At Jadaliyya, which is such a fine website, I have an essay on how we understand violence in our times. It is an essay that - in many ways - brings together some of my concerns over the years, of how to write about acts of violence, how media writes about acts of atrocity, how there is a great difference in the treatment of violence done by the 'West' and by the 'East' and so on. This is an essay I neither planned to write nor enjoyed writing. There is something painful in following the lead of two of my gurus in these matters - the Martiniquan politician and poet Aimé Césaire and the Pakistani intellectual and activist Eqbal Ahmad - both of whom pierced the thick fog of hypocrisy.
Here is a taste:
'Over the years I have settled on some binaries that operate to blind thinking about violence in the world. Our days have become hallucinations, with violence always at the edge of consciousness. But violence is understood through these binaries in ways that befuddle those who believe in a universal humanity, those who believe—in concrete terms—that people in Kabul deserve empathy and sympathy as much as people in Berlin. In fact, the scale of the violence in Kabul is so much greater than in Berlin that you would imagine greater sympathy for those in far more distress. But actually the logic of these binaries moves consciousness in the opposite direction'.
The rest of the essay can be read here.
The Arab League meets in the Dead Sea (Jordan). Syria slips on and off the table. As it did at Geneva V and in Astana II. There is a cruel dance around the violence in that country. Ceasefires come and go, deals to move besieged populations succeed and fail. The death toll certainly exceeds half a million - although most people have stopped counting. The United Nations today says that the official number of Syrian refugees now exceeds 5 million. It is a good time to donate to the UNHCR - to help them deal with these 5 million and the 6.3 million people who have been internally displaced. About half of Syria's population has been displaced - in other words. It should be said that the UN-led attempt to raise money to support the refugees has resulted in only 6% of its targeted amount ($4.6 billion).
I have an explainer on the situation in Syria at Alternet, which focuses on the Arab Summit, on the fragmented attempts at a ceasefire and a political process, at the US erratic diplomacy and the role of the Iranians. You can read it here. There is also a ten minute video version with the Real News Network here.
In the report I write, 'It is revealing that the ministers [at the Arab League] have indicated that ‘Arab solidarity’ is a priority for them. It would only be a priority if it were so threadbare'.
You might remember the report I sent you from the UN's commission on West Asia on apartheid in Israel. The head of the agency - the UN's highest official in West Asia and North Africa - Rima Khalaf was asked by the UN Secretary General António Guterres to withdraw that report. She refused. Instead she resigned. In her resignation letter to Guterres, she wrote, 'Not by virtue of my being an international official, but simply by virtue of being a decent human being, I believe, like you, in the universal values and principles that have always been the driving force for good in human history, and on which this organization of ours, the United Nations is founded'. I was struck by her use of the phrase 'by virtue of being a decent human being'. It is a standard we should all aspire towards.
At the Real News, I did a brief interview on the resignation of Rima Khalaf and on the report. You can see it here. I will soon be publishing an interview I am doing with her on her work at the agency and on her resignation.
Meanwhile, the Council of Arab Foreign Ministers at the Arab League Summit adopted the report and requested that all UN bodies take it and its findings into account as they discuss the Israeli occupation and its apartheid regime. Then, important to highlight, the Arab summit adopted the report in the presence of UN Secretary General António Guterres.
You know, for all the violence and turmoil in the world, it is nice to see a high official of the UN take a position as a 'decent human being' and it is good to see states stand up to the tentacles of power that seek to suffocate justice. I hope this attitude spills over into others and into other spaces.