Friday, December 23, 2005

Rushdie on Multiculturalism

I'm very late with this one, but Salman Rushdie offered up these thoughts on multiculturalism for Human Rights Day.
This is the question of our time: how does a fractured community of multiple cultures decide what values it must share in order to cohere, and how can it insist on those values even when they clash with some citizens’ traditions and beliefs?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Monday, December 19, 2005

Catching up on Pamuk

While I was busy blogging Persepolis, the Pamuk trial started, then adjourned. Here are a few links to catch up: Pamuk himself offers up this New Yorker piece. Amnesty has this statement on Article 301, the law in question and the other less famous writers and journalists caught up in it. And here we find that the trial has adjourned until February and charges may be dropped!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Some Iranian Blogs

In the spirit of We are Iran, here are a couple of Iranian visual blogs: Irangraffiti and photoessays and a slideshow from the blog of photographer Noushin Najafi.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

We are Iran

Many, many years ago, when I lived in Taiwan as it was beginning to democratize, a new technology, video cameras, came into use in creating an alternative to state-controlled media in documenting what really happened at anti-government protests. Now we have blogs creating an even more rich alternative narrative for many individuals in countries where freedom of expression is challenging. Iranian blogs have been pioneers in this regard. Now there is a book, We are Iran which tells the story of these bloggers. Here's a brief review at Words without Borders . The author, Nasrin Alavi, guest blogs at The Elegant Variation offering a few samples of bloggers reflecting on such topics as wearing the veil.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Miscellaneous Marjane Satrapi Links

Here's Satrapi on wearing hijab, a question she also addresses in this AsiaSource Interview. Here's another interesting tidbit from that interview about an unpublished (in English) work:
Have any of your books been translated into Persian?

My children's book. It has not been published in America, but it is called The Dragon Ajdar, because ajdar in Persian means dragon. So this is a story, a fairy tale about a big earthquake, and a king who sends a little girl to the center of the earth to find out why the earthquake happens, and the girl finds out that it is a dragon who is the guardian of the earth. The dragon says that people, by making holes that are too big have broken his back, and he just moved to try to make himself more comfortable - the book has ecological themes - and this made an earthquake. But the little girl learns a lot and has many different experiences on her way to find the dragon. So this one has been translated [into Farsi], because there is no political or sexual message in it.

She also indicates that she is working on an animated version of the two volumes of Persepolis.

And finally here's an amusing cartoon account of a Satrapi Book-Signing.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

More Iranian Art

All about the original Persepolis, capital of the Persian-Achaemenid-Empire. Be sure to visit page 2 and the slideshow at the bottom of the page.

Explore more Iranian visual arts here I especially like the Murals of Tehran Metro Stations and Contemporary Graphic Design slideshows. (Does No. 06 look like an Amnesty write-a-letter-save-a-life poster gone wrong?)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Posters from the Islamic Revolution

More interesting background and visual source material for Satrapi:

A collection of Posters from the Islamic Revolution including this "Black Friday" poster, this Warholization of the Shah, a Revolutionary stamp, and this co-opting of the Solidarity logo. My favorite is the final selection, a child's painting of women and children visiting a cemetery. The detailed colorful garden-like environment (the visitors look like butterflies) brings us back to the the world of Persian miniatures.

Here is some photo documentation (Warning! Graphic!) of the Islamic Revolution and Iran-Iraq War (slideshows at bottom of the page).

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Death Penalty Vigil

We were saddened last night by the decision of Gov. Schwarzenegger not to grant clemency to Stanley Williams. AIUSA Executive Director's statement can be found here. Group 22 members hosted the busy action table at last night's death penalty vigil at All Saints Church in Pasadena. We had an unexpectedly large turnout, creating a little healthy chaos, but it was great to reconnect with activists of campaigns past and gain strength for our future work. At the service, member Stevi Carroll shared her experiences using Tookie's story in the classroom. As usual, I had a hand in putting the program together and managed to slip in a Rights Readers favorite, a poem (scroll down the page to the poem by 'Elias' --its broken up into three parts) from Edward Humes' No Matter How Loud I Shout. Pictures from the Westside vigil can be found here. Taking a deep breath today, but its back to work on future executions and the moratorium tomorrow.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Ali Ashraf Darvishian, the Dickens of Iran

