Yesterday Was Dr. Seuss day in the US! To celebrate here´s one of the classic author´s greatest quotes, from “Horton Hears a Who”(pub. 1954)
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Yesterday Was Dr. Seuss day in the US! To celebrate here´s one of the classic author´s greatest quotes, from “Horton Hears a Who”(pub. 1954)
Inspired by Missmagicgirl´s monthly wrap up post, where she lists her favorite events and memories from a previous month, it is my ambition to (starting from this month) to feature a similar monthly wrap up here at Ruby Soup. The wrap up will cover books, comics, movies, activism and all sorts of fun news from the previous month. With no further ado, let´s get started.
1.Favorite Activist Moment: Protesting Torture in Mexico with Amnesty International.
A former fellow activist (who I had worked with previously in a University based Amnesty group) posted on social media that she was going to attend a protest about the torture of civilians by the military in Mexico. After asking if I could participate, and despite living in Stockholm, I jumped on a train and went up to Uppsala (it´s about 30-60 minutes away from Stockholm). The event was a mash up of protest walking, with activists (including me) brandishing signs stating ”Stop torture” and ”Stop torture in Mexico”, while others dressed up as military folks or their (through fake rope, chains and make up) tortured victims. We marched for about an hour and 15 minutes. Some of the activists asked onlookers to sign Amnesty´s petitions that would be sent to Mexico´s authorities. The activist group was friendly, and the protest was very fruitful. We got five pages of signatures.
2. Favorite Graphic Novel: ”All My Darling Daughters” by Fumi Yoshinaga.
This one-shot manga is written in a series of short story form. All of the stories follow a woman and the friends and family around her. The manga is melancholy, at times bittersweet, at times gloomy, exploring the ways that life can go wrong. “All my darling daughters” begins with a woman who, convinced that her mother’s new husband (who is young enough to be our heroines younger brother) is conning her mother, decides to leave the family home. Other stories follow the woman´s sister, who is struggling to find a husband to avoid the stigma of being ”too old to marry” (it is hinted that she may be asexual); the protagonist´s male friend who accidentally gets involved with a student who suffers from severe low self-esteem and a former class mate who is heartbroken to see his female friend become more and more disillusioned, loosing her ambition for independence. ”All my darling daughters” shows life at its most uncomfortable, most unresolved and most frightening. The subject of abuse (emotional, physical and even sexual) is intertwined with the themes of power, relationships and family. The manga gives us candid depictions of the limited working options given to women and unequal division of labor. In fact, many of the female characters express frustration regarding the sexist double standards women face in the work place, like being dismissed as unqualified solely due to gender, as well as the injustice of the wage gap. The occasional humor is pitch black and the human interactions captivating. Along with the question of gender, the manga also explores mother-daughter relationships with a complex look at human psychology. Despite the stories often leaning towards a depressing angle, the reader will most likely have quite the difficulty putting this manga down.
3. Favorite Film:”Spotlight”, directed Thomas McCarthy.
This Oscar nominated film, based on a true story, follows the whistle-blowing of the systematic cover-up in the Catholic Church regarding the sexual abuse of adolescent and pre-adolescent boys and girls suffered at the hands of priests. While perhaps not the best of movies dealing with this subject, the film still gives a fascinating look at how journalism works (real life journalist have praised this films accurate depiction), features several accounts of survivors telling their stories and gives some chilling insights regarding child abuse. As one quote from the film states: ”If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one too”. The acting is great, but the pacing is at times a little slow. Still worth a watch.
4.Favorite TV Moment(s): John Oliver tackles the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico and the journalistic simplification of science, while the wonderful Holly Walker at ”The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore” nobly rages at sexual assault in the military.
Right now we have golden era for political comedy shows. ”Full frontal with Samantha Bee” is fiercely feminist and funny. ”Nightly show with Larry Wilmore” discusses politics and race in a honest dialogue while having a diverse cast of correspondents, with four kick ass women being part of that cast. ”Last week with John Oliver” is hilarious, while giving American TV a much needed international lens. I myself try to watch as many episodes of all these series. The ”Last week” episodes mentioned, that tackled the economic meltdown of Puerto Rico, saw many hospitals and schools having to be shutdown. Oliver went thoughtfully through the issue, and ended the subject with a actual live performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda who has written and directed ”Hamilton”, who himself has Puerto Rican parents. Oliver also discussed how science, through click-bait culture, has been made misrepresented and belittled into more of a headline than the complex field that it is. With a fun parody of Ted-talks to top it off.
