Tuesday 26 September 2006

Darfur Disconnect

This appeared on my Reuters AlertNet blog on 26 September 2006. Apart from a throat-clearing introductory piece, it was my first post there.


As I've been thinking about how to develop this blog, I've also been trying to get some notes together for a panel discussion on Darfur I am taking part in at the Frontline Club in London on Thursday.

Surely the whole underlying assumption of this blog -- if not the west's super-media-saturated society in general -- is that the media matter a great deal. The media are influential, and the assumption of many in the NGO and international aid community is traditionally, "if only people knew about this distant crisis, leaders would have to do something about it, and it would end".

Darfur is proving this idea wrong.

Sunday 10 September 2006

The War in American Hearts and Minds

I wrote this for openDemocracy as part of their look at the legacy of 9/11 five years after. It was my effort to define how a "conflict mentality" had taken over the US in that period.


Once you leave a place, it is never the same when you go back. I moved away from the United States fourteen years ago, and every time I return, I notice more and more changes in the country of my birth. Nothing peculiar in that, of course. I certainly never expected the United States to remain sealed in a pickle-jar marked "1992".

But the process has accelerated since 11 September 2001. Talking with some Americans these days, I am not really sure how much they recognise the scale of the sweeping transformation the country has been through over the past five years. Maybe it is just easier to see it when you don't live there and only visit every year or so. Daily incremental change is hard to spot, but small differences add up over time and become an unambiguous pattern.

My recurrent initial impression when returning to the US for a visit in the last five years is that the place has gone insane while I wasn't looking. It is a bit like visiting an old relative you haven't seen for a long time. You start off feeling she may be losing her faculties. Then you think she may in fact have been senile for longer than you realise. Finally, you begin to wonder if you ever really knew her in the first place.

After a few days of listening to Americans, however, I start to understand the madness and where it comes from. I have heard people talk like this and react like this before. In war zones.