Sellol 18 (سلول ۱۸)In my dedication to chasing down obscure literary references, I present my readers with Ali Ashraf Darvishian, the "Charles Dickens of Iran," as characterised by Marjane Satrapi, an author who Little Marji reads voraciously in Persepolis. Here is a short poignant short story titled "Paper Wishes" in which a man in a jail cell, with child-like enthusiasm, creates the map of a utopian city-- only to be put in his place. "Bafrine" tells us of a perfect spring day in Kurdistan, shattered by war. A brief biography of Darvishian can be found at the end of the story. At least in these two stories the theme of a child-like innocence destroyed is very prominent, just as it is in Persepolis.

My quest lead me to a fantastic resource, the International Children's Digital Library. Not only does the ICDL offer up more Darvishian-- if your Farsi is up to speed-- (Bread Season and Our School Wall Newspaper), but children's books in various exotic languages. The language-geek contingent of Rights Readers will find hours of fun here. And those just interested in illustration can still immerse themselves in some amazing illustrations, like Abraham and Ciconia Ciconia.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Write-a-thon Success!

Our first letter-writing marathon at Cafe Culture was a great success! We wrote 123 letters and cards! Group 22 members Lucas Kamp and new recruit Christen Martin are pictured here hard at work. Mostly, we sent greetings to Prisoners of Conscience and solidarity groups around the globe.

Last year, we sent cards to the courageous women of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). Here's what they did this year for human rights day. Stay strong! Take action here.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Persian Miniatures

Time to explore Marjane Satrapi's artistic inspirations. How about a visit to the Tehran Museum of Contempary Art (though these paintings don't really qualify as contemporary). Hmm, panels, stories... could these be... comic books? Here is a simple introduction to Persian miniatures.

Last but not least, because I love children's art, check out these galleries of Persian miniature-inspired jewels by the students of Greenhill School in Texas.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Global Write-a-thon

For International Human Rights Day (December 10) this year, our chapter is participating in Amnesty International's Global Write-a-thon for the first time. Activists around the world will be writing letters on behalf of prisoners of conscience, torture victims, and other Amnesty cases. They will also be sending holiday postcards to prisoners of conscience, to encourage them and keep their spirits up. The success of this year's

If you're in Pasdena, Join us at Cafe Culture. Members of our group will be present at a table from 8 am to 2 pm, and will host a continuous writing session. Please visit us there for a cup of coffee, conversation, and writing a letter or postcard to defend human rights.

Location: Cafe' Culture
1359 North Altadena Drive
(626) 398-8654
(just north of the intersection of Altadena Drive & Washington Boulevard)

If you can't join us, you can download your very own Write-a-thon by visiting Amnesty's Write-a-thon site. You can download actions for kids too! Drop us a line if you work up a stack and we will include you in our letter count!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Magic Carpet Ride

Feeling a little inspiration from Satrapi's drawings, I found a little art activity for you all, Magic Carpet. Hey what did you expect, I do teach art! Have fun with the other art games, very math-geeky art games I would add, at the Protozone Interactives site. Maybe it's the homesick Midwesterner in me, but I'm partial to Snowflaker.

(More educational resources here on the art-math nexus and oriental rugs at Math Forum.)

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Arnold at War with Himself

The hot topic now is trying to predict which way Arnold will go with Stanley "Tookie" William's clemency petition. In keeping with our comic book/pop culture theme for the month, here is a cartoon parody from Books not Bars, "Action Heroes in Office", which, while not precisely on the clemency issue, nevertheless shows our governor's competing superhero images at war with themselves. Let's hope Kindergarten Cop wins.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Another Cartoon... and a Human Rights Video Game!