Holly Walker, one of the most energetic correspondents on “The nightly show”, took the viewer through a sketch on how infuriating the lack of action around sexual assault in US armies is. It was short, but fun. Holly Walker, just by her sheer presence, is smashing the erasure of middle aged women of color in mainstream media.
5.Favorite Novel: ”Florian Knol” by Guus Kuijer.
This children´s novel tells the story of 10-year old ginger Florian, who one day has a bird suddenly land on his head. The next day he meets Katja, an big and tall girl who goes to the same school, who confesses her love to him. The duo later bumps into an old woman who can´t find her key (which she calls a ”fork”) and has only one shoe on despite being out in the streets. The pair decide to help the woman in secret, but things get out of hand when Florian has to juggle his indecision with dating a bigger, taller girl, his parents constant fights and keeping the old woman’s increasingly severe Alzheimers disease unknown to the adults who they fear would send her to an alienating retirement home. A tragicomic novel that addresses aging and anxieties of oneself in a clear, hopeful way that also has a colorful cast of characters. Recommended.
There´s my month. How was your month, dear readers?
Dear readers, I joined a group on Goodreads called Top 5 Wednesday. It was created by a bookblogger and booktuber called Ginger Lainey, and is now hosted by Sam from the Youtube channel “Thoughts on Tomes”. Check Sam´s stuff out, she´s smart and classy. The topic which engaged me is a couple of weeks old but I was inspired to write about it regardless: novels that deal with disturbing issues.
1.“Holy Week” by Jerzy Andrejevski: This polish novel was published in 1947, and tells the story of a woman of Jewish descent named Irena who during WWII seeks refuge in hiding at her former lover Jan and his new wife´s home. What follows is the haunting anxiety of waiting and precarious hiding, while the trio discusses gentile privilege, hopes and cynicism in the face of war and genocide. While Irena revolves around her anger towards a society that is determined to wipe her kind out, the wife of the hiding couple follows a different path of denial as she is pregnant and therefore can´t afford to believe that the Germans will never leave Poland. Jan, numbed by events is clueless in the face of the horrors of the regime, but he knows he must go on hiding Irena. The book, though occurring in a horrid past, really revolves around issues that resonate even today and has one of the most brutal, heartbreaking endings of all time. This forgotten gem of a novel not only discusses what it meant in those times to have privilege in the face of the ultimate oppressed, but also discusses the religious side of anti-Semitism and even touches upon the sexual assaults that Jewish women experienced during the war. The novel, while keeping the reader in a tight grip, makes the reader continually hold their breath to find out what happens to Irena and the polish couple hiding her. “Holy Week” was a pioneering work, and should be rediscovered by new readers.
2. “The Hunger Angel” by Herta Müller: This novel is Nobel Prize winning Herta Müller´s magnum opus. It tells the story of a young man who is sentenced to a labor camp during Ceausescu´s regime in Romania. The man endures harsh, soul crushing labor while being essentially starved, like all of the other prisoners at the camp. The man, it is implied, is sentenced to the camp due to being of the German speaking population in Romania, much like many prisoners who find their sentences as the ultimate ghastly act of the absurd and arbitrary. Müller, through haunting poetic language and simple but deep symbols, exposes the reader to the constant hunger, the cruelty, and dehumanization that the labor camps were. Müller´s inspiration for the novel came from the witnesses that her own mother experienced, who was a survivor of such a camp, and a single other close friend who provided her with the majority of the research. “The Hunger Angel” is not only heartbreaking, but uncomfortably real. A must read.
3. “Native Son” by Richard Wright: This novel is about a young man named Bigger Thomas, who is a disillusioned black youth during the US´s era of segregation. Published in 1940, the novel tackles the stereotype of the dangerous black man and, through its shocking but subtle social commentary, deconstructs the racist caricature imposed on people. Bigger ends up killing two women, the first by accident in a state of panic, the second one in an act of expression of his rage. The novel digs into Bigger´s mind and psyche, showing how systematic racism effects and damages a person. “Native Son” shows alcoholism, poverty and the horrors of condescending language that is tough to read, but is a document of an uneasy time and an exploration of how society creates its own bad guys.
