Unbeknownst to me, until now of course, back in July I had a letter published in The Guardian on the anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica. I choose to republish this now not only because one’s words should never go to waste, but because as the civil war in Syria continues the central point of the letter remains as timely as it did when it was first published:
This week marks the 17th anniversary of the beginning of the Srebrenica massacre, during which 8,000 Bosniak men and boys were slaughtered, and thousands of women were subjected to systemised rape and torture (Srebrenica: Britain’s guilt, 13 July). The war by Serbs and Croats on Bosnia’s Muslims, which saw the return of concentration camps and racially motivated genocide to European soil, resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 Bosniak civilians deaths and the displacement of many more.
In watching with indifference as ethnic cleansing occurred in Bosnia, the west failed its first major test since the Holocaust, as the call to never again allow such atrocities to occur on our watch and with our knowledge fell victim to selective hearing. Now, as we witness a war in Syria where Bashar al-Assad is unable to distinguish civilian from militiaman, the consequence being the murder of more than 17,000 of his people and the flight of thousands to Turkey and Lebanon, I cannot help but conclude we are failing to learn from our past mistakes once more.
Two close friends encouraged her to get counseling, and she sought treatment at a military hospital by someone who understood PTSD. “When I look at you,” one doctor told her, “no soldier has seen as much combat as you have.” Sean Ryan recalled a lunch with her at about that time: “Marie gripped the table and said, ‘Sean, I have PTSD. I am going to hospital to be treated.’ ” She seemed relieved by the specific diagnosis. According to Rosie Boycott, “While the PTSD was absolutely true, it was as well for Marie a way she did not have to confront her drinking.” Bishop begged Colvin to stop; she refused.
For years in England, with its high tolerance of alcoholism and its reluctance to force confrontation, Colvin’s friends and editors often resorted to evasion—Marie is feeling fragile. Marie does not sound like herself. When they tried to intervene, she would tell them, “I have no intention of not drinking. I never drink when I am covering a war.” Her attempts to find help were always short-lived.
She would wake up drenched in sweat. The desperate reel of horrors that played over and over in her mind kept returning to the refugee camp in Beirut, where she saw the 22-year-old Palestinian woman lying in a heap with half her head blown off. As recently as last year, Colvin was staying with her nieces and nephews in East Norwich when the doorbell suddenly awakened her. The next morning Rosemarie discovered that Marie had gotten up and put a knife in her sleeping bag. When Rosemarie mentioned it, Marie said, “Oh, that,” and changed the subject.
But the Iranians are rational, and the use of nuclear weapons is an irrational act. Like the Soviets, they will never do that.
“A Western individual observing the fantastic ambitions of the Iranian leadership scoffs: ‘What do they think, that they will Islamize us?’ The surprising answer is: Yes, they think they will Islamize us: The ambition of the present regime in Tehran is for the Western world to become Muslim at the end of a lengthy process. Accordingly, we have to understand that their rationality is completely different from our rationality. Their concepts are different and their considerations are different. They are completely unlike the former Soviet Union. They are not even like Pakistan or North Korea. If Iran enjoys a nuclear umbrella and the feeling of strength of a nuclear power, there is no knowing how it will behave. It will be impossible to accommodate a nuclear Iran and it will be impossible to attain stability. The consequences of a nuclear Iran will be catastrophic.”
My fellow foreign policy brethren (or warmongers, I suppose) in the Senate — John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — have published an op-ed in The Washington Post, outlining the case for staying the course in Afghanistan. In effect, they make the case against the current policy, one of effective withdrawal after 2014.
As a preface, what can be stated first of all is that, when it comes to Afghanistan, President Obama’s policy has been less than successful. The original sin of his Af-Pak agenda was to at once announce the injection of 30,000 into the combat zone and that these troops and all other forces would be withdrawn during the year 2014. What his administration ended up saying to the Taliban was, you only have to hold on a few more years, then the nation is yours for the taking. The soldiers on the front line, and the people of Afghanistan, live and die by the consequences of this failed policy.
Rather, McCain, Graham, and Lieberman argue that since 2008, there has been some progress on the ground due to the troop surge. The authors note that, four years ago, “southern Afghanistan was overrun by the Taliban, and our coalition lacked the resources and the strategy necessary to break their momentum”. Today, “that situation has been reversed, thanks to the president’s surge of forces, the leadership of talented military commanders, and the courage and perseverance of our troops”. They also praise the progress made by the the Afghan National Security Forces.