More pop genres with human rights-themed subjects:

Here's a slick little cartoon that aims to explain the recent Paris riots: The French Democracy

Even more intriguing is this description of a soon to be released video game, A Force More Powerful which "teaches nonviolent strategies and tactics that have been used successfully all over the world by individuals and groups struggling to win freedom or secure human rights." Creator of the game, Ivan Marovic describes it as "a game where a player will be able to organize a mass movement against a dictatorship. It's going to be violent game with prosecutions, with arrests, with kidnapping. The only person that will not be allowed to be violent is the player." More on how Marovic's creative thinking aided Serbian and Ukrainian democracy advocates here.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Human Rights Superheroes

Last month at our discussion of Ken Saro-Wiwa we talked about our need for human rights heroes to embody our concerns and motivate our activism and this month our protagonist is a little girl in quest of heroes who embody truth and justice. Naturally, reading a comic book this month ones mind drifts to other pop culture heroes and their crusades for justice. I have a vague recollection that during the 40th anniversary campaign for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, some Amnesty section was planning to produce a comic book with a human rights superhero. Now I find the United Nations University of Peace (in Costa Rica) describes a 2004 Human Rights Day lecture, "Human Rights - The Language of Superheroes: Transforming the Foundations of Human Rights from Universalism to Superheroism," where a faculty member, Hassan El Menyawi, made the following observations,

Professor El Menyawi exposed the major problematic of human rights: that it depends on the compliance of the nation-state, and more fundamentally, by relying on the nation-state to comply, it effectively produces complacency on the part of individuals who do not see human rights as something they should be applying, or attempting to establish on their own. After all, the state should be the one doing the complying. It is the state that decided to become a signatory?.
Professor El Menyawi describes this construction of the state as the single source of human rights compliance as problematic. Such state-centrism is difficult to understand. It is often argued that human rights are too individualistic, but maybe human rights are not individualistic enough? How could we depend on a state to actualize human rights, and totally forget about everyday individuals?.
Indeed, it is the individual which interests Professor El Menyawi, who uses the example of the superhero to draw insights about the role of activism and its importance in human rights theory and practice. He claims that scholarly literature has not yet integrated the role of activism into the theory human rights, but that there is plenty of discussion about how the state is the center of human rights agreement and compliance.
He reminds us of the superhero, superheroes like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Spider-Man, and Angel, and Batman, and Daredevil. They all rely on their will, on their reputation, and on their courage to create a world based on human rights. It is these superheroes who become the very vehicles of human rights compliance, says El Menyawi.
He wonders if the focus on the nation-state might have made us forget about the obvious: that if we want it [i.e., human rights], let s go out there and get it, construct it, make it happen. El Menyawi continues, saying that superheroes deploy their courage, sense of sacrifice to establish human rights. This is an important source of international law, and international human rights compliance. It is the source of the great accomplishment of Wangari Maathai, who, with her courage and self-determination, re-constructed the world, transforming it, once without forests, now with forests.
Wangari is a superhero, with qualities no different from Buffy, Spider-Man, Batman, or Daredevil.
We should study the psychology, the identity of superheroes, to come closer to understanding activism. We should study the superhero to launch and develop a theory of activism in the human rights scholarship.

This is exactly the kind of peptalk we activists could all use going into this year's Human Rights Day Global Write-a-thon. We are all superheroes, capable of amazing letter-writing feats of daring-do!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Taking Comics Seriously

Here are two articles for those (and we know exactly who you are!) who had trouble taking this month's assignment seriously-- from the NYT: Not Funnies and from the LAT: Serious about Comics.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Satrapi blogs at NYT

Marjane Satrapi now has a regular gig at the New York Times website, alas hidden behind the subscription wall. Not enough has leaked about the content or how long this will run to tempt me into using up the 14-day trial (much less subscribing). Some observations and a panel or two can be found at if:book, focusing mainly on the images, not content.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Global Voices Online

Global Voices Online - The world is talking. Are you listening? I've added a link to Global Voices Online to the sidebar, a site I encourage my readers to check out and revisit frequently. One thing I've noticed over the years as I've sought out books for Rights Readers to take on is that when I spot a non-North American or European author, the chances shoot way up that the narrative will naturally touch on human rights issues that are our raison d’être. Likewise, investigating global blogs, once you begin looking beyond North America, one does not have to search far to find bloggers writing about the issues we are concerned with. Global Voices Online is an invaluable resource in providing us with great international insights.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

"Masters of American Comics" Exhibit

If you've been noticing a sudden blitz in the media coverage of comic books in the L.A. media, it's all inspired by the "Masters of American Comics" joint exhibits opening this week at MOCA and the Hammer. Perfectly timed for Rights Readers' first venture into the comic book world with Persepolis. Anyone up for a field trip?