4. “Lolita” by Vladimir Nabokov: A classic novel about a man who falls in love with a 12-year old girl, and then proceeds to first marry the child’s mother, only to (possibly) kill the mother in order to rape the child. One of the most beautifully written, but also wildly misunderstood, books to ever be written, “Lolita” is from a manipulative, sadistic mans point of view. The novel is filled with nightmare-like context, making the reader squirm while reading it and creates a space in the narrative where you feel like a actual sociopath is sitting next to you, explaining away his atrocities, tempting you to believe him, but every once in a while his narration slips and the true horror is shown. One of the most chilling scenes is when Dolores (the girl’s real name) sees a police car and tries to escape, only for Humbert (the man) to blackmail her into silence. Worth a read, but disturbing.
5. “Prince de la rue” (“The prince of the street”) by Dominique Mwankumi: This is a picture book aimed for toddler aged children about two homeless young boys in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of The Congo. The story is based on the experience of many children in Mr. Mwankumis homeland. Shégué is a young, inventive small child (around 8-9) who makes a living by using thrown away objects and trash to make toys, which he sells. It is mentioned early that his parents simply didn´t want him and since his early childhood he has been living on the streets. The picture book has a clear, sad tone with beautiful, gentle drawings that feel like an art museum of its own. The book follows the boy’s survival tactics and the constant struggle to avoid adults who wish to harm them. Yet, despite this cruel situation, the boys strive to overcome their setbacks and the story implies that one day their luck may turn. A sad tale, but important and with fantastic art.
There´s my picks. Anyone else read a really good book with a really tough subject? Comment below!
(This post is the fourth part in mt series “Torture Awareness Month”)
After the scandals of the leaked photographs from the Abu Grahab prison, torture has been a hot political button. So much so that one of the big promises President Obama made during his presidential election was to close down the most obvious and famous of the detention centers performing torture (most infamously “water boarding”) on its prisoners, Guantanamo Bay. During the Bush Administration many human rights activist and groups held massive campaigns to bring attention to the secret prisons (black sites) and the torture that was carried on incessantly there. One of the most horrific and problematic situations this culture of torture instigated was to draw out a slew of politicians who came to justify, lie or downplay the abuse prisoners faced in these secret prisons. Recently the use of torture under the Bush administration came again to the attention of the world and we found ourselves again confronted with many a politician again responding to the most ignoble and abusive of tortures with either denial or with the literal argument that “what´s done is done, let´s forget it and move on”. Such mentalilites was even mocked on “The Colbert Report”.
Since the resurgence of the use of torture by supposedly Open Democracies, and their justifications as appropriate abuse (John Yoo’s legal justification for torture absolving the Bush Administration most notably), many documentaries have been made on this subject in the contemporary era. In this blog post, I will shortly review these three documentaries: “Taxi to the Dark Side”, about the death of a young Afghan taxi driver due to torture, “Standard Operating Procedure”, where the soldiers at the focus of the Abu Gharab torture scandal are interviewed, and “The Road to Guantanamo” recounting the tale of random atrociousness which placed three young men at Guantanamo.
“Taxi To the Dark side” (2007) is in my opinion the best documentary out of these three. The documentary was the second film in the BBC series “Why Democracy?”, was directed by Alex Gibney and won an Oscar for best documentary. It interviews former guards, politicians, former prisoners, and the family of a killed prisoner to give a whole picture of the politics and the rising culture of torture coming to the fore at the time. The film critiques the use of torture most effectively by the means of focusing on the one particular case of the afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, who is arrested arbitrarily and tortured without constraint. The case of Dilawar is shown bit by bit and we follow the vile pathway of how he is detained only because his customer was deemed suspicious, how he is subjugated to a torture founded on meaningless abuse and power, and finds his fate ultimately in his unjustified killing.
