Archive for willful ignorance

Mr. Grist, the OSCE, and South Ossetia

Posted in global conflict with tags , , , , , , , , , on 18 January 2009 by Maggie

I read an interesting news piece in the Wall Street Journal December 19th, 2008 about Ryan Grist, former Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) operative.  Mr. Grist’s CV includes military and diplomatic missions in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Kosovo, as well as other places I’ve not personally been.  The man knows his stuff.  He is also known for speaking his mind.  He’s been chastised by the Politically Correct frequently over this.  From all I know of the man, he calls ’em like he sees ’em.

Mr. Grist was OSCE second in command on the mission in Georgia prior to the conflict in South Ossetia, August 2008. 

A very short primer on South Ossetia and the real issue at hand. 

South Ossetia speaks Russian and Ossetian.  They are ethnically, culturally, and religiously tied to Russia and to North Ossetia.  They want independence from Georgia.  Be reminded that the line drawn in the dirt between North Ossetia and South Ossetia that gave South Ossetia to Georgia was arbitrarily created without any regard to the people.  As a point of reference, this is essentially how Kosovo acquired its three northern provinces, which are tied in a similar fashion to Serbia. 

“Here, let’s draw the line between this and that.  What do you mean there’s a house in the middle?  Tear it down.  There are people involved in this?  They’ll adjust.  People always do.  This is our decision, and we’ll draw the line wherever we want it.” 

Thus the West has said in its infinite wisdom many, many times. 

Some have said South Ossetia didn’t provoke the attacks from Georgia.  In a sense they are right – not war waged on them by Georgia.  As Mr. Grist said, “…the response from Georgian authorities was disproportionate.  To react with indiscriminate shelling – there just had to be a Russian response.”  He pointed out that he warned of an escalation in South Ossetia and that monitors in certain locations were ignored.  He was angry when Ms. Hakala ordered, from the safety and comfort of her Finnish homeland, the evacuation of monitors from the OSCE building in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia after it was shelled by the Georgians.  He had been organising a wider evacuation, and she stopped it.

I want to interject here that Ms. Hakala stated that what three monitors heard near their locations (in South Ossetia) was “a bit irrelevant”.  Tell me, Ms. Hakala, what is relevant?  Only those bits that were politically acceptable to the West?

While in charge of the OSCE in Georgia, Mr. Grist questioned the viability of Georgia’s attacks on South Ossetia.  As he made known his desire to understand the truth, it became clear that his query was unwelcome – by Georgia and by his superior with the OSCE, Ms. Terhi Hakala.  She ordered him to take a vacation and leave Georgia.

Mr. Grist is like me.  If something is bothering me, I am going to investigate it.  I go with my instincts until and unless I find out for myself that my instincts are wrong.  Most of the time, they’re not.  I’m convinced Mr. Grist has operated this way always.  It is what has given him integrity over the years.  It is also what compelled him to go, without permission while he was on “vacation”, back into South Ossetia to find out what was really going on.

From the moment he tried to get fair and equitable information all the way to his permanent removal from Georgia back to the UK and his forced resignation from the OSCE, Mr. Grist’s treatment has been deplorable.  Unfortunately, this is what can be expected from an organisation steeped in Western culture and tradition.  The West is no more fair and equitable, and often less so, than other cultures.

I know.

I’ve been there.

Blind Spot: When Journalists Don’t Get Religion

Posted in Journalism with tags , , , , , , on 12 January 2009 by Maggie

Vincent Carroll reviewed a new book in the Wall Street Journal last month entitled Blind Spot.  What a fascinating book, and it made me think of just how blind we all are, in one respect or another.

The headline for Mr. Carroll’s review was “God Is A Problem, Sources Say”, and launches with a statement made in an article in the New York Times in November regarding the attacks on Mumbai.  The statement was excerpted in this way:  “It is not known if the Jewish center was strategically chosen or if it was an accidental hostage scene.”  The Times also speculated that it was an “unlikely target” ………for Islam extremists? 