Los Angeles Times review of "Masters"

Masters of American Comics (MOCA)

Masters of American Comics (Hammer)

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Marjane Satrapi Profile in LAT

Following our wonderful discussion of Ken Wiwa's In the Shadow of a Saint last weekend, right on cue, the Los Angeles Times runs a profile of our December author, Marjane Satrapi! So a question for our Readers to contemplate... what would West Point cadets get out of reading this book?

Monday, November 21, 2005

For March: A Death in Brazil

Yesterday we selected A Death in Brazil by Peter Robb for February. Here's the cover description:

Deliciously sensuous and fascinating, Robb renders in vivid detail the intoxicating pleasures of Brazil’s food, music, literature, and landscape as he travels not only cross country but also back in time—from the days of slavery to modern day political intrigue and murder. Spellbinding and revelatory, Peter Robb paints a multi-layered portrait of Brazil as a country of intoxicating and passionate extreme.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Kids with Cameras

Group 22 has a busy weekend with our annual appearance in the Doo-Dah Parade and our Rights Readers discussion Sunday evening. In anticipation of having photos to document some of our activities, I have added a Flickr badge to the website which will from time to time feature Group 22 pix. Right now though, we have a few selections from one of the children featured in the documentary film Born into Brothels-- there's also a book version-- about children in India documenting their own lives with the aid of photographer Zana Briski. Click the badge to see enlarged versions. For more information on the project visit the Kids with Cameras site. If the photos look vaguely familiar to some, they were once also featured in an Amnesty International Wall Calendar. (This year's calendar can be found here or here-- a great gift!)

November 20 is International Children's Day, so this post is our little celebration. Visit the Amnesty site for more ways to commemorate the occasion.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Tom Goldstein testifies on Streamlined Procedures Act

The Los Angeles Times reports: Tom Goldstein, one of the speakers at our September Stanley Williams event, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday regarding the Streamlined Procedures Act and the effect it would have on exonerees like himself. Goldstein spent 24 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. From the LAT article:

Goldstein, 56, now works as a paralegal. He has gone to Washington twice in an effort to defeat the Senate bill — and companion legislation in the House — which he says "would deny review of many death penalty cases by the federal courts…. If this law was in effect when I was going through the system, I would still be in prison."

The Justice Project has more information plus action items.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Niger Delta in the News

The Los Angeles Times reports on the "combustible" situation in the Niger Delta:

Ten years after Nigerian authorities executed Niger Delta writer and community activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, popular anger and unrest continue to grow, while warnings of a calamitous slide into violence abound. Saro-Wiwa campaigned for a greater share of oil wealth for the population and protested environmental damage, but little progress has been made since his death...

"Unless something drastic is done, there will not be peace around here. There's going to be trouble," prominent human rights activist Anyakwee Nsirimovu said.

With the decline in traditional occupations like fishing and farming because of environmental degradation, many young people are easily recruited into militias or crime cartels, which get their funding from oil "bunkering," or theft...

Ledum Mitee, spokesman for the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, the group Saro-Wiwa founded, accused the company and its contractors of "divide and rule" tactics, bribing certain people or offering contracts to circumvent community opposition and get its work done in the region, which has half a million people and massive oil reserves. Mitee faced trial with Saro-Wiwa and is often seen as his successor.

One community chief in the Ogoni village of Kegbara Dere, Clement Goni Badom, said people were still so opposed to the company that calling someone an agent of Shell was like using a swear word.

The company said in e-mailed answers to questions from The Times that it would only return to the area if welcomed by the community. Despite the anger, the company argued, communities have turned to Shell to address poverty in the region instead of looking to the government. Shell said it had adopted a new approach across the delta region, abolishing ad hoc payments to communities or individuals to get access to sites.

Activist Nsirimovu said Shell's policies were "beautiful on paper. But those standards don't apply here."