The Documentary film makers cleverly let those propounding pro-torture state their arguments and then later ply a decisive deconstruction to these that arguments mauling the pro-torture stance through facts. The case of the death of Dilawar is dealt with delicately and with candor, and the film even flits with a not completely unsympathetic view to the ordinary soldiers caught in the machinery of torture at Bagram imposed upon them from within and without restraint. In contradistinction to the nowadays abusive practices the filmmakers find an alternative to the abusive practices in a former war interrogator who worked during WWII. The Former interrogator from WWII expresses great sorrow and revulsion to the emerging status quo and that the states has fallen into the disgrace by using torture. The film is an emotional watch, but well worth the while.
“Standard Operating Procedure” (2008) is a documentary directed Erroll Morris, who also directed such classic documentaries as “The Thin Blue Line” and “Tabloit”. In this documentary he examines the history of the horrific photos leaked from the Abu Gharab prison. The soldiers that are in the photos and who took the photos are interviewed, and Morris, giving insight to the mentalities of the Prison, details other incidents within the world of the US Military and the White Houses move towards a normalcy of abuse to clarify the abusive photo moments of Abu Gharab which hold us in disgust. Morris´ film is much more stylistic and cinematic than “Taxi to the dark side”, but leaves less of an emotional impact. While in “Taxi to the dark side” one guard admitted that he wished that he would have gone with his own conscience, none of the guards interviewed in “Standard Operation Procedure” show any signs of reflection on their crimes. The film shows that the torture, that allegedly was meant to help the US find Saddam Hussein, didn´t lead anywhere and resulted in random torture and at least the death of one prisoner (captured in one of the photos). SOP follows how the original Abu Gharab was founded as to be used as a torture machine and execution site for and during the regime of Saddam Hussein, which was then quickly converted to be used, in a like manner, as a torture chamber by the American Military. The film isn´t as clear in its critique as “Taxi to the dark side”, but it does show how soldiers use all forms of rationalization to justify their actions and the political turmoil of the Bush Era which lead to the scandals.
“The Road to Guantanamo” (2006) illustrates the torture scandals from a more personal point of view. The film focuses on three British citizens of Pakistani descent who were captured by military forces and detained unlawfully for years. The film director hired actors to portray the young men, who re-enact past incidents while filling these staged sets with stories directly from the protagonists.
The director, Michael Winterbottom, won the Silver bear for best director in the 56th Berlin film festival for this documentary and it is hardly a surprise since the film manages to be an intense true tale resembling a dark thriller while also delivering a harsh truth about corrupt, racist systems. The three interviewed men walk the audience through their experience; they explain that they traveled to Afghanistan to do humanitarian aid, but ending up just witnessing bombings. They later get arrested, but when discovering that they are being held by American military, grow hopeful that they will not be unfairly threated. Unfortunately this does not happen; they are detained, tortured and starved. This experience shakes the world view of the three men as they come to experience incarceration and torture without reprise or meaning and to this moment haunts them as possible from anywhere and from anybody. Tightly focused on the emotions and thoughts on the three protagonists, this is a documentary which is viscerally from the torture survivor’s point of view, and this documentary came to inspired more films to allow torture survivors to tell their stories*. Holding its own in creative filmmaking while pluming a subject which makes us recoil in shock, “The Road to Guantanamo” holds out as all-around good and solid work of film.
All three films bring different angles and views to the torture used by the Bush Administration, and deserve to be viewed. The subject matter is always dealt with wisdom and, due to their unyielding candor regarding the subject set into such dark places of the human mind, show uncomfortable truths about the war on terror.
*For example, A Finnish documentary named “After Life – 4 stories of torture” (directed by Mervi Junkkonen in 2011) interviews four refugee men who tell about their experiences with torture and the impact it has had on their lives. A similar documentary was also made in 2012, named “Beneath the blindfold” (directed by Ines Sommer and Kathy Berger) which also consist of four survivors speaking out.
