Telling stories of folk who do the worst jobs: folk music and justice

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Yesterday, Nancy Kerr won the prestigious singer of the year title at the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2015.

Already a respected interpreter of traditional material, Nancy’s emergence as a writer of rare style has drawn comparisons to William Blake in her reawakening of a radical folk mythology as a backdrop for contemporary narratives about love and conflict, motherhood, migration, hardship and jubilation, and the tensions between rural and urban life. 1.

In her introduction to her Bristol gig last November she spoke of the deep disconnect we have with those who provide the goods we consume and the sense of alienation that creates in society. Here are some lyrics from Hard Songs 

Some kind stranger sews my clothes

Back bent low on the sweatshop row

Black is the flag and the smoke of coal

Mothers tears running in your soul

Mothers tears running in your soul

Cold seas running in your heart

Hard songs running in your blood.

1. http://nancykerr.co.uk/?page_id=10

Posted in Music and justice | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

On fairness, symmetry and beauty: a curation of beautiful thoughts on justice

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When we speak of beauty, attention sometimes falls on the beautiful object, at others times on the perceiver’s cognitive act of beholding the beautiful thing, and at still other times on the creative act that is prompted by ones being in the presence of what is beautiful. The invitation to ethical fairness can be found at each of these three sites…

…present to the mind of the writers of scores of other ancient treatises on cubes, spheres- is a conviction that equality is the heart of beauty, that equality is pleasure-bearing, and that (most important in the shift we are seeking to understand from beauty to justice) equality is the morally highest and best feature of the world. In other words, equality is set forth as the thing of all things to be aspired to…

…The equality of beauty enters the world before justice and stays longer because it does not depend on human beings to bring it about: though human beings have created much of the beauty in the world, they are only collaborators in a much vaster project…

When aesthetic fairness and ethical fairness are both present to perception, their shared commitment to equality can be seen as merely an analogy, for it may be truly be said that when both terms of an analogy are present, the analogy is inert. It asks nothing more of us than that we occasionally notice it. But when one term ceases to be visible (either because it is not present, or because it is present but dispersed beyond our sensory field), then the analogy cases to be inert: the term that is present becomes pressing, active, insistent, calling out for, directing our attention toward, what is absent…

…At the moment we see something beautiful, we undergo a radical decentering. Beauty, according to (Simone) Weil, requires us “to give up our imaginary position as the center…A transformation then takes place at the very roots of our sensibility, in our immediate reception of sense impressions and psychological impressions” (Simone Weil, Waiting for God, 159)

…at moments when we believe we are conducting ourselves with equality, we are usually instead conducting ourselves as the central figure in our own private story; and when we feel ourselves to be merely adjacent, or lateral (or even subordinate), we are probably more closely approaching a state of equality. In any event, it is precisely the ethical alchemy of beauty that what might in another context seem like a demotion is no longer recognizable as such: this is one of the cluster of feelings that have disappeared…

…A beautiful thing is not the only thing in the world that can make us feel adjacent; nor is it the only thing in the world that brings a state of acute pleasure. But it appears to be one of the few phenomena in the world that brings about both simultaneously; it permits us to be adjacent while also permitting us to experience extreme pleasure…a gift in its own right, and a gift as a prelude to or precondition of enjoying fair relations with others. It is clear that an ethical fairness which requires “a symmetry of everyone’s relation” will be greatly assisted by an aesthetic fairness that creates in all participants a state of delight in their own lateralness…

…This lateral position continues in the third state of beauty, not now the suspended state of beholding but the active state of creating-the site of stewardship in which one acts to protect or perpetuate a fragment of beauty already in the world or instead to supplement it by bringing into being a new object….The way beauty at this third site presses us toward justice might seem hard to uncover since we know so little about “creation”; but it is not difficult to make a start since justice itself is dependent on human hands to bring it into being and has no existence independent of acts of creation…The two distinguishable forms of creating beauty-perpetuating beauty that already exists; originating beauty that does not yet exist-have equivalents within the realm of justice….”to support” just arrangements where they already exist and to help bring them into being where they are “not yet established”

This curation of quotes were taken from Elaine Scarry’s book On Beauty and being Just, (2006) and can be found on pages, 97, 98, 108, 109, 111, 114 & 115.