Baakpa Birabil, 60, a farmer in Kegbara Dere, is angry that his small plot of land was destroyed in a spill two years ago. "My anger is toward Shell, who just came to my land and exploited it without leaving anything for me. You can see we are very poor people." He said people had expected good things when the oil companies first arrived, decades ago. "We never expected it would bring bad things," he said.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Sudan: Salih Mahmoud Osman

Salih Mahmoud Osman, the Sudanese human rights lawyer who spoke in Pasadena was imprisoned for more than seven months in 2004. The campaign for his release included our Summer Postcard Action. As always, it was a thrill to see the subject of one of our actions free and able to continue with his invaluable work. He was profiled in Saturday's Los Angeles Times.

State Department officials in Washington met Osman this week with sympathy, but little else — no promises for action or additional support for AU troops. In fact, Congress last week cut $50 million in support for Darfur peacekeeping troops.

In the absence of hope in Darfur, Osman has tried to provide at least a record of alleged war crimes perpetrated against the region's tribes. At most, he offers a chance for justice.,,

And so, his Sudan Organization Against Torture provides legal help, medical aid and psychological counseling to those who were targeted by the militias.

The organization's small legal team is working to have rape prosecuted as a war crime. Under Sudanese law, prosecution of rape requires proof or witnesses — forcing victims to often settle for lesser charges if the case is heard at all.

"The Sudanese justice system does not work very well," he said in an interview this week at the United Nations. "It is incompetent and unwilling to provide justice. There is impunity for these crimes, and victims have no confidence in the courts ..."

"We are putting crimes on the record," he said. "We're exposing the war criminals who continue to lie about what they're doing. And we're giving some comfort to the victims, who must know that they are not forgotten, that their suffering has been documented."

While Mr. Osman was noting how difficult it was to keep Sudan from fading from the headlines and imploring us to renew our efforts to bring attention to the genocide taking place in his country, the church was actually swarming with reporters due to All Saints' little tiff with the IRS. What a shame they were not there to cover the real story!

The Human Rights Watch video, Darfur Destroyed, shown at the event is available for online viewing at the Witness website.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Memorializing Ken Saro-Wiwa

Today is the tenth anniversary of the execution of Ken Saro-Wiwa. How to commemorate this date? Revisit the other posts on this site about the on-going struggle of Nigerian activists to protect their environment in the face of degradation caused by the oil industry and take the recommended actions. Read Ken Wiwa's piece on his father in the Guardian (also linked on this blog), and let's let Saro-Wiwa the writer speak for himself: Sydney PEN Center has a tribute which includes a couple of his poems plus tribute poems by Ben Okri and Jack Mapanje. I used to read "The True Prison" at the end of every talk I gave for Amnesty/Sierra Club's Just Earth Network. A creation of a memorial poetry collection, Dance the Guns to Silence is part of the international effort to recognize this date, but alas the book appears to have no US publisher at this point.

Finally, how about some thoughts from a Nigerian blogger: Nigerian Times reminds us of the other martyrs to the Ogoni cause.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Ken Saro-Wiwa for Children

Well, not quite, but Beverly Naidoo has written a book aimed at middle school children which is at least inspired by the Ken Saro-Wiwa story and deals as well with the plight of political refugees. The Other Side of Truth has won numerous awards including a Carnegie Medal (the UK's version of the Newberry). I've read it, and although I was not completely convinced of its prize-worthiness, it did remind me of a series of books I read as a child about children caught up in WWII that I think fed my early sympathies for victims of human rights violations. Naidoo has also written several other children's books about the struggle to end South African apartheid. The idealistic middle schooler in your life, might really enjoy this. I'd be interested to know if there are other books for children or youth about Ken Saro-Wiwa or the Ogoni struggle...

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sudan Event this Sunday in Pasadena

Just a little break from what will probably be a lot of Nigeria news this week...

Human Rights Watch and All Saints Church (132 N. Euclid Ave. in Pasadena) are presenting a program on Sudan, Sunday November 13 at 10:15 AM (in the Forum): Hear a first-hand account from an individual who is aiding the victims of this ethnic cleansing. Human Rights Watch monitor Salih Mahmoud Osman is a lawyer and human rights activist from the Darfur region of Sudan, who, for 20 years, has defended and given free legal aid to people who have been arbitrarily detained and tortured by the Sudanese government. For this work, Salih has himself been arrested and arbitrarily detained. Over the past several years, Salih has contributed immeasurably to Human Rights Watch’s investigations of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity in Darfur. He will be joined by Georgette Gagnon, an international human rights lawyer and Deputy Director of the African Division of Human Rights Watch.