(Trigger warning for discussions of torture and death)
This post is a part of my series “Torture Awareness Month”
Mitra H. Lager is an Iranian Women´s Rights and secular activist. She lives in Gothenburg, is a member of the political group “Feminist Iniativ” and the Swedish “Humanist” (an organization dedicated to decreasing religious influence on society and to promote reason), and writes for “Avaye-Zan” (which translates as “womans voice”). Ms. Lager is a well-known debater, but mostly famous for the memoir of her life in Iran, titled “Gud vill att du ska dö” (“God wants you to die”). The title comes from a threat Ms. Lager and her fellow prisoners were told to by guards while in prison. It hasn´t been translated into English to my knowledge, which is a real shame, since it´s one of those few memoirs that are not only a recollection of one person’s memories, but actually an insight to a country´s modern history and a perceptive description of how lives are deformed and inflicted through social injustice. It´s not only a journey where Mitra H. Lager follows the path of her life which ends in a residency in Sweden, but also lays bare the trajectory of modern day Iran and how it came to be the theocracy it is today. “God wants you to die” also describes some of the most honestly brutal descriptions of torture.
Ms. Lager begins her memoir by stating that she wanted to write this memoir for those of her friends and family members who died due to Era of Ayatollah Khomeini. The memoir then dives into describing the forceful demonstrations that take place in Iran during the 1980s. Ms. Lager also describes her family and home life, which was partly conservative and partly liberal, differing from each individual in the family. Throughout the book, Lager makes a perfect blend of personal and political, and also demonstrates how those two things often blend in together. At the tender age of 17, Ms. Lager got arrested for her protest against Ayatollah Khomeini; she was deemed as an enemy of Islam and sent to Evin, the most infamous prison in Iran.
Torture is shown as the go-to “method” used against the prisoners in “God wants you to die”. One of the most heart-breaking examples is, before Ms. Lager is imprisoned, when her cousin´s dead corpse is sent to the family after the cousin has spent time in prison. Lager admits that at the time she was in love with her cousin, and had he not died she might have married him. She then proceeds to describe what his body looks like, holding back no macabre details, like that his eyes were gored out (leaving the family to stare at empty eyesockets) and he is covered in blood. The family wants to give him a decent funeral, but first the body has to be washed. As his body is bathed, Ms. Lager and her family breakdown into tears, crying violently the entire time the young man’s body is washed. The most tragic thing Lager says about the situation is: “He was a good person, a kind person, and he was grotesquely tortured to death. Why?”
Later in prison Lager witnesses more torture and executions. She details that a common tactic to scare other prisoners is to torture one prisoner and then give the victim of the abuse to the other prisoners to nurse their wounds, both physical and mental. While they clean and tend to the prisoners wounds, they see what can be done to themselves at the whim of their captors. This threat continuously lingers above all of the inmates haunting both their sleeping and waking hours. One horror, and dreaded endgame which lingered over the prisoners was to be marked with a wound during the torture sessions (or anytime during the incarceration, actually). Once a scar was made, the prisoner was often shortly killed afterwards.
Lager states that when she was younger, she was a devoted Muslim. It was one of the main driving forces to her political activism. But while in prison, this changes. Lager is taken to “interrogation” about her incorrect beliefs and she is subjected to her feet being hit with blocks. In the extreme pain she faces, Lager begins a trail of wondering why, despite always having faith and navigating her belief faithfully and strongly, she finds herself randomly imprisoned and witnessing terrible injustices by those professing to true belief . In the midst of being tortured, Lager states that she experiences a sundering of her belief, an “epiphany”, where she concludes that no kind god would be able to bear witness to the sufferings of those who imprisoned with her, since she, and many of those with her, had always been a believer in this God of Might and Justice.
The memoir illustrates the victims of torture as ordinary people who are crushed by authoritarian rule. Ms. Lager and her fellow prisoners are helpless under the power of others, with no escape. ”God wants you to die” details also that while the torturers were not merely trying to get information, that the act of torturing also strengthen the hatred the torturers had for their victims. Lager mentions once hearing two torturers screaming at their victim: “You think this is bad? This is only the beginning, we´re sending you straight to hell!”. It is a form of intimidation, but also the ultimate expression of hate for the ones who don´t conform. They hurt their victim not only out of order, but also out of anger that the person disobeyed. Torture here is used (as always) as the purest form of power and abuse. While many of the guards in the prison show clear sadistic trends, Lager also shows that some of the prison guards are decent people caught up in an insanity which they see no help to escape. One night a guard states to Lager: “I never could imagine my life would be this, guarding the youth of Iran. Oh lord, What a horrible destiny I have gotten!”.