You may like to listen to Elaine Scarry’s Harvard lecture Beauty as a call to Justice

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Book Review: Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

Guest blog: with thanks to Marijke Hoek, Co-editor Carnival Kingdom and Micah’s Challenge

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When the apostle Paul addresses the variety of gifts within the Christian community, he specifies that the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1 Cor. 12:7, italics for emphasis mine). The gift of providing a high quality legal defence for the poorest is most beautifully described in Bryan Stevenson’s recent book Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption.1

Drawing from thirty years of legal experience defending the most marginalised people in the USA, the author demonstrates the contemporary application of the biblical mandate to speak up, judge fairly and defend the rights of the poor and needy (Proverbs 31:9). As a young lawyer deeply troubled and concerned about the deep fractures and flaws caused by injustice, racial prejudice and inequality, Stevenson was compelled by an urgent sense of vocation to help people plant their feet on higher ground and stabilize their lives. Twenty five years ago he founded the Equality Justice Initiative (EJI) – a pro bono legal practice dedicated to providing high quality legal representation for those who cannot afford it. His commitment to people who are wrongly sentenced, in a criminal-justice system that still supports capital punishment, powerfully demonstrates how advocacy is literally a matter of life and death. Clearly, the legal complexity of Bryan Stevenson’s work requires tenacious commitment, but what emerges most powerfully from this book, is how his work ethic is characterised by a compassionate, respectful and pastoral posture towards each client.

Stevenson advocates, in particular, for a more merciful and restorative approach towards incarcerated children. In view of the harsh sentencing of youngsters and those facing long sentences for non-homicide crimes – in some cases, in the form of solitary confinement over decades – EJI not only advocates successfully for individual cases but also argues with good effect in the Supreme Court for systemic change. The court ruled in 2012 that the mandatory death-in-prison sentences that some states continued to impose on children were impermissible.

So, the ‘redemption’ referred to in the title refers not only to individuals but also to systems and indeed society at large. Stevenson’s audacious pursuit of justice not only aims to secure changes in the judicial process but also has the effect of reorienting individuals and indeed, whole marginalised communities, towards hope. His work reminds me of Jesus’ saying ‘Therefore, every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.’ The treasures which Bryan Stevenson ‘brings out’  are a clearer, higher sense of justice and a deeper understanding of how people, profoundly shaped by the suffering caused by historical slavery, racist lynching, and the civil rights struggle, are in need of reconciliation. The deep wounds that remain call out for a spirited wisdom that is considerate, full of mercy, impartial and sincere; this wisdom makes way for shalom – individual, relational and communal well-being that constitutes this higher ground for human flourishing (James 3:17).

Stevenson’s roots in his faith are implied on every page of this book. Reflecting on his vocation in an earlier interview, he says

For me, faith had to be connected to works. Faith is connected to struggle; that is, while we are in this condition we are called to build the kingdom of God. We can’t celebrate it and talk about it and then protect our own comfort environment. I definitely wanted to be involved in something that felt redemptive. 2

Explaining his life-time commitment to the legal profession, he quotes Matthew 25:34-40, in which it is predicted that in Heaven, Jesus will say to the righteous:

‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ The righteous, perplexed, will ask Jesus when they had fed Him, clothed Him, or visited Him in prison. And Jesus will reply: ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Reading Just Mercy makes me ever more mindful of human vulnerability in a harsh world. It makes me deeply grateful for this practice of lawyers who advocate on behalf of ‘the least of these’ and in doing so live out their commitment to the vulnerable in exemplary ways. I am grateful for Bryan Stevenson, whose life is such an eloquent testimony of hope and compassionate presence in dark times. His writings and vocation are a challenge to everyone to use the gifts so liberally given to us for the common good.