If you haven't caught this before, check out HRW's moving gallery of children's drawings--
Darfur Drawn: The Conflict in Darfur through Children's Eyes

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Ken Wiwa: "In the Name of My Father"

For anyone feeling a little frustrated after clicking on the Toronto Globe and Mail link below and finding that Ken Wiwa's Saturday column was about his father's legacy but hidden behind a subscription wall, the Guardian rides the to rescue: "In the Name of My Father".

Friday, November 04, 2005

Our November Author, Ken Wiwa

Some links featuring Ken Wiwa, the author of In the Shadow of a Saint:

Ken Saro-Wiwa Foundation. Note in the Board Members section that it offers a glimpse into what Ken Wiwa is doing now. I know I was impressed enough with the quality of his writing in Shadow that I'd be interested in the book he is now writing. Now if we could just get a US edition published in paperback!

Following up on the lead above, I did indeed find commentaries on the NPR site. Here's one on Belgium's apology for their part in the assassination of Patrice Lumumba.

Here's a recent interview from Democracy Now, also featuring Kenyan Nobel winner Wangari Maathai.

His Toronto Globe and Mail page (even is you don't venture past the registration wall) gives you a sense of his current concerns.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Amnesty International Issues New Nigeria Report

Amnesty issued a new report today, Claiming rights and resources: Injustice, oil and violence in Nigeria and accompanying actions targeting the Nigerian, US and UK governments and Shell and Chevron.

Among the abuses in Nigeria, the report details the February 4, 2005 assault on protesters by Nigerian soldiers and Chevron-hired security guards. One person was shot dead, and at least 30 were injured. Neither Chevron nor the hired security forces assisted the medical needs of the injured. Despite video of beatings and independent observers accounts of violence, Chevron has not lived up to its human rights responsibilities. The company denies responsibly, did not investigate the incident, and has not taken essential steps to prevent a recurrence. Check out the link above for more info and to take action.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Follow-up on the "Denounce Torture" Event

For those unable to attend our recent event supporting Amnesty International's Denounce Torture campaign and for those who want to pursue some of the issues presented further, here are some literary connections of note from the event:

One of the speakers, Jennifer Harbury, known in human rights circles for taking on the Guatemalan army and CIA in seeking answers for her husband's death, (documented in Searching for Everardo,) has written a new book, Truth, Torture and the American Way, connecting the dots with regards to torture and United States foreign policy from Vietnam to Central America to Iraq and the War on Terror.

The other non-Amnesty speaker, Maria LaHood, presented the legal actions her organization, The Center for Constitutional Rights, is using to seek justice for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Poking around their website, I found that one of their non-legal projects is to promote public awareness of the plight of Guantanamo prisoners through public readings of a play, Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom. The play is by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo and is derived from spoken evidence and letters from British detainees to their families. More information on staging a reading and the script can be found here. Also very much worth noting is CCR's Wiwa Initiative, a legal action against Royal Dutch Shell for their part in the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Pamuk on the Novel in East/West Dialogue

For those just joining us, we read Orhan Pamuk's Snow last month, just prior to the inauguration of this blog, and both the book and the author are showing some staying power in terms of our interest in supplementary material that helps us digest what he's all about. Here's a little more material for the file.

This Guardian article, is essentially a speech he gave recently in accepting a German peace prize. He says of Snow:

I am using this story as a way into the subject that I am coming to understand more clearly with each new day, and which is, in my view, central to the art of the novel: the question of the "other", the "stranger", the "enemy" that resides inside each of our heads, or rather, the question of how to transform it.

A novelist's politics rise from his imagination, from his ability to imagine himself as someone else. This power makes him not just a person who explores the human realities that have never been voiced before - it makes him the spokesman for those who cannot speak for themselves, whose anger is never heard, and whose words are suppressed.