Blind Spot discusses various conflicts throughout the world and the religious “blind spot” that seems to afflict most Western journalists.  Editor Paul Marshall, as quoted by Mr. Carroll, said journalists reluctant to accept the “fundamentalist motives” of jihadist motives concentrate on “terrorist statements that might fit into secular Western preconceptions about oppression, economics, freedom and progress.”

I read that statement, and I was reminded immediately of the Kosovo Liberation Army’s attempt to destroy non-Muslim communities in the northern provinces when I was there in 1998, just as Israel today is using the issue with Hamas as a reason to destroy Palestine, Hamas is killing Israelis, the U.S. – as a sovereign nation that used to be religiously tolerant – pushes to use the fundamentalist Christian God as a reason to inflitrate other conflicts, and so on.

Even in Africa, religion plays a part in conflict.  Take, for instance, the Lord’s Resistance Army who hacked and killed hundreds in a church and the surrounding area in DR Congo not more than a couple of weeks ago.  Not only was this not a top story in the U.S., the Lord’s Resistance Army – terrorists by all measures – was downgraded to the simple acronyn LRA, and reported benignly as yet another hostile terrorist group.  Take a look at all the predominant ruling parties in Africa and their adversaries.  You will see that every single one of them is divisive not just ethnically, but religiously within that ethnicism.

Journalists ignore the religion factor, but the religion factor is everpresent – in conflict, in economics, in progress, in oppression.  No one religious faction is more evil than another, either.  They are all contributing factors to conflict, and yet journalists either bury their heads in the sand or are utterly ignorant of the factor religion plays in everything…or they wouldn’t plant a story in a news source as reputable as the New York Times that stupidly thinks that a Jewish center in Mumbai was not a calculated target for Islamist extremists.

Bias is everywhere in Western media – predominantly U.S. media – and most importantly bias against an understanding of fact-based reporting.

Terry Mattingly, one of the contributors to Blind Spot, has this recommendation for quality reporting:  “Editors do not need to try to hire more reporters who are religious believers,” but reporters “who take religion seriously, reporters who know, or are willing to learn to hear the music.”

At a bookstore near you:  Blind Spot:  When Journalists Don’t Get Religion; Paul Marshall, Lela Gilbert, Roberta Green Ahmanson, ed.  Oxford, 220 pages, $19.95.

Why go home again?

Posted in General with tags , , , on 12 May 2008 by Maggie

I do not have fond memories of my childhood that are related to the community in which I was raised. We could have lived in Timbuktu, and as long as I had my maternal grandmother, my paternal grandfather, and my father, the good memories would have continued to exist.

This is not a complaint about the community. This is just to say I didn’t need them, and as time has gone by, it is very clear to see they didn’t need me.

I’ve been reclusive in nature all of my life. I did only what I was forced to do in associating with people, and a few things that I felt were expected of me. I didn’t make any lasting friendships, except with people that my grandmother knew outwith that area – people like Eugenie Anderson, who was ambassador to Denmark…and Ethel Guenther, who was with the UN and spent most of her time in the Middle East…and Arthur Rubinstein, one of the greatest pianists the universe has ever known.

When I say I come from a family of ambassadors and diplomats, I wasn’t kidding. Beyond the ones you already know, one grandfather was a missionary in Japan before and during World War I. One of my great-aunts was a diplomat in Europe between World Wars I and II. At least three great uncles were involved in places in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, South Africa, and the former U.S.S.R.

My view of everything has been coloured by the sense of logic and fair play these people instilled in me, as well as an understanding of variance in culture that I really value. Perhaps this is why I find no reason to “go home” again.

In order to need the community in which I was raised, I would have to think the way they do, and I do not. This community thrives on the word “assume”. It is a word that comes out of their mouths more times in one conversation than with any group of people with whom I’ve associated over the years. From what I have determined from the use of that word in most groups over the past few decades, it is a mark of willful ignorance.

I would have to be attached to material things that had to do with the community, too, but you know…I am not. When I was there taking care of my father’s will last week, I drove around, saw what I needed to see, found out one of my sisters has photos of my grandmother’s house and the house in which I spent most of my childhood, and understood there was nothing more there that could possibly draw me back to the area.

It is time to get back to writing about things that are important. This small town in the U.S. and its attached behaviours do not fit into that scheme. It never has.