May we be found similarly faithful.

1. Stevenson, B. (2015) Just Mercy. A Story of Justice and Redemption, London: Scribe publications

2. http://blogs.law.nyu.edu/magazine/2007/bryan-stevenson’s-death-defying-acts/

For those interested Fighting injustice in America’s jails is a BBC World Service interview with Bryan Stevenson about his work in February 2015. Bryan Stevenson video is also worth watching!

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Excruciating discipleship #Goodfriday?

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Sieger Köder ‘Simon of Cyrene’

When Jesus turned to the crowds who were flocking to hear his teachings and receive healing and hope and said

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”[1]

he was, in no uncertain terms, letting them know that his teachings and way of life would bring them into direct conflict with imperial systems of control (at the time this was represented by the Roman empire), which would cause them unimaginable suffering.

So what did the cross represent?

The cross was not a form of punishment used by the Jews, but rather a feature of the occupying Roman imperial legal order. Punishment by crucifixion was a capital punishment reserved for slaves, criminals and foreigners and was rarely used against Roman citizens (desertion from the Roman army or treason being notable exceptions). It was an excruciating and shameful way to die. It was also an effective deterrent which terrorised and exhibited the power of the State against those who refused to ‘fall into line’.

There is little doubt that when Jesus chose to speak to his followers of the cross, he was framing the cost of following him in the strongest of terms; our word excruciating comes from the Latin word for crucify. The Romans themselves described crucifixion as “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Roman statesman Cicero Verrem 2:5.165) and “the most extreme penalty” (Verrem 2:5.168). The Roman jurist Julius Paulus listed crucifixion as the worst of all capital punishments, ahead of death by burning, death by beheading, or death by the wild beasts, whilst the Jewish historian Josephus described it as the “the most wretched of deaths.”

In short, the cross, in the context in which Jesus spoke, represented becoming an enemy of Rome, punishable by death by imperial law; it meant being regarded as a subversive criminal by those who held the power.

So why did Jesus expect that his followers would face the terror of the Roman cross?

In recent years there has been an escalation in debate around the theological significance of Jesus’ own death on the cross but much less discussion, it seems, on the significance of the cross we are called to encounter in following The Way of Christ; the cross of discipleship.

It is sobering that Jesus spoke about the cross before his own impending crucifixion became obvious. It seems that he saw clearly that there was an unavoidable suffering which would accompany the continued worship[2] of a God of Life under imperial occupation. Imperial Rome offered life on its own terms and often at a price which only the strong or successful could afford; the weak were often marginalised and even criminalised as defective, subversive and suspect in a system which rewarded strength and shows of honour and respect for tradition. In short, he perceived that his teachings were in some part, in direct conflict with the social and legal and religious structures of the Roman Empire.

His would be followers must surely have been terribly shaken by the threat of the Roman cross? It seems that the hope Jesus offered the marginalised inhabitants of occupied Palestine outweighed the threat of suffering; even the excruciating suffering and loss of dignity which the shameful imperial penalty of the cross symbolised.

So Jesus’ gospel message included the promise of affliction and trial. Yes, there was forgiveness and healing and wholeness to be gained by following him…but if we are to be givers and not just takers, our transformational witness to Life in all its fullness will sometimes, if not always require a struggle in the face of opposition to bring that same testimony and sign of hope to others.

For many of us, we are resting easy in the wake of the sacrificial discipleship of those who have gone before us, challenging slavery, injustice and carrying this Easter message of Hope (which I have written about more fully here). Others across the world are encountering the sharp end of resistance and the heavy blows of oppression.

As a family, we all need each other.

[1]  This speech was recorded in 3 of the 4 gospels Mark 8:34; Matthew 16:24; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:27.

