All posts tagged: Conflict

Spectacles of death

Reflections on motherhood and weapons systems, public death in Syria, and the spectacle of dying in a Greek hospital

Malala and narrative co-option

This has, in many ways, been Malala’s week. Despite not having been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala has dominated headlines, in ways that have prompted Max Fisher and Zeynep Tufekci to craft delicate, thoughtful responses that reflect on Western advocacy. Tufekci writes: “[…] But she is but one courageous person. Fortunately for the world, there is no shortage of such brave, courageous individuals. In fact, there is an abundance of them, especially in poor, authoritarian countries. If you think Malala is rare, that is probably because you have not spent much time in such countries. Most Malala’s, however, go nameless, and are not made into Western celebrities. (That interview’s most telling moment was when Jon Stewart said “I want to adopt you” to her right after she repeatedly mentioned how great her own father was — such a striking sentiment in which our multi-decade involvement in Pakistan is reduced to finding a young woman we admire that we all want to take home as if to put on a shelf to adore).” Fisher adds: …

Questions on representing atrocities

This is a series of thoughts that are emerging from weeks of processing both the testimonies I collected during my recent field work and secondary reading on atrocities, trauma, narrative responsibility, and collective memory. Many of these thoughts are half-baked, as I essentially type from the middle of a conversation between me and the texts. Waiting for perfection is my least favorite form of silence — so here we go, from the middle of the story, knee-deep in footnotes and question marks.   James Dawes writes in the preface of Evil Men:  “How can we look at violently invasive and traumatic events with respect and care rather than sensational curiosity? How do profoundly private injuries fit into our mercilessly public spaces? At the center of the answers to these questions is a single, structuring paradox: the paradox of trauma. We are morally obligated to represent trauma, but we are also morally obligated not to.“ In response, I wonder (partially affected by my legal reading on naturalism vs. positivism): What does moral obligation consist of in …

Field notes from Colombia: Farewell

  There are those moments on the Avenida Circunvalar when the clouds lift momentarily and the whole world is flooded with light. In those seconds, the weight of my work here lifts too — momentarily, as though coaxed to evaporate by a patch of blue sky and impeccable clouds. When I think of joy in Colombia during this field project, I think of a taxi zooming through mountain turns on the Circunvalar. I will miss the conversations with the taxi drivers. A few remain at the top of my mind: The woman who was navigating the city on her first day as a taxista. Perhaps a place is truly a home when you give your brand new taxista directions 100 blocks North and reassure her that you will neither be lost nor be run over by a bus. When she gets terrified, you encourage her to turn up the Carlos Vives bellowing from the radio. If these field notes had a soundtrack, it would be a marriage of Carlos Vives and Fonseca. Other taxistas would …

Field notes from Colombia: Courage

I routinely inhabit the space between courage and paralyzing fear. It is in conversations with other professionals who work in conflict zones, tinged with bravado and a veneer of fearlessness, that I realize just how extensive my own list of fears is. Between July 2009 and July 2010, I boarded 43 flights in and out of conflict-affected areas, rendering my carbon footprint equivalent to the size of an elephant’s paw (if not a whole elephant). I stared at the wing to assess the stability of each and every one of those flights almost the entire time, as though staring at the wing could prevent pilot error or the twists of fate that result in plane crashes. More than once, I have considered that I have too many fears, that I scare too easily and too often, to remain in my chosen line of work. *** “You are going to die.” That is the face of a threat: chillingly concise. Sometimes it arrives via text message and sometimes it is on a flyer slipped under your …

Field notes from Colombia: Trauma and stories

From the spaces in between: between sunshine and rain, between trauma and dreams, outside of Bogotá, Colombia There is a rhythm to the stories that come into my life through my work here in Colombia. The nature of my research is such that I am steeped in inquiry every day, putting the accents on Cómo’s and Por qué’s. There is repetition to this process: I ask questions, I record the responses, I transcribe the responses from my notebook to my computer, I code the data, and then I repeat this loop with each different interviewee and his or her story. Trauma is a constant companion on this story-sharing journey. The individuals who offer responses to my questions often have to revisit their individual or collective trauma, which I then revisit myself when I become acquainted with their story anew by copying it from my notebook to my computer and from there into spreadsheets and flipcharts. Though I prefer to keep the specific subject of my research private until the completion of this stage of field …

Field notes from Colombia: Narratives

In one of my favorite TEDx talks, Chimamanda Adichie cautions against the dangers of a single story. As she narrates, we are “impressionable and vulnerable in the face of a story,” a disarming property of storytelling that I have come to cherish. However, she goes on to point out that this is a risky vulnerability when certain narratives emerge, become dominant, and overwhelm the others. In Adichie’s words: “But to insist on only these negative stories is to flatten my experience and to overlook the many other stories that formed me. The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” Colombia is rife with single narratives of the type Adichie describes – and, almost paradoxically, they exist side by side. There is the image of Colombia as the land of Pablo Escobar, the guerilla, the paramilitaries. It is the Colombia of guns and bombs, an image that nests most frequently in the heads of those …

Field notes from Colombia: Are our questions necessary?

  A sculpture of a woman fishing alone on top of a building in La Candelaria. A banana hangs at the end of her rod. In theoverpacking era of my life, which was more recently than my currently minimalist self would like to admit, I was that tiny person dragging a suitcase one and a half times her size through a train station with a broken escalator and politely refusing all offers of help. Even though I was sweating. Even though the suitcase weighed more than me. Even though the last thing I wanted to do was drag that monster up the stairs.It wasn’t out of too fervent an embrace of the “Stranger-Danger” doctrine; on the contrary, some of the moments that have fueled my faith in humanity have been born out of conversations with strangers in liminal states. It wasn’t out of too paranoid an attachment to my stuff or too strong a need to prove my own beastly strength. Rather, my stubborn insistence on lugging extraordinary loads unassisted stems from having been taught …

Field notes from Colombia: Memory

The text on the bottom left reads: “Nobody Wins.” On the right: “Silence is forgetting, is death.” For someone who aspires to mindful presence, I certainly spend a lot of time reflecting on the topic of memory. Earlier this week, I shared some of my reflections on arriving anew to a country you once called home. I wrote then:   In many ways, arriving anew in a country you once called home lends itself better to processes of memory than discovery. As I wrote in an email to Elijah yesterday, “can you still count firsts if it’s a ‘first time on this trip’ as opposed to a first ever?” There are endless layers of Colombia I have yet to uncover and even more that I have yet to fully understand, so the memory versus discovery conundrum is not for lack of novelty. Rather, it emerges out of a realization that a return to the field,particularly a return to a site you once called home, inspires — almost unwittingly — a comparison of memories. Does this …

Notes from the Women in International Security Conference in Canada

In early June, I had the pleasure of presenting my research and work on the topic of wartime sexual violence at the Women in International Security (WIIS) Canada conference, which took place at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto [see here for the original call for papers]. Telling the story of the experience is challenging because it was, in itself, the convergence of the stories of scholars, policymakers, and Canadian military representatives. Therein lies the first refreshing lesson: In my experience of conferences and seminars so far, it is truly refreshing to have individuals from different realms and agencies with different mandates, resources, and sources of expertise in the same room. I wish it happened more frequently, and I wish the conversational cross-pollination were the norm. The agenda was organized around issues related to women and security, ranging from women as agents of violence to women as peacemakers, and most presenters took into account broader questions of gender, including the role of men as victims and the importance of understanding wartime iterations of masculinity. This …