How War Shows the Beautiful Side of Humanity

 

Before my memory fails me I want to talk about a very short but important book I just completed. It’s called “Overcoming Speechlessness” and the subtitle reads, “A Poet Encounters the Horror in Rwanda, Eastern Congo, and Palestine/Israel” It’s written by Alice Walker. I think you may recognize who she is from The Color Purple.

I was captivated by her ability to write so powerfully yet elegantly about the savage acts of war. She effectively conveys the state of speechlessness as you, the reader bear witness to gruesome acts of torture. Men, women and children are brutalized but Ms. Walker also manages to uplift your spirit with tales of courage and hope. You read about the new bride who is raped, tortured, murdered and has her eyeballs torn out but you continue to learn about the journey of another Congolese woman who despite being brutalized, survives and refuses to be a beast of burden. She has come through and continues to smile. She will start a new business and yearns to learn how to use the computer. We learn that the oppressors cannot tear out her heart, her soul or her dignity. They cannot break her spirit.

 

Descriptions are graphic but not gratuitous. The prose is delivered in a way that we want to learn more and understand what our individual role is in all of this. As global citizens, Ms. Walker believes that ‘allowing freedom to others brings freedom to ourselves.’ War has two sides. It’s easy to associate ugliness with it. But it also shows the beautiful side of humanity by calling upon us to do something. The beauty of the tragedy then is how it enabled one Voice (Alice Walker) to eloquently talk about the horror to raise human awareness everywhere. The Voice helps us overcome despair and by doing so it encourages the creation of our collective global voices to spread the word. The World can now find its Voice.

Read more about human rights and international justice in the context of the Bosnian conflict here.

 

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Being Subhuman: My Insight for the Angelina Jolie War Epic

First, I want to say that Angelina Jolie can execute. Don’t de-legitimize her ability to tell an intense political and humanitarian story because she’s an attractive A-lister with power and Hollywood glamour.

Second, I want to say that I ‘witnessed’ and not just ‘saw’ In the Land of Blood and Honey which re-lived the Bosnian War of the nineties. Compelling and visceral, I was impressed by Ms. Jolie’s execution of the film as she directed, wrote and produced the human rights project which delivered a message of conscience for one and for all. Presented as a  private screening last Thursday night by Global Fund Women, the panel discussion afterward featured a Global Fund Women staff member who hails from the subject region and a human rights academic from UC Berkeley. Apparently, San Francisco was identified by Ms. Jolie’s staff as one of the key cities to broadcast the message of the film with Global Fund Women as the main sponsor, and I feel fortunate to have been able to participate in the initial screening.

Instead of retelling the summary of the film which you can find easily online I will share what I learned and what kind of dialogue has been initiated for the global audience. From the panel perspective, Angelina Jolie and/or her film offered these key statements for thought:

“War warps everything.”

“Why is this happening?”

“Why isn’t anybody doing anything about it?”

So what does this mean? In the context of the Bosnian conflict which started in the early 1990’s how could people be murdered because they wore the wrong label? How could they be de-humanized this way? This is how. You are placed into a category of humanness. There’s the human category and the subhuman category. If you wear the wrong label then you are not human, you become another category called subhuman.  And if you are a woman and subhuman that is almost the worst kind of subhuman. A lower tier of subhuman would be being a women AND wearing the label of Bosniak, or Bosnian Muslim.  Rape and sexual violence is one of the severe consequences of any war but the difference with Rape in the Bosnian War was the way sexual violence was used as a tool to systematically fight the war. Mass rape was used as a weapon of war. And one of the messages of the film is the postscript. What happens after the physical war of destruction stops? What are the after effects on multiple levels? What happens to the young girl who is traumatized and stigmatized so much that she cannot transition into mainstream society? Imagine if the ability to fall in love, something which makes us uniquely human was removed from your soul? What happens when there are hundreds, thousands of women who struggle daily because of this? It becomes a genocide on a societal level because then you have a population of women who have difficulties participating in the growth and evolution of a society and culture. Genocide is recognized as a war crime and a crime against humanity. But how is mass rape being prosecuted? I am not qualified to discuss law but my point is, and I think the message of the film is, why should systematic sexual violence against women be treated with less recognition and importance as a war crime, or crime against humanity? Why is there less awareness about it or why is it being subcategorized in the category of crimes against humanity?

Here is the trailer for the film which may help put these questions into context:

The film did portray a common “love in war” theme. And yes, war warps everything. One’s ability to love and trust may change but the bigger message is how could the international community fail to acknowledge the grave injustices that were being committed against their fellow human citizens. The film encourages us to start a dialogue with another entity. What can we do on the individual level, the societal level and on the global level, or as a citizen of the world? When most of the world is suffering how can one human being do something to make another human being aware of the suffering? It’s not about the simplistic and proverbial line we all hear, “One person can make a difference.” It’s about creating a larger, collective conscience which starts on the individual level.  It encourages one to just start talking about the current issues and injustices. Talk about it with your friend, tweet about it, blog about it. Just do something. The dialogue is important as it fosters awareness. The dialogue then creates an opportunity for action and for making that difference.

You can also read more here:

Love and War: Genocide, Human Rights and Angelina Jolie

Love and War: Genocide, Human Rights and Angelina Jolie

I’m excited to participate in the San Francisco private screening tonight of In the Land of Blood and Honey as there will be a panel afterwards featuring speakers from the Global Fund for Women and the Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley. It’s a film re-living the Bosnian genocide of the nineties and tells the story of two Bosnians from different sides of a brutal ethnic conflict. There is a lot of press surrounding the event because of the face associated with the production. This is Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut and I believe she also co-produced and was involved with the writing. She’s all over it, but not in it. Here’s an interview with Angelina Jolie by Charlie Rose in YouTube format. The interview appears to be broken up into different videos so this is just ‘Part I’ and you’ll have to follow “screamingangie11” if you want to continue with this channel sequence. I think the beginning of the interview which also includes a trailer of the film will provide you with a good sense of why she embarked on this project.

I’m also excited for tonight since I get to see my friend Karen who was out of town for the Holidays. She’s very passionate about human rights in the Middle East and Taiwan. I  look forward to participating in one of her Amnesty International events in a couple of weeks – another screening featuring My Tehran for Sale.

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film in a real movie theater setting. And the subjects for “In the Land of Blood and Honey” and “My Tehran for Sale” sound very compelling. Film, Human Rights, Foreign Lands, Culture and Politics in San Francisco. Not a dull blend.