[2] Worship is used here in its fullest sense to include love of God and love of neighbour; a lifestyle which supported Life-affirming, relational community which protected and cared for the vulnerable and weak and in doing so reflected God’s love.

Posted in Bible and justice, Easter &Justice | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Universal instinct for justice?

Universal instinct for justice?

Apparently we share across all cultures five innate perceptions that form the foundations of all our moral cultures.1 These are as follows:

  • First, our sense of care and nurture engenders kindness and the development of empathy and other protective and preserving qualities.
  • Second, our sense of fairness or reciprocity generates justice and equality and sharing within the community.
  • Third, our sense of in-group loyalty stimulates the development of group values and identity and discourages betrayal or disloyalty.
  • Fourth, our sense of respect for authority encourages the formation of leadership virtues and a respect for traditions that preserve stability and order.
  • Finally, our sense of what is pure and sacred promotes altruism, self-discipline and even sacrifice for the greater good.

Of course, there are differences of emphasis in how these instincts shape morality. Some cultures will value care and fairness more highly. Others may prioritise loyalty, hierarchy and order, which they see as the best way to promote care and fairness in the longer term.

Theologically, we can understand these innate instincts for ‘doing the right thing’ as being linked to the assertion in the Creation story that we are made in God’s image. It should not come as a surprise that we share, across widely divergent cultures, these innate values. While these values will be deployed in different ways in different contexts, how we relate to God will have an impact on how they develop and shape our moral cultures – for better or worse.

Prophetic mandate

The biblical prophets’ main function was to preserve how the people related to God. Their task was to keep the people of God, especially their leaders, accountable and faithful to his Covenant with them and to the laws that shaped their ‘innate perceptions’. They reminded the people that true worship meant living in a way that maintained what we might now call social, political and economic justice. God’s blessing – and specifically the promise of shalom (peace) – was linked to the faithfulness of the people to live justly, act mercifully and walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). In particular, they were to demonstrate concern and care for the vulnerable and even the outsider (consider how this impacted perceptions of in-group loyalty!). When the people worshipped other gods, injustice inevitably ensued.

This backdrop gives context to Jesus’ sharp disappointment with some of the leaders of his day; they were neither living justly before God and the people, nor acting mercifully. By accommodating to the imperial culture of Rome, they had lost their prophetic vision and were being corrupted and co-opted by the imperial power-game (Matthew 23). During Roman occupation there were many social, political and (no doubt) environmental injustices and degradations to contend with. The people were struggling to see how to live authentically while hemmed in by the different worldview and requirements of Rome’s imperial cult.

Similarly, in mission the Church will encounter powers that are contrary to the life-giving, restorative Spirit of God. Structural, political and economic powers keep many people trapped in abject poverty and violence, while individual vice leads to greedy excess, degrading both the environment and human dignity. The examples of the prophets and Jesus remind us that the journey of restoration requires both vision to imagine how we can live more justly, reflecting the biblical principles of justice, and action to implement that vision. We need to develop a prophetic imagination that shapes each culture’s innate instincts for good.

Justice rooted in shalom

The biblical vision of peace (Old Testament shalom, New Testament eirene) includes an ongoing commitment to social, political and environmental justice. It develops and shapes the ‘innate perceptions’ above in specific ways. Professor Chris Marshall describes shalom as a state where there is:

…positive presence of harmony and wholeness, of health and prosperity, of integration and balance. It is the state of soundness or flourishing in all dimensions of existence – in our relationship with God, our relationships with each other, our relationship with nature, and our relationship with ourselves.2

Restoration lies at the heart of the gospel. Shalom describes the ‘delightful and convivial energy of a community at one and at peace with itself in purposeful service to God and the greater good of the rest of creation.’3 The prophet Isaiah depicts this joy-filled state as living in the ‘tranquil country, dwelling in shalom, in houses full of ease’ (Isaiah 32:18). He also highlights the dual function of justice in establishing peace (58:6–7). The first function is active opposition to injustice, ‘loosing the chains of injustice’. The second is offering care for people who are oppressed and afflicted, to maintain their dignity.