Ms. Lager only references her atheistic awakening in one sentence, which dawns upon her in the devastating sinkhole of torture. This understanding is sadly achieved in the morass of suffering and humiliation and we agonize with her in the emptiness of horrific experiences which come to sharpen and shape her beliefs. In a like manner, where horrors shape a persons beliefs, the documentary, “Deliver us From Evil” ( directed by Amy Berg in 2006), about sexual abuse by a church, a man is shown losing his faith and becoming an atheist after discovering that his daughter was molested by a preacher and the church is evasive and unresponsive to the “sin” perpetuated by it. Lager´s atheism, likewise, steams from a frustration with corrupt religious extremism, which many atheist share. Similar frustrations with faith are shown in Bertrand Russell´s essay “Why I am Not Christian” (1927) and Ibq Warraq´s book “Why I am not Muslim” (1995), both of which explore the myriad justifications and prevarications which enable a slew of hideous things done within the internally vindicated acts of religion. Lager´s entire memoir is a thoughtful piece of literature not only on tyranny, but also on the questions regarding the power religion has over the individual and how the totalitarianism of true and pure belief becomes a weapon of malice and hate.
While political prisoners are not killed as often in Iran as they were back in religious and political hysteria of the 80´s, prisoners in Iran still face the all too common use of torture. Therefore it´s safe to say that Lagers outspoken book is still an insight which culls insight about the era and about the use of torture generally.
“God wants you to die” is not only a book about torture and death, but also about hope. Lager is later released from prison, and after battling crippling depression and survivor’s guilt she finds love and marries. When she is once again suspected of political activism, she even finds a way to escape. The book also has a heartbreaking scene where Lager critiques the refugee politics of the time, which unfortunately still remains an issue with us till this day.
The themes are heavy, so be warned you will cry while reading this memoir, but the language is quite fresh and Lager captivates you in her story of survival and of power abuse. “God wants you to die” is one of those rare gems of non-fiction which even fiction lovers will care for and learn from.
(Trigger Warning for discussions of Torture)
This is the first post for “Torture Awareness Month”
J. M. Coetzee is a South African novelist who won the Nobel Prize in 2003 and was the first person to win the Man Booker Price twice. His most famous novels include “Disgrace”, “Life and Times of Michael K” and “In the Heart of the Country”. His works often deal with corruption, racial tensions, and violence. The work for which he is most well known lies probably with “Disgrace”, which a large swath of critics have praised for its complex depictions of a post-apartheid South Africa. However this is overlooking a slim volume, which one can maintain is Mr. Coetzee´s Magnum Opus, the insightful and unsettling “Waiting for the Barbarians” (published in 1980).
“Waiting for the Barbarians” tells a story of a Magistrate (he is never given a name outside of his title), who witnesses his community as it is torn apart and pieced together upside down by the arrival of a new malicious colonel. This new colonel has arrived to investigate the assumed threat of “the barbarians” who will/may invade the small haven. The Magistrate explains that the people in his village have all admitted to fearing the barbarians; afraid that they will come in the middle of a night, rape their daughters and set fire to their houses. The new colonel tortures a young boy with a knife, who due to the torture claims he knows of a group that was planning an attack. After the random interrogation the Magistrate is allowed to speak with the boy, whose body is maimed and crisscrossed with cuts. The magistrate is told that the boy was tortured with a knife (“a very small knife”, the guard claims) and the Magistrate asks the boy if he knows the full consequences of his “confession”, but the boy is understandably too frightened to answer. Whereupon a witch-hunt begins that leads to mass arrests, legal abuses and mass torture of the people of the community now under control and intimidation of the new colonel. The Magistrate tries to put a stop to the mistreatment of the people who are arrested, but never tried with actual crimes, which only leads to his imprisonment under the new regime justified in their fears of the coming Barbarians.
These “fears” of the novel, convicted by those in power and foisted onto the populace, notably are the fears that historically have been used in propaganda to demonize the other for many a century and over many a land. “The other”, many times, may it be a different race, religious group or nation, has been posited as a threat to the sanity of members world and worldview. The Other is out too hurt and destroy “us” in these clichéd manners such as “set fire to our houses” or “rape our women”. (These demonizations also helped to cover up when people inside a certain group commits atrocities, for example the myth of black men raping white women in the US helped many white men to get away with rape, while killing many falsely accused black men). In short, it is well known that every nation has at some time feared those fears which the Magistrate describes in the content of the novel.
