Roving thoughts and provocations

Reckoning with Genocide

Aryeh Neier

Bettman/Corbis

The trial of General Efraín Ríos Montt, who served as president of Guatemala from the time he seized power in a military coup in March 1982 until he was forced out in another military coup in August 1983, began on March 19 in Guatemala City. The prosecutor alleged that Ríos Montt and Rodriguez Sanchez, his chief of intelligence, were responsible for the killing of 1,771 Ixils—one of Guatemala’s twenty-two distinct indigenous peoples—and the forced displacement of another 29,000, many them tortured or sexually abused by the army. For the first time, a former head of state is being tried for genocide in the courts of his own country.

Derrida: The Excluded Favorite

Emily Eakin

Martine Franck/Magnum Photos

In May of 1951, at the age of twenty, Jacques Derrida took the entrance exams for the prestigious École Normale Supérieure a second time, having failed, as many students do, in his first attempt the previous year. Fueled by amphetamines after a sleepless week, he choked on the written portion and turned in a blank sheet of paper. “The answers are brilliant in the very same way that they are obscure,” the examiner wrote, encapsulating a sentiment about Derrida’s work that has since become a commonplace: “An exercise in virtuosity, with undeniable intelligence, but with no particular relation to the history of philosophy….Can come back when he is prepared to accept the rules and not invent where he needs to be better informed.”

Hope in Hebron

David Shulman

AFP/Getty Images

Whatever real chance there is for peace remains in the hands of the Palestinians. They gave up long ago on Obama. They’ll have to do it themselves, though some Israelis will be there to help, if they’re needed and wanted. One has to hope that when the third Intifada comes, as it will, it will have at least a component of nonviolent popular resistance. In the past the Israeli army has sometimes successfully turned nonviolent protest to violence, which it clearly prefers. Maybe it’ll be able to do this again. But growing numbers of Palestinians, both the leadership in Ramallah and village councils on the West Bank, have come to the conclusion that mass nonviolent resistance may be their best bet.

Cities of Sleep

Pico Iyer

Trent Parke/Magnum Photos

I used to keep a dream diary when I was in my twenties and still under the spell of a boyhood ingestion of Jung, perhaps, or a cheap excitement about the dark. I stopped when I noticed that all the time and energy I was spending transcribing my dreams in the dead of night, before I’d properly woken up, was detracting from my daytime activities; the night was claiming me full-time, to the point where I could no longer do my conscious work.

The War We Couldn’t See

Christian Caryl

Chris Hondros/Getty Images

Americans never quite seemed to figure out what they thought of Iraq. Those who renounced the invasion engaged in few demonstrations once the war was underway, while those who approved of it seem to have largely tuned out the resulting conflict. Journalistic treatment of the war was spotty—the war coincided with a dramatic decline in the fortunes of US media organizations, which eroded resources for reporting. The Bush Administration promoted this indifference through its information-management efforts, including the overwhelming emphasis on “embedded” reporting at the beginning of the war, as well as the restrictions it imposed on the coverage of the arrival of those killed in action at Dover Air Force Base.

One Thousand Words

Tim Parks

A regular reader of The Guardian online, I often find its featured articles tiresomely long and rambling. You scroll down, imagining the piece almost over, and instead it goes on, and on. There should have been some warning at the beginning telling you how many words lie ahead. No sooner does the Internet give us oceans of space than we realize that length was never just a problem of column inches.

Pakistan’s Extremist Democracy

Ahmed Rashid

AFP/Getty Images

This spring was supposed to open a new chapter in Pakistan’s tenuous embrace of inclusive democracy. At midnight on March 17, following constitutional rules, the Pakistan government of Asi Ali Zardari stepped down and the national assembly was dissolved, in preparation for national elections in May, which will mark the first time the country passes from one elected leadership to another. And yet a terrifying escalation of extremist attacks against religious minorities and aid workers since the start of the year has shown the government and the security forces’ utter failure to deal with a festering culture of intolerance.

A Strike and a Start: Founding The New York Review

Jason Epstein

Of the four friends who met for dinner fifty years ago in Barbara’s and my apartment on West Sixty-Seventh Street during the New York newspaper strike, I am the sole survivor. Though we had no such plan in mind beforehand, it was at that dinner that Elizabeth Hardwick, her husband Robert Lowell, Barbara and I saw all at once the opportunity that would become The New York Review of Books.

A Rivalry With God

Ian Buruma

Sundance Selects

The Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s latest movie is about a young woman who is tortured to death with the highest intentions. That, at any rate, is one way to describe the story of Beyond the Hills, which is loosely based on an event that took place at an Orthodox monastery in Moldavia in 2005. The woman’s death was the result of a ritual exorcism, not uncommon in Romania, meant to save her soul from the devil. What makes the story tragic, instead of merely sad and sordid, is the way it shows two realities, the secular and the Orthodox, colliding.

Why Are We Funding Abuse in Ethiopia?

Helen Epstein

AFP/Getty Images

In 2010, the Ethiopian government began moving thousands of people out of the rural villages where they had lived for centuries to other areas several hours’ walk away. The Ethiopian government calls this program the “Commune Center Development Plan and Livelihood Strategy” and claims it is designed to bring scattered rural populations closer to schools, health clinics, roads, and other public services. But the Commune Center program has been marked by a string of human rights abuses linked to government attempts to clear huge tracts of land for foreign investors. According to testimony collected by Human Rights Watch and other groups over the past two years, the relocations have involved beatings, imprisonment, torture, rape, and even murder.