Tag Archives: Victoria Brittain

Citizen Pilgrim: To Be or Not to Be

13 May

Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim – A Conversation with Richard Falk, Noura Erakat, Victoria Brittain and Jeremy Corbyn

When: Monday, May 17, 2021, 5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Where: Online,

Book now

The International State Crime Initiative is delighted to host a conversation with Professor Richard Falk—preeminent international legal scholar, activist, and thinker on peace and justice—on his recently released memoir Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim. Professor Falk will be joined by Professor Noura Erakat, British journalist and author Victoria Brittain, and British MP and Former Leader of the Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn, who will reflect upon Falk’s life as a leading international and political figure.

This event, chaired by Professor Penny Green (Queen Mary), will take place on Monday 17 May at 5:30 pm (BST).

Professor Falk’s political memoir, Public Intellectual: The Life of a Citizen Pilgrim, chronicles Falk’s life of progressive commitment, highlighted by his visits to North Vietnam during the Vietnam War; to Iran during the Islamic Revolution; to South Africa at the height of the struggle against apartheid; and frequently to Palestine and Israel in his capacity as the UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. Falk’s memoir also discusses the enduring defamatory attacks he faced in reaction to his stances for justice and his expressions of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. As a Professor of International Law at Princeton University, Professor Falk would draw on these experiences to publish more than fifty books on topics of significant scholarly relevance, including studies of the profound dangers now facing humanity, the relevance of international law and the UN, and prospects for transforming world order in the direction of peace, justice, and ecological viability. His memoir excavates two key themes that have dominated his public roles: engaging with the controversies of the present and envisioning a future of world order that is humane and sensitive to ecological limits.

Speakers

Profile image for Richard Falk in black and whiteProfessor Richard Falk is a leading international law professor, prominent activist, and prolific author and scholar. During forty years at Princeton University Falk was active in seeking an end to the Vietnam War, a better understanding of Iran, a just solution for Israel/Palestine, and improved democracy elsewhere. He also served as UN Special Rapporteur for Occupied Palestine. His books include This Endangered Planet, A Study of Future Worlds; Power Shift, Revisiting the Vietnam War, Palestine Horizon, and On Nuclearism. He now holds a Chair in Global Law at Queen Mary University of London.

Rt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MPRt Hon Jeremy Corbyn MP is British MP for Islington North and Former Leader of the British Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition (2015-2020). Corbyn was first elected to Parliament in 1983. His professional and personal journey has led him to spend significant time and energy on issues of anti-racism, anti-imperialism, LGBT+ rights, transport, the environment, opposition to nuclear weapons and military intervention, Trade Union policies, Miscarriages of Justice and more. Through his roles and activism he has travelled widely and continues to support communities affected by unresolved conflict, including the Western Sahara, Chagos Islands, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America, Ireland, West Papua, the Dalit community, and the Rohingya. Corbyn was awarded the Sean McBride Peace Prize in 2017, and before that the Gandhi International Peace Award in 2013. He is currently a member of the Parliamentary Assembly for the Council of Europe, the UK Socialist Campaign Group, and a regular participant at the United Nations Human Rights Council (Geneva), Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Vice President), and Chagos Islands All Party Parliamentary Group (Honorary President), and a Vice president of the British Group Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).

Professor Noura ErakatProfessor Noura Erakat is a human rights attorney, Associate Professor of Africana Studies at Rutgers University, and non-resident fellow of the Religious Literacy Project at Harvard Divinity School. Noura is the author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine (Stanford University Press, 2019), which received the Palestine Book Award and the Bronze Medal for the Independent Publishers Book Award in Current Events/Foreign Affairs. She is co-founding editor of Jadaliyya and editorial board member of the Journal of Palestine Studies. She has served as Legal Counsel for a Congressional Subcommittee in the US House of Representatives, as Legal Advocate for the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights, and as national organizer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. Noura has also produced video documentaries, including “Gaza In Context” and “Black Palestinian Solidarity.” She has appeared on CBS News, CNN, Fox News, and NPR, among others.