In “Waiting for the Barbarians” the country or people the story tells about are never specified. Indeed the book seems to not be about any real country, but a completely fictional one. There are no dates and the years in which the events take place are absent. Furthermore, the identity of the barbarians whom people fear and the cause of the panic are never explained. These elements are what make “Waiting for The Barbarians” a masterpiece that it is, since it exposes a fundamental truth about humans and morality: that fear, if misguided, will create opportunities for powerful men to get away with grand injustices. Many critics saw parallels to the Apartheid in “Waiting for the Barbarians”; some other saw parallels to American politics post 9/11. Such scenarios which are displayed in “Waiting For the Barbarians” have unfortunately happened repeatedly and to this day people are still being tortured and killed due to the inclinations of such hateful propaganda and the vague ideologies which motivate fears of the “outside”. The message from “Waiting for the Barbarians” is important and sadly still relevant.
While The Magistrate is the narrator, the novel still provides point of views from the people accused of being, or being “in league” with, the barbarians. One of the most memorable examples is a woman the Magistrate rescues from begging. She is nearly blind after an incident which occurred when she and her father were suspected, without any proof, of being threats. Her father was beaten. To make him feel powerless, hot iron was nearly put against the woman’s eyes; while not burning her, it severely damaged her eye-sight. The interrogators/torturers had held the iron near her eyes for a while, threatening her father that they would blind her. The Magistrate even comments that he can even see that her eyes do not resemble common eyes. The girl explains that her father became very quiet and didn’t move much after this incident during his torture and afterwards he just stared down at the floor avoiding any and all eye contact with her. He later died, leaving her by herself. She soon after found herself tossed into the streets now being seen as tainted by the mark of the Other. The Magistrate later elaborates on this incident. He suggests that the reason that the father died was that he could not stand the fact that he had failed to protect his daughter. The Magistrate puts himself in the father’s position, and concludes that such a situation was so horrid, the idea of having to just watch as one’s child is being tortured and being helpless to do anything is such a nightmare, that it is “no wonder he wanted to die”.
According to the Swedish section of the Red Cross (who, among other things, specialize in rehabilitation of torture survivors and spreading awareness about mistreatment of civilians) this form of torture, hurting someone else to make the other one feel shame and fear, is found to be a largely typical form of torture. At times it’s a friend or a family member that is threatened harm, or actually hurt in front of the actual focus of the torture. While the girl in “Waiting for the Barbarians” is not a minor, the idea of one’s child being tortured is unfortunately not as unlikely as one could wish. According to one of the studies made by Amnesty International, children have been flogged in secret Syrian prisons. Torture of children has also occurred in Turkey (around the early 2000), as well as in Bahrain. Coetzee in this scene not only illustrates a realistic torture scene, but also invokes an important emotion through the Magistrates narration: Empathy for the victim. When the girl tells her and her father’s story, the Magistrate feels the pain in her memories. That pain is so great that it kills her father. That injustice is so harsh that doesn’t end after the interrogation. It stays and affects the girl’s life even after she is let out of the prison.
The Magistrates empathy doesn’t end at the girl. When he gets to the main courts holding area, where the so-accused barbarians are kept, he witnesses a whipping. A child who is witnessing the public torture is asked to whip the prisoner in order that he can learn how to do so “correctly”. The Magistrate, reaching the limits of his own apathy, and runs up to stop the child become part of the horrid scenario as he knows that what is happening is that the child is being taught to not feel empathy, he is being taught to inflict pain without recognizing the prisoner as a fellow person. This corruption of the child, of planting a new generation of fearers and torturers, is too much.
The corrupt idea of torture is completely deconstructed in the novel “Waiting for the Barbarians”. There are few novels similar to it (if there are any novels like this at all). Not only is torture shown as a misguided way to get proper information (the young boy tortured at the novels beginning lies to put an end to his ill-treatment) but it also shows how anyone in the midst of aimless fears, empty empathy, and the discounting of the humanity of others, can become all too easily the dismissed of society and the subject of torture. “Waiting for the Barbarians” makes the reader feel the pain that the victims go through, makes the reader feel empathy for those who have been stripped of their humanity and being in torture, and bares the ideological corruption which motivates individuals and societies to embrace the sightless horror of torture. This delving into the aspects of disenfranchisement and torture, both social and as individual, is essential for us to confront as often in media news torture is separated strongly from the viewer making the torture actions seem only to be “enhanced interrogation”, or in fiction media which uses torture mainly for a prop device as a way to add excitement and to keep audience’s attention (and which also separates the viewer from the actualities of torture, see Especially American televisions 24, Warehouse 13, Homeland to name a few).
