the scheme of things.
In his attempt to deconstruct Josephine’s art, the narrator reveals the paradox that lies at its heart: that essentially it is nothing more than their everyday speech. Her audience may know that her voice is nothing special; but there remains an undeniable yet elusive quality to her performances that commands attention and moves them all profoundly: “Something of our poor brief childhood is in it, something of lost happiness that can never be found again, but also something of active daily life, of its small gaieties, unaccountable and yet springing up and not to be obliterated.” As the narrator finally understands, her singing-piping is “set free from the fetters of daily life and it sets us free too for a little while.”  Mundane her voice may be, but what Josephine does is art, and without it her community feels bereft.
As the novelist Alice McDermott has said, fiction is “the way to enter into another universe, a way to see the world anew”.  The singing of Kafka’s mouse set her people free, if only for a few blissful moments, and with his writing Kafka offers readers a similar intellectual release. You don’t need a suitcase of yellowing documents to know that. Just a dog-eared paperback copy of his stories will do.
1. “In der Strafkolonie” (1919), “In the Penal Settlement”, tr Willa and Edwin Muir, in Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis and Other Stories (Penguin, 1980), p 180.
2. Kate Connolly, “End of a Kafkaesque nightmare: writer’s papers finally come to light”, Guardian, July 9, 2008.
3. Martin Swales. “Why Read Kafka?” Modern Language Review 76 (1981): 357-66
4. Zadie Smith, “F. Kafka, Everyman”, New York Review of Books, Volume 55, Number 12, July 17, 2008.
5. “The week in books”, Guardian, July 26, 2008.
6. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford, 1990), p. 89
7. Victor Shklovsky, “Art as Technique” (1917). Originally published as “Iskusstvo kak priëm.” In Lee T. Lemon and Marion J. Reis, trs., Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays (University of Nebraska Press, 1965), p. 12.
8. Cited by Zadie Smith, op.cit., from Gustav Janouch, Conversations with Kafka, p. 143.
9. Kafka, Wedding Preparations in the Country and Other Stories, tr Willa and Edwin Muir (Penguin 1982), p 176. The original German text:
“Eine Nuß aufknacken ist wahrhaftig keine Kunst, deshalb wird es auch niemand wagen, ein Publikum zusammenzurufen und vor ihm, um es zu unterhalten, Nüsse knacken. Tut er es dennoch und gelingt seine Absicht, dann kann es sich eben doch nicht nur um bloßes Nüsseknacken handeln. Oder es handelt sich um Nüsseknacken, aber es stellt sich heraus, daß wir über diese Kunst hinweggesehen haben, weil wir sie glatt beherrschten und daß uns dieser neue Nußknacker erst ihr eigentliches Wesen zeigt, wobei es dann für die Wirkung sogar nützlich sein könnte, wenn er etwas weniger tüchtig im Nüsseknacken ist als die Mehrzahl von uns.” (“Josefine, die Sängerin oder Das Volk der Mäuse”, in Ein Hungerkünstler, 1924)
10. Ibid., 184.
11. Carole Burns (ed), Off the Page: Writers talk about Beginnings, Endings and Everything in Between (Norton, 2008), p. 73.
by Adrienne Hyat
Since my recent return from a lengthy stay in Pakistan, I’ve been asked numerous times about my safety while I was there. My standard reply is something like, “It was a tumultuous year–and I could have done without all the headlines–even encountered a few anxious moments–but for the most part I felt pretty safe and welcome.” But that reply often is met with puzzled and doubtful looks. It’s difficult to convince people that there is another side to the place that has been called, “the most dangerous nation on earth.”
To those with first hand knowledge, the reality on the ground is in sharp contrast to the image the media presents:
Father Daniel Suply, 75, is a missionary priest with the Roman Catholic order of Belgian Capuchans. He has resided in Pakistan for nearly 45 years. When asked about his safety, Father Suply spontaneously replies, “I feel absolutely safe.”
He teaches in a seminary and performs religious services in a parish. Except for one brief incident in the early 1990’s which was quickly snuffed out thanks to Father Suply’s fluency in Punjabi, he has never felt threatened here.
Nevertheless, he finds it difficult to convince people back in Belgium to the contrary—until, that is, they come and see for themselves,
“Over the years quite a few people have come to visit us from Europe.” He says. “Of late, many of these people are often advised not to travel to Pakistan because it’s[considered to be] such a dangerous place. When they do come here, they say, ‘…no, no, no it is totally safe. We are totally safe…That was a very negative picture we got from the people.’ A very negative picture… which is not just, actually. Not correct. Not the reality. Of course, Waziristan, that is a dangerous place. I would never venture to go there. The Taliban are there.”
Father Suply is quick to point out that Pakistan is facing some deeply critical issues which could lead to the destabilization of the country. However, he does not dwell on those issues. Instead, he focuses on his “very meaningful ministry” in which he finds great reward and which, he adds, “is very much appreciated” by his students.
