Category Archives: Law

The zen advocate

When I first met Marianne Elliott, she was standing on her head as part of my upside-down New Zealand welcoming committee.  I’m not the only person to get to know an inverted Marianne. This accomplished human rights advocate is also a yoga teacher, with a focus on helping those who do good.  And me oh my, has she done a lot of good: from creating the Action Plan for Human Rights in New Zealand, to helping the government of Timor-Leste craft their human rights strategy, to heading a UN office in Herat, Afghanistan. You can hear more from her in her book Zen Under Fire , on her blog or on the Huffington Post.

THE LESSON: There is always a new frontier. Whether in the causes I care most about, my writing, my various enterprises or my spiritual path, there will always be another mountain to climb. There is no finish line in this race. In fact, I’m slowly coming to realise there is no race. So I might as well enjoy the journey. And, you know, stop to smell the roses from time to time.

THE QUESTION: Only one? I have so many. I’m a little burning-question-generating machine. Here are a few from this morning: Is reducing a narrative to a level comprehensible to a four year old the only way to get 70 million people to watch your video about child soldiers in Northern Uganda? Did I go too far in simplifying the narrative in my own book to make it accessible to a non-expert readership? What will I write about next? (That last question prompted by the fact I’m off to have lunch with my editor in 30 minutes)

THE INSPIRATION: I’m inspired by people and projects that explore new stories, and new ways of telling old stories, about places and people affected by conflict. In the past year I was inspired by the Face2Face project in Israel/Palestine (not new, but new to me) which uses humour and juxtaposition to retell an ancient story, the exquisitely beautiful Touch Down in Flight video of Afghanistan by Augustin Pictures and Gayle Lemmon’s book The Dressmaker of Khair Khana, which tells the true story of an Afghan woman entrepreneur. I’m also reluctantly, begrudgingly inspired by the Kony 2012 video. I have no end of questions about the ethics of that style of story-telling, but I cannot deny being deeply impressed and, yes, inspired by just how catchy and compelling the video has proven to be. There are some lessons in there.

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The Guantanamo Lawyer

 Tara Murray was furiously typing on her laptop in a Lahore coffee shop when I met her. Fresh off the plane from the US, the Reprieve lawyer was doing the whole, hitting the ground sprinting thing.  From the start,  I was moved by Tara’s calm commitment in the face of what must be one of the most frustrating jobs in international law: representing Guantanamo inmates.

THE LESSON:  I’ve learned so many lessons this year that it’s really quite difficult to choose one.  But something that I’ve received confirmation on this year, something that I think I already believed (albeit abstractly), is that people are intrinsically the same and that if we focused on the things that make us similar rather than fighting about the things that make us different, this world would be a much better place to live in.  Perhaps it sounds naïve and idealistic, but sometimes it’s the simple truths that we have a hard time accepting!

THE QUESTION: What happened to the “Change We Can Believe In” president?  I’m so disappointed in Obama…

THE INSPIRATION: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl…if you haven’t read it, you must read it…though it was written more than a century ago it is still relevant in terms of the lingering tendency of the US government to dehumanize poor people and people of color and view them as expendable or merely commodifiable beings to be exploited for political and financial gain.


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