Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik, in Homs

The War Within

CNN, Al Jazeera, and Reuters, among others, are reporting on the deaths of American journalist Marie Colvin, and French journalist Remi Ochlik, in Homs, a city to the north of the Syrian capital of Damascus. The unrest in Syria is now nearly a year old.

Of course it happens every day that people– blameless and blameworthy alike– are killed in war. It is simply not possible for us to name them all, imagine them all, hold them all, and grieve them all. Our human limitation is a mercy here; loss and pain abound, and could easily swamp all of our boats. It’s not up to us to carry the pain of the world.

For the sake of our humanity, though, there are times when our compassion needs some exercise; when we need to re-contact our ability to feel– to some very, very small degree– the suffering of others. I am grateful for journalists who feel called to be witnesses for the victims of injustice and war, and to tell the stories of those who do not have a voice. It is a high calling.

Here is an excerpt from Al-Jazeera’s report, and the link to the full story:

Two foreign journalists have been killed in Homs, as activists said shelling of a district of the Syrian city continued amid warnings of an escalating humanitarian crisis. Omar Shakir, an activist in the city, told Al Jazeera that the deaths of Marie Colvin, a US reporter working for the UK’s “Sunday Times” newspaper, and French photographer Remi Ochlik occurred as a building used by activists as a media centre was shelled on Wednesday….

Victoria Nuland, a US State Department spokesperson, said the incident was “another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime.” France demanded access to the victims of the attack and summoned Syria’s envoy to Paris. “I am asking the Syrian government to immediately stop attacks and respect its humanitarian obligations,” Alain Juppe, the foreign minister said. “I have asked our embassy in Damascus to require the Syrian authorities provide secure medical access to assist the victims with the support of the International Committee of the Red Cross,” he said in a statement.

“Marie [Colvin] was an extraordinary figure in the life of ‘The Sunday Times,’ driven by a passion to cover wars in the belief that what she did mattered,” Sunday Times editor John Witherow said in a statement. “She believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice.”

In a phone interview with British broadcaster BBC on Tuesday, Colvin described the situation in the area as “absolutely sickening.” She said she had witnessed the death of a two-year-old boy after he was hit by shrapnel, and said there was a “constant stream of civilians” in the field clinic she visited. “No one here can understand how the international community….”

via Foreign journalists killed amid Homs shelling – Middle East – Al Jazeera English.

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More on Solzhenitsyn: Law

Solzhenitsyn

When Solzhenitsyn gave his 1978 address at Harvard, he could not have known that the number of lawyers per person in America would more than double from 1970 to 2002. What he could know, and did know, however, is the cost to a society that increasingly relies on law and litigation to maintain order. It’s a society that is showing strain in the sinews that hold it together.

The radical libertarian, so far as he will accept any law, will accept that law only as a necessary evil; the anarchist, of course, categorically rejects any outside authority, including the authority of law. Neither of those is the perspective of Religion in the Balance. The Christian religion, by nature and for example, honors outside authority: a worthy Higher Power invites our allegiance and obedience, and we willingly seek that Will.

So it is not that any outside authority, including law, is in itself a bad thing. What Solzhenitsyn (and others) have identified, is that law is only one means of ordering social relations, AND IF  law (i.e., coercion or the threat of sanction) becomes the only way to order them, then we are one short step from societal breakdown. Beneath the veneer of civilization always will lurk the dark heart of our blood lusts. If those blood lusts have no moral restraint; if they have no way to be expressed in creative work or contained in social convention (basic politeness, anyone?), then all that remains to maintain order, is the clumsy-handed grip of law.

Solzhenitsyn puts it more positively than I do: “Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses.”

via Alexander Solzhenitsyn, 1918-2008. – Slate Magazine.

Solzhenitsyn on Truth

Solzhenitsyn in 1974

A parishioner has sent me an address that Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave at Harvard in 1978. I confess never to have read anything by the Russian writer and thinker– but perhaps it is time!

Solzhenitsyn’s Harvard address contains the keen cultural critique worthy of a prophet– “prophet” understood as truth-teller, not fortune-teller. Even before delving into the main matter of his remarks, Solzhenitsyn reflects briefly on “truth,” trading on the fact that Harvard’s motto is “Veritas.” He says, “truth eludes us if we do not concentrate with total attention on its pursuit. And even while it eludes us, the illusion still lingers of knowing it and leads to many misunderstandings. Also, truth is seldom pleasant; it is almost invariably bitter.”

Excuse me the enthusiasm of the newly converted, but that’s just brilliant– and more pertinent today than when first voiced. What a masterful unmasking of the pretensions of those who possess the truth, as though it was ever possible to hold such an elusive prize by one’s self or by one’s group’s ideology. Note that he’s not saying, like the worst relativists and deconstructionists do, that there’s no such thing as truth. What Solzhenitsyn offers us is something infinitely more interesting: the insight that if we want to approach the powerful seat where truth is found, we must concentrate, and we must be humble.

But there’s more. His concluding sentence is the kind of realism that naively optimistic America needs, if we are to mature as a nation and be more responsible with our remarkable power: truth is often bitter. For a culture based on the denial of death and the disregard of limits, the truth of diminishment and inevitable decline is bitter. For a culture incapable of seeing its complicity in causing others pain, the truth about the suffering that results from our actions is bitter. In many ways– not in ultimate ways, but in many ways– life is tragic.  Solzhenitsyn knew this as true, and spoke it.

via Remembering Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – TIME.