Alan Cheshire, 52, is a former United Nations Field Officer. He is currently working on a bio-fuel project in Pakistan. Cheshire has done stints in Bosnia, Albania and Kosovo. He finds Pakistan much safer than any of the other places he’s been.
“In those places,” Cheshire says, “I could not go out without an armed guard. But here in Pakistan, I go into the villages on my own.”
He, too, finds it difficult to convince people back home to the contrary, “They think Pakistan is full of terrorists,” Cheshire says, shaking his head. “ …they’re actually lovely people. The only problem I’ve got is too much tea. They’re always offering me tea.”
Cheshire has felt threatened here, once, on the night of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination. He and two Norwegian friends were in a restaurant in the inner city of Lahore when they heard the news. Riots broke out, shops closed and they rushed to get home. On their way, some local shopkeepers lifted up the shutters of their shops and invited them in. “These people were prepared to risk their lives for Europeans. Now that”, says Cheshire emotionally, “is friendliness.”
Laura and Dale Sinkler are from Kalkaska, Michigan. They have lived in Pakistan with their children for several years. Their first stint was from 1996-2001 in a remote area in the outskirts of Multan where they worked on construction of two power plants. In 2001, they left Pakistan to work on power projects in Bangladesh. In 2006, Dale returned to Pakistan this time working for his own power generation firm. Laura and two of their children, a third is in the US Army, joined him in Lahore in 2007.
They speak fondly about Pakistan and the people they’ve met here. They say that coming back to Pakistan the second time around, “felt like coming home.” What has impressed them the most has been the generosity and hospitality of the poor villagers whom they befriended while working in the outskirts of Multan.
“We would go to their homes and have lunch or dinner with them.” Dale Sinkler says. “Oftentimes, we’d feel very uncomfortable because they would be serving us food that we knew they couldn’t afford to serve us. We’d go there and sit on a charpoy [a wooden framed straw bed] and they’d treat us like royalty out of a tin cup.” Even now, years later, when the Sinklers go back to visit their friends in the villages they are treated “like royalty”.
As for their security, the Sinklers say they have felt safe and comfortable during their time in Pakistan despite the risks, which they don’t necessarily consider to be any greater than the risks that exist in other places. And, as experience has shown, some things they perceived as threats actually turned out to be friendly encounters.
Laura Sinkler amusingly recalls a nervous encounter she once had while horseback riding in a village with some female friends “… my horse got away from me, I couldn’t stop it, so I pulled it’s head back to get it to stop and it ended up turning and I actually ended up in a little yard of one of the mosques. I was afraid I was going to be in trouble because you know, that’s their holy ground, so I hurried up and got it out of there but instead of getting in trouble they invited me in for tea.”
The Sinklers have found that the secret to their success here has been tolerance. “If you treat them with respect” says Dale, “ultimately they will return that two-fold.”
Gillian Thornton, 48, is a school teacher from England. She came to Pakistan in 2006 to work for a year as a volunteer teacher trainer in the government schools in Lahore. Thornton explains her reason for coming to Pakistan, “I found the idea of working in a Muslim culture very interesting…from the perspective of a single woman, I wondered if I could fit in and how.” Thornton admits, however, she was apprehensive about the decision of whether to come to Pakistan in light of media coverage about the country.
Two years, and a second contract later, Thornton believes she does, indeed, fit in here, thanks to her willingness to respect the culture. Her experience has been so positive she now has plans to stay on for a third year. She says the best thing about her time here has been the way she’s been received by the Pakistani people and the friendships she has made with them.
As for the apprehensions she had before coming here, she says, “The reality of living and working here has been very different than the media coverage. I’ve never been threatened, I feel very comfortable here…I’m living proof that Pakistan is not the place the media has portrayed it to be.”
Thornton credits her experience in Pakistan for broadening her horizons and understanding of the world. She and some of her fellow former volunteers, who originally came to Pakistan through the UK-based Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), have joked about VSO’s motto, ‘Sharing skills, Changing lives.’ “It was, undoubtedly, the lives of the volunteers,” says Thornton emphatically, ”that changed the most!”
To be certain, there are parts of Pakistan that are very dangerous and especially hostile to foreigners—parts of the Northwest Frontier Province and Balochistan, as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas or FATA, which is reportedly the current home of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. And even the major cities throughout the country have had their share of violence. Earlier this year, Lahore, which was historically peaceful and quiet, experienced several suicide bombings. And attacks specifically targeting foreigners have also occurred throughout the country.
But to consider these events as an accurate reflection of the whole picture is a gross misperception. Just as it is wrong to assume that the extremist views held by a few represent the many. And the irony in adapting these views is that it tends to fuel anti-Western resentment. As Dale Sinkler put it, “If you treat people like that is what they’re made of than that’s exactly what you’re going to get in return.”
Ms. Hyat is an attorney who has lived and taught law in Pakistan.
Klaus Winichner. Untitled 2006.
Paint on paper