However, shalom is more than the result of ‘doing the right thing’. Caring for the vulnerable, advocacy, and social, political and environmental activism are important, but so is the celebration of life and beauty in all its dimensions of cultural diversity and human creativity. A community that protects and promotes what is good, creative and beautiful will also be enabling the joy associated with shalom.

Developing a critical consciousness

The apostle Paul refers to the importance of the renewal of our minds (Romans 12). He knew that the process of transformation was a combination of God’s grace and our will to change mind-sets that might block that grace. As Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire observes, ‘as we think, so we act’.

Freire describes three states of human consciousness. The naïve consciousness tends to oversimplify problems. Those with this attitude may become fatalistic and avoid as futile any deeper analysis of the causes of injustice and attempts to take action. We might underestimate our ability to play a part and instead wax nostalgic for the ‘good old days’ or even adopt a ‘happy-go-lucky’ attitude, even using superficial or faulty understanding of scripture or theology to validate our disengagement.

The superstitious consciousness tends towards cynicism. Those of us ‘in the know’ may regard ourselves as being somewhat more aware of the issues that underlie the injustices than those who are naïve, but this cynical awareness usually stops short of meaningful discussion and transformative engagement with the issues.

The critical consciousness, on the other hand, replaces fatalism and cynicism with realistic analysis and engagement. This leads to social transformation, creating a community that correctly and fairly interprets and analyses issues and problems, accepts responsibilities, acts rather than procrastinates, and processes through dialogue not argument.4

As the apostle Paul affirms, when our minds are renewed and restored we will see more clearly God’s will to bring about transformation and hope. Thus a critical consciousness will help us to examine our contexts in open and respectful dialogue with others and tackle effectively the injustice and suffering that we encounter. This requires an attitude of humility and solidarity – a humble recognition of the good in the cultures around us, and a willingness to move forward together.

Towards a prophetic imagination

Our context is where we observe and interpret the contours of injustice and justice. It is as critical for us as it was for the prophets before us that we observe our context carefully and make time to interpret what we find. It’s also vital that we imagine what it might look like if the world’s communities were shaped and governed by the principles of biblical justice. How might we describe these diverse and joyous communities of shalom? As God restores our vision – our prophetic imagination – so we can more fully participate with others in his restorative mission.

References

1 Haidt, J and Joseph, C. ‘The moral mind.’ In: Carruthers, P, Laurence, S and Stich, S  (eds). The Innate Mind (Vol 3). Oxford: OUP (2006).

2 Marshall, C. The Little Book of Biblical Justice. New York: Good Books (2005), p12.

3 Kingston-Smith, C. ‘ Imagine a Carnival, prophetic image-in-a(c)tion for just communities.’ In: Hoek, M et al (eds). Carnival Kingdom, Biblical Justice for Global Communities. Gloucester: Wide Margins (2013).

4 Freire, P. Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum (1998), p18.

[This text was originally written here for Latinfile, Latin Link‘s Mission Journal]

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For the love of money

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It is budget day in the UK and in advance of a General Election the energy around it is heightened.

If there was one single issue which has greatest axis value in discussions around justice it might well be money and its affiliated sources and resources and attendant power.  Many who set out to ‘do the right thing’ can be derailed by what Paul in his letter to Timothy describes as ‘the love of money’. Our legitimate needs for security and provision can grow into excessive and anxious amassing of wealth which surprise us by tapping into our need for the power and the status it can bring.

The Jubilee Centre has done some excellent work in tracing biblical examples of fair distribution of resources and seeking to apply these principles to modern life. In addition, a recent Radio 4 series on Debt very usefully explores the history, theology and functions of debt in the modern use of money.