As such, the authors argue that in order to sustain this “fragile progress”, it is critical that the Obama administration “resist the shortsighted calls for additional troop reductions”. Instead, American troops should stay a little longer, and the proposed draw down to 68,000 troops by September should be paused. “It would be much better”, the authors conclude, “to maintain the 68,000 forces through next year’s fighting season, possibly longer”.
In recent months, with the 179-year-old quarrel between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands at its sharpest since the 1980s, and an erratic but tightening Argentinian economic blockade of the islands, everyday life here has taken on an even more self-consciously embattled quality than usual. Last month, the price of an orange – like almost all fruit and most vegetables, imported from South America – reached £1.39. There have been shortages of eggs in Stanley’s half-dozen food shops, and no South American beer in the town’s one hotel. Rumours have raced round the islands that the only weekly commercial flight to the outside world, across Argentinian airspace to Chile, is about to be shut down.
Falklanders respond to such hardships with a certain ingenuity and defiance. They always have done. In the original part of Stanley, established by British settlers in the 1840s on a sheltered slope facing a deepwater inlet, vegetables are grown in almost every porch and inch of garden. A sheep is tethered on one plot. The houses are thrifty improvisations of wood and corrugated iron, displaying British and Falklands flags in ever greater profusion.
by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, New York, December 26, 2011
Lévy was only on the fringes of the great revolutionary protests of 1968—he was still a teenager, and the line you hear is that while the French were rioting, he was consumed by his exams—but their failure shaped his world. Lévy abandoned orthodox Marxism for the more modest project of humanitarianism. If intellectuals were not competent to rearrange societies, at least they could recognize the moral atrocities of deprivation or genocide. “Lévy is really quite explicit,” says Julian Bourg of Boston College. “Politics have culminated in totalitarianism. All we have left is ethics.” The philosopher became an unusual, freelance conflict activist—camping out on the front lines and helping to focus the West’s attention on mass violence in Afghanistan, Sudan, Rwanda, and especially Bosnia. Lévy has always remained resolutely independent, with contacts but without political affiliations. He has become, the essayist Paul Berman says, “a one-man human-rights movement.”
Lévy’s great gift as a media figure is his willingness to play the devil, to make the most extreme case. “I like his incaution,” says Lévy’s friend Tina Brown, the editor of Newsweek and the Daily Beast. “He has the instinct to make everything into a stand.” Lévy’s is a sweeping-gesture politics. “Lack of care—maybe sometimes yes,” Lévy admits.
His friends and defenders like to distinguish between Lévy the philosopher and “BHL,” as he is referred to in the press—the frequently, almost consciously outlandish society persona Lévy has adopted. Though over time, the latter has almost completely swallowed the former. There is the costume and the weakness for bombast (he’s described his two great passions as writing and women). Eight years after writing a well-received 2000 book on Sartre, he confessed in print to retaining almost nothing on the subject. Lévy’s third and current wife is the famous French actress Arielle Dombasle, for whom he co-wrote, directed, and produced a widely derided movie in 1997, Le Jour et La Nuit; the mockery was so intense that he produced a book in response to it. Lévy’s affect is easily Muppeted, and one of the French comedy shows features a pretty credible BHL doll. “French egalitarianism is a real illness,” says Lévy’s close friend the publisher Jean-Paul Enthoven in explaining the disdain. The philosopher himself is more forward. “They have no effect on my narcissism,” Lévy wrote in 2008 of his critics. “In the face of assaults, my ego is fireproof, shatterproof.”