Victoria BrittainVictoria Brittain worked at the Guardian for more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and then Associate Foreign Editor. She has lived and worked in Saigon, Algiers, Nairobi and reported from many countries in Africa and the Middle East for numerous media outlets in the anglophone and francophone worlds. She is the author, co-author or editor of 10 books and plays including Love and Resistance in the Films of Mai Masri (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

Chair

Penny Green, Head of the Department of LawProfessor Penny Green is Head of the Law Department at Queen Mary University and Professor Law and Globalisation. Professor Green has published extensively on state crime theory (including her monographs with Tony Ward, State Crime: Governments, Violence and Corruption; and State Crime and Civil Activism: on the dialectics of repression and resistance), state violence, Turkish criminal justice and politics, ‘natural’ disasters, the Rohingya genocide, mass forced evictions in Israel/Palestine, and civil society resistance to state violence. Professor Green is Co-editor in Chief of the State Crime Journal and Founder and Director of the award-winning International State Crime Initiative.

**Please note this is an online event and that all registrants will be sent joining details on the day of the event.

Contact the university

Queen Mary University of London
Mile End Road
London E1 4NS
+44 (0) 20 7882 5555

Follow us:

Seeing in the Dark

11 Apr

Seeing in the Dark with Victoria Brittain

 

            As with the best of journalists, Victoria Brittain has spent a lifetime enabling us to see in the dark! Or more accurately, she has shined a bright light on those whose suffering has been hidden by being deliberately situated in one or another shadow land of governmental and societal abuse, whether local, national, or geopolitical in its animus. These patterns of abuse are hidden because whenever their visibility cannot be avoided, the liberal mythologizing of the decency of the modern democratic state suffers a staggering blow. In recent years this unwanted visibility has permanently tarnished the human rights credentials of the United States due to the spectacular exposés of the horrifying pictures of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq or various reports of grotesque treatment of Guantanomo detainees. As with Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, the U.S. Government should be embarrassed by its response: a preoccupation with these unwelcome leaks of its dirty secrets, while manifesting indifference to the substantive disclosures of its endorsement of torture and other crimes against humanity. But it is not, and that has become and remains a deep challenge to all of us who wish to live in a society of laws, not sadistic men, a society based on ethics and human rights, not cruelty and dehumanization. Once such secrets have been revealed, all of us are challenged not to avert our gaze, being reminded that upholding the rights and dignity of every person is the duty of government and the responsibility of all citizens, and when flagrant and intentional failures along these lines remain unchallenged, the credentials of decency are forever compromised.

 

            This is but a prelude to commenting briefly upon Victoria Brittain’s extraordinary recent book of humane disclosure, SHADOW LIVES: THE FORGOTTEN WOMEN OF THE WAR ON TERROR (London: Pluto, 2013; distributed in the United States by Palgrave Macmillan). Brittain is a journalist who not only sees in the dark, but what is even rarer among the restless practitioners of this profession, she stays around long enough to listen. Here she listens with empathy and insight to the words and experience of women whose male partners have been targeted in Britain and the United States by the rapacious masters of homeland security in the years since the 9/11 attacks. These women and their children, mainly living in Britain, are the forgotten and neglected ‘collateral damage’ of those who are detained year after year without charges or trials as terrorist suspects. As the book makes clear, Muslims as a distinct ethnic and religious group, have been deprived of rights available to others accused of political crime. She quotes an American lawyer, Linda Moreno, “After 9/11 the Constitution was suspended when it comes to Muslims, especially Palestinians.” (p.161) But it was not only the liberal governments that were at fault, it was also the media that stereotyped anyone accused of being a jihadist or somehow sympathetic with the aims and activities of those alleged to be guilty of acts of terrorism as unquestionably evil, and such a menace as to deserve ill-treatment. In Brittain’s words, “[t]he enormity of the injustice perpetrated over a decade and more has been airbrushed out of America’s and Britain’s mainstream consciousness.” She goes on to ask a question we need to ask ourselves with all due gravity—“How did we get so coarsened that this is virtually unremarked?” (p.23)