As we all know: wherever there is too much pride, and whenever people act too proudly, there is the shadow of the other's shame and humiliation. Wherever there is someone who feels deeply humiliated, we can expect to see a proud nationalism rising to the surface. My novels are made from these dark materials, from this shame, this pride, this anger and this sense of defeat. Because I come from a nation that is knocking on Europe's door, I am only too aware of how easily these fragile emotions can, from time to time, take flame and rage unchecked. What I am trying to do here is to speak of this shame as a whispered secret, as I first heard it in Dostoevsky's novels. For it is by sharing our secret shames that we bring about our liberation.


These are the times when we feel humility, compassion, tolerance, pity and love stirring in our hearts: for great literature speaks not to our powers of judgment, but to our ability to put ourselves in someone else's place. Modern societies, tribes and nations do their deepest thinking about themselves through reading novels; through reading novels, they are able to argue about who they are; so even if we have picked up a novel hoping only to divert ourselves, and relax, and escape the boredom of everyday life, we begin, without realising, to conjure up the collectivity, the nation, the society to which we belong.


This is also why novels give voice not just to a nation's pride and joy, but also to its anger, its vulnerabilities, and its shame. It is because they remind readers of their shame, their pride, and their tenuous place in the world that novelists still arouse such anger, and what a shame it is that we still see outbursts of intolerance - that we still see books burned, and novelists prosecuted.

This second (older) reflection from the New York Review of Books also emphasizes the shame and humiliation theme in his response to the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

This is the grim, troubled private sphere that neither magical realistic novels that endow poverty and foolishness with charm nor the exoticism of popular travel literature manages to fathom. And it is while living within this private sphere that most people in the world today are afflicted by spiritual misery. The problem facing the West is not only to discover which terrorist is preparing a bomb in which tent, which cave, or which street of which city, but also to understand the poor and scorned and "wrongful" majority that does not belong to the Western world.

I recommend reading the Guardian article in particular in its entirety.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Happy Halloween!

(Testing my image upload capabilities...) Here's a mask made by one of my students at Villa Parke Art Project.

While we are on the topic of masks, take a look at some Ogoni masks here and here. I especially like the antelope masks. Try to picture antelopes grazing along the rivers and streams of Ogoniland. Just a little counterpoint to the slideshows of gas flares and oil spills in the Niger Delta I posted a few days ago.

Friday, October 28, 2005

LAT: Shut Down Death Row

Here's the Los Angeles Times editorial on Stan Williams. I think they get it right. Think about the pleas we have coming up for clemency, who is more deserving? Stan Williams, author of children's books, anti-gang crusader? Clarence Allen, 75-year-old, wheel-chair-bound blind man? Michael Morales, devoutly religious father of three? These are the decisions facing our governor (and I'm trying to leave aside the instinct to see him as a caricature and imagine myself in his shoes.) It really shouldn't come down to these kinds of choices, the decision should be about our humanity and what kind of society we want to live in.

Aside: The link above is to the Death Penalty Information Center, an invaluable resource of all things DP-related. Explore at your leisure.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Banned Books Week

We're a month or so late for this, but the actions listed on this page are still valid. I note in the "Updates section that Jamphel Jangchub, a member of the Drepung Printing Group was released, probably about the same time as Ngawang Gyaltsen, formerly Group 22's adopted prisoner of conscience and also a member of the group. The Drepung Printing Group received very lengthy sentences back around 1988-9 for the crime of translating and printing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Tibetan. The note says that he was released "reportedly because of good work in the vegetable garden of Drapchi Prison in Lhasa." Who knew? Next campaign we need to send gardening tools!

Amnesty International Banned Books Week Page

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Sister Janet's Juvenile Justice Initiative

NO MATTER HOW LOUD I SHOUT : A Year in the Life of Juvenile CourtToday's Los Angeles Times Column One feature is an article about Central Juvenile Hall's Sister Janet Harris and her crusade for a young man she took note of in the detention center's writing program. This should ring bells for our long-time readers who remember one of our favorite books, Edward Humes' No Matter How Loud I Shout. The article points up the legacy of Prop 21 (recall our candlelight vigil outside Juvenile Hall?) and cites Amnesty's recent report The Rest of Their Lives: Life Without Parole for Child Offenders in the United States. From the article:
An initiative passed in 2000 by 62% of California voters gave district attorneys the power to determine whether juveniles accused of certain serious crimes should face adult punishment.