Her film depicts the isolation of war. Early on in the fighting, I remember going for a walk, avoiding the Serb snipers near the Jewish cemetery on the hill, to a neighborhood on the opposite side of the river where I lived. It was a time of intense bombing, sniping, starving, and freezing. I had witnessed old people who had been abandoned in their frontline nursing home and died in their beds. I saw kids who got rocketed for building snowmen. At the beginning of the war, America did not want to get involved; it saw the conflict as a European problem. In America it was portrayed as an intensely complicated fight between ancient enemies (Christians versus Muslims, Croats versus Serbs) and taking place in Europe’s backyard. As the fighting spread between Croatia, Bosnia, and Serbia, the U.N. got involved, but it was not until NATO airstrikes in 1994–95 that the opposing parties were forced to the negotiating table, where the U.S. played a major role in bringing about peace. And yet early on, people hung American flags out their windows. “Are they coming to save us?” they asked me, tugging at my sleeves. “When are the Americans coming?” It was heartbreaking. Jolie’s film shows what it is like to be one of those people—a poet, a bank teller, a teacher, a mother—and to be transformed by the cruelty and betrayal of war. It is about what humans do to other humans to survive.
There is no overestimating the phenomenon of Edin Džeko – whose first, magnificent, goal for Bosnia I saw at Sarajevo’s Koševo stadium – in the team’s success, in the importance of Friday’s match and in the aspirations and lives of Bosnians at home and across the diaspora.
Asim Selimovic, who spent his childhood in besieged Srebrenica and was dressed as a girl by his mother to avoid the slaughter in 1995, now lives and studies in St Louis, Missouri. He speaks for fans the world over when he says: “Džeko is a national idol. He is our pride and joy. When Džeko scores, every Bosnian refugee in the world has scored. He is our example, our hope.”
…With Džeko, Teplice won the Czech cup. In 2007, he moved to Wolfsburg, in Lower Saxony, Germany, for €4m, where he won a Bundesliga title and became top scorer in the club’s history, then to Manchester City for £27m. Yet, unlike others, Džeko refused offers of both Czech and then German citizenship, which would have taken him to the World Cup finals, choosing Bosnia as his national side – partly his own personal commitment, but also because of the philosophy and counsel of Plíšek, a man of impressively thoughtful modesty. “These boys reach crossroads where they have to choose who they are, and some understand that glory and money are not everything”, he says. “By choosing Bosnia, Džeko answered that crucial question, ‘who am I?’, and sent a message to his country, his parents and children. For me, this is how truly great players are made.”
So the United Nations’ investigation into the incident on the Mavi Marvara concludes what many of us have believed for some time. Whilst declaring the blockade of Gaza to be legal, noting that Israel faces “a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza”, the report argues that the force the IDF used to halt the naval flotilla was “excessive and unreasonable”. Fine: mea maxima culpa for everybody, then.
Or not, apparently. Experiencing what can only be described as a diplomatic hissy fit, Turkey – having given the Israeli government one day to apologise for the incident – expelled the State’s ambassador and severed military ties just hours before the report was officially published. Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s Foreign Minister, stated it was time Israel “paid a price” for its actions with regard to Gaza.
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called on Turkey to restore normal relations with Israel, for the sake of the Middle East peace process. And, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle cautioned “all sides not to aggravate the situation” further, labelling the UN report “comprehensive, transparent and neutral”.
Yet Turkey has decided, rather characteristically, to take a more aggressive, revanchist stance. Haaretz reports that Turkey will attempt to “significantly strengthen its presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea”, by increasing its patrols in the region, so that its navy is able to “accompany civilian ships carrying aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”. “The eastern Mediterranean will no longer be a place where Israeli naval forces can freely exercise their bullying practices against civilian vessels,” Haaretz quotes a Turkish official as saying.
Were Turkey to ever go through with this plan, and attempt to accompany civilian vessels as to aid them in breaking the legal blockade, this would constitute nothing less than an act of war. As it is, their rhetoric forms but one more facet of Turkey’s new more aggressive and expansionist foreign policy doctrine, which seeks to make the nation – and by extension Prime Minister Erdogan – the key player in the Middle East and North Africa.
The best solution, of course, is for a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel. In fact, it would be a rare sign of humility if the Netanyahu government did indeed apologise for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara, since as The Guardian notes, Israel has “not satisfactorily explained how it is that most of the dead were shot multiple times, including in the back, and at close range”.
But at once Israel should not be bullied into doing so. Israel has a right to defend itself, and as a result enforce the blockade around the terrorist stronghold of Gaza, wherefrom rockets continue to land on Israeli territory. It is thus Turkey’s responsibly – in light of their disproportionate and reactionary response to UN’s report – to make the first move. Invite the ambassador back, tone down the imperialist rhetoric, and the apology shall come.