Charlie Hebdo and the Inner Soul of Humor

16246547072_48798fd8a5_m (1)My friend Justin Smith recently wrote a piece for Harper’s Magazine. Justin is a brilliant guy, a philosopher and historian of ideas who also happens to write well and think clearly. Those things do not come together all that often. He’s been teaching for the last couple of years in Paris, at Université Paris Diderot-Paris VII.

This put him at Ground Zero, more or less, on January seventh of this year when the Kouachi brothers entered the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire. [Read more...]

After the Killings in Chapel Hill

UNC_School_of_Public_Health

It’s less than forty-eight hours since Craig Stephen Hicks shot and killed three Muslim students in Chapel Hill.

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It’s nearly four full days since Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were shot in the head.

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When they are not your children, you can turn your attention to other matters: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.

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[Read more...]

Sitting with Pain in Gaza and Israel

18-1n009-israel2-c-300x300This morning, as I tried to awaken from a fitful night’s sleep, I turned to “Darkness Falls on Gaza,” an opinion piece by Mohammed Omer in the New York Times.

The piece begins,

“Ramadan, when night descends, is usually a joyous time. Friends and family gather to break their fast at the iftar meal. Not this year.”

“Nights are the worst. That is when the bombing escalates. Nowhere is safe. Not a mosque. Not a church. Not a school, or even a hospital. All are potential targets.”

I was hooked. Even if I hadn’t been anxiously following the news out of Israel and Gaza the last few weeks, I would have been hooked by the simple, clear, dramatic yet restrained writing.

You think the day’s long fast is challenging? Think again. You think there’s a feast with family and friends to look forward to at the end of the day? Think again.

We know, those of us who have been obsessively following the news, why this year is different. [Read more...]

Caught in the Crosshairs: the Children at Our Border

I write this on a Sunday, when people who spent the week shouting at busloads of refugee children sit in their churches, praising Jesus for his great mercies. The irony runs deeper: Those children gather because of a drug war we wage on their soil, which is supported by some of the same evangelicals loudly declaring we have no room for them.

An estimated 60,000 Central American children will cross our southern border by the end of this year. There could be 120,000 next year, if something doesn’t change. So people are trying to change something, namely by stopping the buses. The buses bear hungry, needful children, some with diseases we’ve long ago stopped worrying about. “Return to Sender” is one of the more popular signs among protestors gathered to keep them out.

Why do they come? A key reason is the American-sponsored drug war, which has cost 80,000 lives in Mexico over the past eight years, and displaced an estimated 200,000. That violence has spread southward, into Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. And it’s not just drug-runners killing one another. They kill anyone who becomes an obstacle. Children—sometimes as young as five-years-old—are drafted to serve drug gangs. Resistance invites severe retribution. [Read more...]

A Good War Is Hard To Find

A few nights ago, after Jess and the kids were in bed, I finally bit the bullet and watched Kathryn Bigelow’s film Zero Dark Thirty. I’ve been dreading it. Avoiding it.

As I settled into the couch and pressed play on the DVD remote, metallic thunder began rolling and echoing through the woods around our house. The cats bolted from the couch where they had been sleeping into the basement and the living room windows rattled—perfect foreshadowing for my mood, a leaden feeling borne of the understanding that watching Zero Dark Thirty would likely dredge up a lot of feelings and thoughts that I have been working hard to repress.

My book A Good War is Hard to Find: The Art of Violence in America meditates on American attitudes toward violence in the aftermath of 9/11 and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. The occasion for the book is the photos of abuse taken by military police and shared via the web, photos that tipped us off that something larger and more coordinated than a few sadistic individuals satisfying their dark needs was happening outside the photos’ frames.

In all, I spent about eighteen months immersing myself in the research and literature on violence, torture, and photography. I have never and may never again read so much in such a short period of time. Time was of the essence. The publisher wanted it immediately, so I devoured histories, sociological and psychological case studies, Marxist intellections on the inexpressibility of pain­—how torture can “unmake” the world around us. I read prison narratives, and novels, I watched documentaries, and read journalistic accounts of war and atrocity from the Peloponnesian War to the on-going War on Terror. [Read more...]


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