I often wonder what situations Paul was thinking about when he warned Timothy that the ‘love of money is the root of all evil’ or, as he went on to say next in the same passage, that, ‘Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.’ (I Timothy 6:10). Paul would have understood the pressures of living under the shadow of Rome, where heavy taxation built roads which benefited the entrepreneurial merchants who scuttled down the new highways of opportunity and paid warriors (and their armourers and weapon-makers!) who patrolled the borders of the Empire. He no doubt also would have understood the temptations to abandon the ‘inefficiency’ of caring for the vulnerable or weak (weakness was anathema to the imperial mindset) and the ‘time-wasting’ and money that that involved. Yet, he saw incisively the threat that pursuing money as an end in itself posed to the integrity and wholeness of a faith community.

It is always sobering to consider how our national budgets reflect the values and priorities our politicians have for the economy and as we weigh these priorities it is worth reflecting on how we are using our resources as a tool to further the goals of caring for the sick and the vulnerable and providing for those who cannot provide for themselves as well as paving the way for sustainable economic development.

“For The Love Of Money”

Money, money, money, money, money [6x]
Some people got to have it
Some people really need it
Listen to me y’all, do things
Do things, do bad things with it
You wanna do things, do things
Do things, good things with it
Talk about cash money, money
Talk about cash money
Dollar bills, yallFor the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother
For the love of money
People can’t even walk the street
Because they never know
Who in the world they’re gonna beat
For that lean, mean, mean green
Almighty dollar, money

For the love of money
People will lie, Lord, they will cheat
For the love of money
People don’t care who they hurt or beat
For the love of money
A woman will sell her precious body
For a small piece of paper
It carries a lot of weight
Call it lean, mean, mean green

Almighty dollar

I know money is the root of all evil
Do funny things to some people
Give me a nickel, brother can you spare a dime
Money can drive some people out of their minds

Got to have it, I really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Some people really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Got to have it, I really need it
How many things have I heard you say
Lay down, lay down, a woman will lay down
For the love of money
All for the love of money
Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money rule you
For the love of money
Money can change people sometimes
Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money fool you
Money can fool people sometimes
People, don’t let money, don’t let money change you
It will keep on changing, changing up your mind

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Book review: Against a tide of Evil by Mukesh Kapila

Whistleblowers can play an essential role in detecting fraud, mismanagement and corruption. Their actions help to save lives, protect downloadhuman rights and safeguard the rule of law. To protect the public good, whistleblowers frequently take on high personal risks. They may face victimisation or dismissal from the workplace, their employer may sue (or threaten to sue) them for breach of confidentiality or libel, and they may be subject to criminal sanctions. In extreme cases, they face physical danger. (Transparency International)

In March 2004 the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Sudan, Mukesh Kapila, went ‘…direct to the world’s peoples… above and beyond the heads of those who should have acted’ and gave a live interview with the Radio 4 Today programme. In his own mind, the culpability for the horrors being unleashed on the people of Darfur lay with both the ‘Khartoum genocidaires and those ‘good men’ who had chosen to do nothing.’ (Kapila, 2013, 222&223). His concerns about what was being unleashed in the Darfur region of Sudan escalated soon after his arrival in 2003 and his conclusion was that it was  ‘…more than just a conflict…an organised attempt to do away with a group of people… ethnic cleansing.’ (Kapila, BBC News online, 19th March 2004).

The day I finished reading Against a tide of Evil, Mukesh Kapila’s  account of the Darfurian genocide in 2003-2004, Human Rights Watch published their latest report titled: Mass rape in Darfur, Sudanese Army Attacks against Civilians in Tabi, cataloguing evidence of continued government- backed attacks against civilians in Tabit, North Darfur.  Mass rape of women and girls, arbitrary detention, beating and ill-treatment of scores of people continues to blight the peoples of a region ten years on from similar and worse events described in this book.