 

            The real story here is that of several women who try to live in the ruins created by the detention of their husbands, and seek to do whatever they can to bring normalcy to their family life, and raise their children as lovingly as possible in the process. It is a difficult life where the reverberations of Islamophobia are daily felt via the hostility of neighbors and the treatment experienced in schools and elsewhere. In other words, society, as well as government and the media, are complicit in the incidental, yet severe, punishments endured by these families of targeted individuals. Yet the picture is not entirely grim as these women are also courageous and determined not to be defeated, even as they struggle against depression and acute anxiety, as well as the loneliness associated with the loss of their loving partner and co-parent. And what is worse in some ways, are witnesses to the collapse of their men due to the mistreatment of prolonged prison experiences unalleviated by the reality of indictments and charges. These men are mainly held on the basis of secret evidence that is not even disclosed to their lawyers, and the majority seem entirely innocent, victims of post-9/11 panic politics nurtured by the nanny security state. When in Britain such detainees are released, it should not be confused with ‘freedom’ because the former prisoner is require to wear electronic tags, subject to curfews, daily reporting to local police, living with rigid restrictions on visits by friends, routine intrusions in family space by security personnel, even prohibitions on use of computers. In summing up the overall ordeal of these families, Brittain comments, “[f]or all of them, something worse than their very worst nightmares had come true.” (p.149) One of the daughters who had endured this reality asks plaintively, “[l]isten to my story, then decide if you will be able to live my life.” (p.67) It occasions no surprise that the several of the men attempt suicide or experience paranoid delusion and that the women become clinically depressed.

 

            There is for several of the women a kind of existential double jeopardy. They came to Britain or the United States as refugees to escape from deadly torments in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Palestine, expecting at least the benefits of a liberal democracy, and instead were confronted by a far worse existence than what they had reluctantly left behind. Sometimes their memories were filled with happiness, as with one woman describing her earlier time in Afghanistan: “The life was not easy, but it was beautiful.” (p.154) These years of injustice were “intertwined with memories, ghosts and dreams of an Afghanistan or a Palestine—past or future. Those other shadow lives infused everything for them, if you came close enough to listen, and were, with their faith. Their secret lifeline of joy against bitterness and despair.” (p.164) Not only what was remembered, but also what was hoped for, believed in, a faith, often with overtones of the Koran, of a deliverance yet to come, however difficult the life of exile had become.

 

            Especially, the women from a Palestinian background were passionate about educating their children, sometimes doing the schooling at home to avoid the unpleasant atmosphere facing Muslim children in British society. Other children of imprisoned fathers received their education at local schools. Brittain is sensitive to their acute sense of their special circumstances: “One child spoke for several others when she said that now loyalty and duty to her absent father meant excelling at school and remembering to be happy.” (p.158) Remembering to be happy! Every child should be exempt from such a duty!

 

            Victoria Brittain has written a book that we need to read, ponder, discuss, and to the best of our ability, act upon. It is a captivating book of love and dedication, as well as of torments, and it is mainly the intimate renderings of these women doing the best they can under the most agonizing of condition that no decent society should allow to persist. What is made clear throughout is the degree to which the state-sanctioned cruelty to these individuals, including the terrorist suspects themselves, is a blend of panic, sadism, and anti-Muslim hatred, and cannot be convincingly explained away as regrettable but necessary measures to ensure the security of societies threatened by terrorism. In effect, Brittain condemns reliance on such disproportionate means in the alleged pursuit of the end of security, opportunistically sacrificing the few to promote the pseudo-contentment of the many. In his short Foreword, John Berger puts the essence of what makes SHADOW LIVES a mandatory reading experience: “What makes this book unforgettable and terrible is its demonstration of the extent of the human cruelty meted out by the (human) stupidity of those wielding power. Neither such cruelty nor such stupidity exist in the natural world without humankind.” (p.ix). In her Afterword, Marina Warner issues a similar injunction, although more directly: “..we need uncomfortable books like this one, to ask the tough questions.” (p.166) Indeed, we do!