In this novel Mr. Coetzee demonstrates what torture actually is: it is the degradation of a human being, either causing death or at any rate causing lifelong emotional and physical scars.
“Waiting for the Barbarians” is bold in its call for empathy and humanization of torture survivors/victims. It is a challenge to see the diseased mentality of hate, and what such mentality can lead to. In its use of the imaginary lands it creates a truly universal story. For anyone who is interested in reading a more humanizing, realistic and ultimately compassionate look at people who are subjected to torture, this book is will not disappoint.
My dear Fellow Humans,
Yesterday was the International day for “Support Torture Survivors”; worldwide there were demonstrations, lectures and campaigns to help those who have faced torture and to bring an end to torture itself. For this purpose, I have decided to dedicate the remains of June and the most of July to speaking of the different depictions of Torture in Media. There will be book reviews, discussions of films, and perhaps discussions of televison shows. Most post will try and discuss media that centers on survivors stories and experiences. In about a week theere will be the first of post in this series, which will end 26-27th June.
But for now, just this video and one link:
(This Video is of Darrell Cannon, a man who was tortured by the Chicago police. He is one of 100 men and women of color who have been through the same injusice. To help them get reparations, click here!)
Take Care/ Maaretta
So, here´s some articles worth looking at on this subject, ending with two quotes from Jung Chang, the chinese-born writer of “Wild Swans”.
Here´s an informal essay of activist who are persecuted for trying to bring attention to the aftermath of the massacre. (If it looks blank, just scroll down.)
“The tanks and the people”, another essay from a chinese writer, Liao Yiwu. He´s in exile and currently lives in Germany.
“I think because of their terrible past, particularly this century, the Chinese have come to accept cruelty more than many other people, which is something I feel very unhappy about” – Jung Chang
“What has marked Chinese society is its level of cruelty, not just revolutions and wars. We ought to reject it totally, otherwise in another upheaval there will be further cruelty” – Jung Chang
It has been 25 years, and still the slaughtered students haven´t been recognized by the chinese government nor have the massacres survivors and families gotten justice. Let´s speak up of this injustice!
Take care/ Maaretta
Hello and Happy International Women´s Day! To celebrate, this blog will feature various articles and reports about Womens´s struggles for justice and equality, for respect and freedom. Enjoy and become aware!
Firstly, it is time for us as a society to not be friends with rapist.
Buzzfeed has a collection of animated depictions of society´s most beloved couples, where such characters as Marge Simpson and Wonderwoman are vitims of Domestic Abuse. Chilling and powerful. Serious Trigger Warning!
(In Swedish, use google translations). Poor women don´t get access to women´s clinics.
(In Swedish, use google tranlsation). Same situation in Burkina Faso.
(In Finnish, use google translation). Everyone must have the right to decide themselves what their genderidentification is.
Some articles on the Woody Allen controversy: An former lawyer who worked on many child molestian causes explains of how despite not being convicted, it doesn´t mean Allen isn´t guilty. Another piece shows the 1993 papers from the trial, showing he infact wasn´t found completely innocent. Vanity Fair spells out 10 facts about the cause. And finally, a piece on how bizarre it is that Mia Farrow is always accused of brainwashing and Woody Allen isn´t.
Take Care/ Maaretta
Today is Martin Luther King Day!In honor of this day when we celebrate this great man, it should be reminded that the struggle wasn’t easy for Dr. King. In fact, the FBI tried to blackmail Dr. King into killing himself.
4 ways Martin Luther King was even more radical than one first thought. For instance, he denounced the Vietnam War and supported reproductive rights.
Go read and listen to Dr. Kings’ Nobel Peace Prize speech here.
Scot Nakagawa over at Colorlines: “My debt to Dr. King”.
Take Care/ Maaretta