‘How one man became the whistleblower to the first mass murder of the twenty-first century’ is the official subtitle of Makesh Kapila’s revelatory and disarmingly personal account of the role he played in exposing the horrors of what has come to be known by many as the ‘Darfur genocide’.  His conviction, which drives his own engagement in Sudan springs from the words of British philosopher and politician Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Biographical detail of his childhood in India during the conflict of the Partition and the impact of racial bullying at a private UK College helps the reader to understand the motivation and passion which stirs him to action. His refreshingly honest self-appraisal is very human and moving:

As I contemplated all of this, I was consumed by an unbearable sense of failure. I had failed in my duty. All the rhetoric about acting early and the responsibility to protect had proven empty ….It had happened on my watch.’(Kapila, 2013, 200).

Against this reflective and personal backdrop, the book unfolds, drilled through with detailed accounts of the horrors which were being perpetrated against Darfurian villagers and a catalogue of his attempts to strategically outmanoeuvre intransigent blocks to humanitarian assistance and intervention.  His mounting frustration is palpable; the restrictions of his official remit and the reluctance of the UN to call for Security Council action further compound the challenges and disappointments he faced on the ground in a protracted and complex gridlock of political and ethnic violence.

Convinced as he was, that government- backed violence in Darfur was ethnically targeted, it comes as a surprise to learn that the UN’s own Commission of Inquiry at the end of 2004 concluded that the Government of Sudan had not pursued a policy of genocide. It did, however, conclude that both crimes against humanity and war crimes had been committed which were just as serious as genocide. It was not to be until 2010 that the International Security Council would issue a second warrant for arrest against Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir for criminal responsibility on three counts of genocide committed against the people of Darfur (ICC, 2010).

Against a tide of Evil is a book which traces the enormous complexity which hampers humanitarian intervention and assistance. In Darfur, the ongoing political, economic and cultural marginalization, exacerbated by the regions’ colonial history, has been compounded by drought and competition for water resources and the escalation of ‘Arab’ and ‘African’ identities being invoked and used to incite violence (Hottinger, 2006).  Mukesh Kapila and those like him, who seek to ensure humanitarian assistance to those who are caught up in the cross-fire of historically-seeded conflict truly find themselves between a rock and a hard place.

This is not a book which resolves for the reader every question which inevitably arises but its strength lies in raising awareness and deepening understanding. It invites us to consider whether, in prioritising our own security and success, we ourselves might come to compromise truth and justice and compassion and become ‘good men and women who do nothing’? With power and position comes responsibility; Mukesh Kapila’s book is testimony to both the considerable challenge and opportunity that that brings. It is well worth reading.

References

BBC News report 19th March, 2004, Mass rape atrocity in west Sudan, accessed 13/2/15 at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/3549325.stm

Human Rights Watch Report (2015) Mass rape in Darfur, 11th February, accessed 12/2/15 http://www.hrw.org/reports/2015/02/11/mass-rape-north-darfur

Human Rights Watch Sudan (2010) ICC issue warrant for al-Bashir on genocide, 13th July, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.hrw.org/news/2010/07/13/sudan-icc-warrant-al-bashir-genocide

International Criminal Court (2010) Arrest warrant against President Omar al-Bashir, accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/situations%20and%20cases/situations/situation%20icc%200205/Pages/situation%20icc-0205.aspx

Julian Thomas Hottinger (2006) The Darfur Peace Agreement Expectations unfulfilled, accessed 3/2/15 at  http://www.c-r.org/sites/default/files/Accord18_14TheDarfurpeaceagreement_2006_ENG_0.pdf

The United Nations and Darfur Fact Sheet  accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/News/dh/infocus/sudan/fact_sheet.pdf

UN Inquiry (2004) Report of the International Commission of Inquiry on Darfur to the United Nations Secretary-General accessed 13/2/15 at http://www.un.org/news/dh/sudan/com_inq_darfur.pdf

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