The most severe sentence that can be imposed in Juvenile Court is detention until age 25. Had Rocha not been tried as an adult, his supporters say, he might have been freed by now.

Last year, the Los Angeles County district attorney's office filed 178 juvenile cases in adult court, and 119 juveniles were transferred to adult court after judicial hearings, according to the agency's statistics.

A report published Oct. 12 by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found that 2,225 offenders are serving life without parole in U.S. prisons for crimes committed before they turned 18. For an estimated 59% of those inmates, it was their first conviction.

The U.S. is one of only a few countries that allow children to be imprisoned for life without parole. Elsewhere in the world, about 12 young offenders are currently serving such sentences, the study found.
By the way, Edward Humes has a website if you're curious what he's been up to lately.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks, Lady Freedom

From Rita Dove's poetry collection On the Bus with Rosa Parks,



Lady Freedom Among Us

"don't think you can ever forget her

don't even try

she's not going to budge

no choice but to grant her space

crown her with sky

for she is one of the many

and she is each of us"

Stanley "Tookie" Williams

The State of California announced yesterday that they plan to execute Stanley "Tookie" Williams on December 13. While we here at Rights Readers oppose all executions, regardless of the quality and quanitity of the inmate's literary output, we note here that Williams has written an autobiography, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, and several children's books, including Life in Prison. Some resources in the campaign for Tookie's clemency include his website, Death Penalty Focus, and California People of Faith Working Against the Death Penalty, which has information on all three up-coming executions in California and is the best source for information about Los Angeles area anti-death penalty events. Finally, be sure to look around for the Redemption, starring Jamie Foxx, the film made about Williams' life.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Nigeria, Oil and Ken Saro-Wiwa

In November we commemorate the ten year anniversary of the execution of Nigerian author and environmentalist, Ken Saro-Wiwa by reading Ken Wiwa's moving memoir of his father, In the Shadow of a Saint. Here are a few background links:

RememberSaroWiwa is the UK-centric 10-year memorial site for KSW:

Price of Oil is a joint project of Amnesty-USA, PEN, Earthrights Intl and Sierra Club, among others. (I tried to get our discussion listed on the site, but its not showing up, at least not yet.) Be sure to check out the slideshow.

Recent NPR series on oil in Nigeria

Recent National Geographic Articles (check out the related links on these too)
Singing Songs for Freedom
African Oil: Whose Bonanza?

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

For January: The Known World

At our last meeting, those gathered chose Edward P. Jones' Pulitzer-winning The Known World for our Sunday, January 15 meeting. Bookflap description:

In one of the most acclaimed novels in recent memory, Edward P. Jones, two-time National Book Award finalist, tells the story of Henry Townsend, a black farmer and former slave who falls under the tutelage of William Robbins, the most powerful man in Manchester County, Virginia. Making certain he never circumvents the law, Townsend runs his affairs with unusual discipline. But when death takes him unexpectedly, his widow, Caldonia, can't uphold the estate's order and chaos ensues. In a daring and ambitious novel, Jones has woven a footnote of history into an epic that takes an unflinching look at slavery in all of its moral complexities.

Edward P. Jones was born and raised in Washington, D.C. Winner of the Pen/Hemingway Award and recipient of the Lannan Foundation Grant, Jones was educated at Holy Cross College and the University of Virginia. His first book, Lost in the City was originally published by William Morrow in 1992 and shortlisted for the National Book Award. Mr. Jones was named a National Book Award finalist for a second time with the publication of his debut novel The Known World which subsequently won the prestigious 2004 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Andrew X. Pham Follow-Up

Catfish and Mandala: A Two-Wheeled Voyage Through the Landscape and Memory of VietnamThe Eaves of Heaven: A Life in Three WarsAt our September discussion of Catfish and Mandala, we were surprised at how the author, Andrew X. Pham, had vanished after publication of his memoir. This article describes his efforts to get his parents to visit Vietnam and provides some clues as to his travels since writing Catfish.


Rights Readers is an education and outreach project of Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena - Caltech. We meet every third Sunday of the month at 6:30 PM at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena, California. This blog is an effort to facilitate our on-going discussion of the fiction and non-fiction works we read and the human rights issues they illuminate.
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